Thursday, January 15, 1998

God's Faithfulness to All Generations: A Biblical Reflection

As I grow older, I find myself increasingly interested in genealogy. Fortunately, someone on both sides of my family left lots of information and even old photos of various relatives. I purchased a computer program that neatly organizes my ancestors in graphic charts. I can even scan in the photographs.

How is genealogy relevant for a Christian? Many of us have heard the saying: "God has no grandchildren," that is to say, each individual must be personally adopted into God's family by faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:13). And there are those hard sayings of Jesus about one's natural family: "Who are my mother and brothers?"

There is a deep truth underlying the New Testament conviction that the birth from above is far more important thatn birth from below. At the same time, there are also biblical reasons to honor our earthly family and earthly lineage.

First of all, God is the creator of the earth and its history. The Old Testament, verse one, describes God as the author of a "genealogy" of all things in heaven and earth (cf. Genesis 2:4). The families of oak trees and ants and supernovas and great blue whales and chickadees and anteaters are all offspring of this great creative act. Each produces "seed after its kind," i.e., they are not direct offspring of God or each other but are nevertheless kinsfolk in his beautiful earthly home.

The Old Testament story is the tangled skein of the line of Adam and Abraham and David. The particular calling of the people of Israel was to preserve the chosen lineage. The so-called purity codes of the Law were meant to help families be faithful to God's plan for the generations. The last Old Testament prophet we meet before Jesus' birth comments: "Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed for yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth" (Malachi 2:15).

The New Testament, verse one, also begins with "the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). Luke takes the geneaology back even to Adam, the son of God (Luke 3:23-38). Jesus is a son of God both according to the flesh through Adam and Abraham and David, and he is also the great prototype of Adam and Abraham and David according to the Spirit (John 3:13; 8:53-58; Matthew 22:41-45). Even in his resurrection in power, Jesus remains our human brother, ever eager to sympathize with our weakness (Romans 1:3-4; Hebrews 4:15).

The Great Commission of Christ cuts across all ethnic and family lines: "Make disciples of all nations..." But this does not exclude a special promise to the children of believers. On the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter assures believers that the salvation promised in baptism "is to you and your children and to all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him" (Acts 2:39).

I know the grief of having a child baptized into the Church but not walking with Christ. Were these words about "receiving him or her into the household of God" all in vain? O the mysteries of the human will that two children from the same womb and smae household may go in opposite directions.

But I also take hope from the "presumption" of Scripture that God will bring the children of believers to himself. Writing to Timothy, St. Paul speaks of the faith that dwelt first in grandmother Lois and mother Eunice and "now, I am sure, dwells in you" (2 Timothy 3:5). This is not a magical faith. Paul goes on to urge Timothy to rekindle it. But he presumes it is there at least in seed form.

During orientation week each year at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, incoming students give their testimonies of how they came to faith. Frequently, they have had dramatic conversions in their later years. But I have also noticed that in many, many cases, those who later came to faith had in their youth a godly parent or role model (this is the idea behind godparents) whom they later came to identify as the Lois or Eunice of their Christian life.

I do not know exactly how we will straighten out our genealogies in heaven. The Book of Revelation describes "a great multitude in heaven which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (7:9-10). Will we recognize our parents and our children? I think so. But even more, we may also recognize that we are all one Body, one family in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.

This meditation appeared in the January 1998 issue of Encompass, the newsletter of the American Anglican Council.

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