Monday, September 20, 2021

Generation to Generation

Every time I celebrate a birthday these days - and I've just passed a significant milestone ten days ago - I find myself understanding, and appreciating, more and more the biblical talk of 'generations'.  Scripture consistently unfolds this starkly realistic view of human beings as temporary, and expresses this through the rise and fall, the coming and going, of generations.  As one generation fades, another emerges.  As one wave recedes, another takes its place.  It captures the transience of life, for me, better than our individualistic culture is capable of doing.  It is not merely that individuals live and die, but that whole generations come and go, only to be replaced by their children, who will in turn be replaced by their children's children.

One of the things my children have had to do in primary school is draw a family tree; I remember doing the same thing when I was young.  When you're a child, the interesting thing about a family tree is that you can go back as far as you like, or at least as far as you can dig up the information, but you can't go forward.  At the bottom of the family tree, there is you.  At some level it's probably impossible not to think of yourself as the end result, as if everything were leading up to your life.  But I am no longer a child, and the family tree has a layer below me, and in time may well have more layers.  I am not the end result, just a link in the chain.  And one day, if the Lord delays his coming, and if my kids have children (and so on), I'll be one of those names on the family tree, with very little information known; just that, for this child, I was one of the people who led up to them as the new 'end result'.

The Bible authors don't seem to find this coming and going of generations altogether morbid, and the reason surely is that they have identified the great point of continuity.  "Lord," Moses prays, "you have been our refuge in every generation."  Even when one generation has been swept away by violence and judgement, it is still true that "you, Lord, are enthroned forever; your throne endures from generation to generation."  Generations come and go, but God endures.  But this is not merely a point of constancy, but a point of faithfulness.  It is not just that, as time passes, God happens still to be God.  It is that he is God for the next generation, just as he was God for the past generations.  It is his love that endures forever.

The passing of time, for many of us I guess, increases our awareness that there is relatively soon going to be time when we are no longer there.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For those with children, the main concern this raises is: will they be okay?  We've nurtured them, tried to care for them, tried to shield them from the worst of this world.  But one day we won't be here.  Our generation passes...  And as I think about that, I think I understand (psychologically, perhaps, rather than theologically) those who baptise their babies.  Wouldn't it be great if we could reify that faithfulness of God from generation to generation, to make sure it applied in this case?  Wouldn't it be great to pin God down?

But the future is unknown to any but God, and we can't pin him down.  All we can do is trust that he has already pinned himself to his promises.  He will be God in the future, the faithful God.  When the family tree moves on, if it does, and I am left somewhere near the top of the page and remote from the living generation, he will be God, from the top to the bottom.  There is a job for me to do - to proclaim his power to a coming generation, to make his faithfulness known.  So that rather than me trying to pin God down, the next generation might be encouraged to pin their hopes and dreams to the faithfulness of God.

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