If you are reading this with dyed hair, don’t take it personally. I’m not arguing that dying your hair is sinful. I’m just questioning the ubiquitous cultural approach to loss of keratin. Our culture sees it pretty much as 100% bad, especially for women. Not so Scripture. It might help everyone – not least elderly believers – if we looked at gray hair as a good thing.
The first time I thought about gray hair was when a missionary to Africa came and stayed at my parents’ home for a few days when I was still in elementary school. Though the man was only in his late 30’s, his hair was totally gray. He mentioned to my father that some North Americans in supporting churches had suggested that he dye it, to look more his (and his wife’s) age. He couldn’t be bothered, but more importantly, wouldn’t give up what in Africa was a serious ministry opportunity. “They have huge respect for old people there,” he explained. “If I dyed my hair, I would be giving up an obvious reason for them to listen to me and respect me. This gray hair is an entitlement to teach and have an authoritative say on things.”
The Africans seemed to know what the North Americans didn’t: gray hair is a signal to everyone that its owner has been through life, come through alive, and so probably has some wisdom to share about things. That is why Proverbs 20:27 calls gray hair “the splendor of old men”. It tells everyone around you that you have been through life’s stages, trials, blessings, and learned many things along the way. And so Proverbs 16:31 says that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life”. A believer with gray hair is your signal to ask them for advice, counsel and encouragement.
Grey hair also signals that the person is aging, getting nearer to glory. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in Evangeline, “Then there appeared and spread faint streaks of gray o’er her forehead,/ Dawn of another life, that broke o’er her earthly horizon,/ As in the eastern sky the first faint streaks of the morning.” Gray hair is a foreshadowing of the light of glory breaking in on a believer’s life. With that comes the Lord’s promise, “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4).
A lifetime of wisdom and an aging body both demand honor: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). A person’s grey hair means that we should not only have respect for their knowledge and experience, but also care for their aging bodies, standing to give them our chair, our arm, and bearing with them in all the frustrations that old age brings.
Our culture idolizes youth, but Scripture venerates mature believers. Can you be mature without gray hair? Yes. But interestingly enough, in one of its brief, rare descriptions of the incarnate, ascended Christ, Scripture tells us that our Lord, seated in glorified perfection, has white hair: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool…” (Daniel 7:9).