“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5)
One would be hardpressed to identify a more profound exposition of this imagery from Isaiah and the Psalmist than this moving meditation by the Catholic theologian Josef Pieper. I particularly resonate with his astute observation concerning the unnatural “youth” of older believers who have walked deeply and intimately with the Lord of glory, and who have truly hoped in Him. These words have the distinct ring of truth to them, in my experience at least:
“Youth and hope are ordered to one another in manifold ways. They belong together in the natural as well as in the supernatural sphere. The figure of youth is the eternal symbol of hope. Natural hope blossoms with the strength of youth and withers when youth withers. ‘Youth is a cause of hope. For youth, the future is long and the past is short.’ [Aquinas] On the other hand, it is above all when life grows short that hope grows weary…
For supernatural hope, the opposite is true: not only is it not bound to natural youth; it is actually rooted in a much more substantial youthfulness. It bestows on mankind a ‘not yet’ that is entirely superior to and distinct from the failing strength of man’s natural hope. Hence it gives man such a ‘long’ future that the past seems short however long and rich his life…
The supernatural vitality of hope overflows, moreover, and sheds its light also upon the rejuvenated powers of natural hope. The lives of countless saints attest to this truly astonishing fact. It seems surprising, however, how seldom the enchanting youthfulness of our great saints is noticed; especially of those saints who were active in the world as builders and founders. There is hardly anything comparable to just this youthfulness of the saint that testifies so challengingly to the fact that is surely most relevant for contemporary man: that, in the most literal sense of these words, nothing more eminently preserves and founds ‘eternal youth’ than the theological virtue of hope. It alone can bestow on man the certain possession of that aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, that adaptability and readiness, that strong-hearted freshness, that resilient joy, that steady perseverance in trust that so distinguish the young and make them lovable…As Saint Augustine so aptly says: ‘God is younger than all else.’
The gift of youth that supernatural hope bestows on man leaves its mark on human nature at a much deeper level than does natural youth. Despite its very visible effect in the natural sphere, the Christian’s supernaturally grounded youthfulness lives from a root that penetrates into an area of human nature that the powers of natural hope are unable to reach. This is so because the supernatural youthfulness emanates from participation in the life of God, who is closer and more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.
For this reason, the youthfulness of the individual who longs for eternal life is fundamentally imperishable. It cannot be touched by aging or disappointment; it proves itself above all in the face of the withering of natural youth and in temptations to despair…I believe it is vitally important for an age from whose despair there seems to issue a forced and superficial cult of youthfulness to have a glimpse of the highest pinnacle to which the hope-filled youthfulness of those who entrust themselves to God can soar.” (Josef Pieper, On Hope, pp. 40-43)