15 September 2021 |
Are We and Our Grandchildren Damned? A Biblical Basis for Setting Our Hearts at Rest
Just a year or two into my first ministerial assignment, I conducted a funeral service for the eighteen-year-old son of one of my new church members. The young man had committed suicide. What to say? How to find words of hope in the face of such devastating tragedy?
In my next parish, the “old members,” who were about the age I am now, sought reassurance from me about their adult children who no longer attended church. I remember Ursula telling me with pride and perplexity about her daughter. How she took such good care of Ursula, provided for her financially, helped her in every imaginable way. Her daughter was a good citizen, a kind person. But she wasn’t in church. What was going to happen to her? And to the grandchildren?
Just a few weeks ago I listened to a mother’s anguish over her son who had died of an overdose. Unlike Ursula’s daughter, he had not been an exemplary son, a model citizen. To the contrary. But the mother told me of evidences of turning toward the light. Surely those counted for something, she asked. Didn’t they?
Across decades of ministry, I have listened over and over to parental angst. What is going to become of my children?
More recently I’ve paid attention to the self-denigration of my older friends. They see themselves through the lenses of a dark Christianity. “Woe is me,” they say. “I am unclean.” They know their motives are less than absolutely pure. Their ambitions are not one hundred percent holy. They have not accomplished all they could. They have made mistakes. Their awareness of these imperfections opens them to the vaunted “wisdom” of self-deprecation.
I think the fretting over children who are not in church and condemning ourselves for our ordinary humanity is unhelpful. I think it is better to practice looking through the eyes of God at both ourselves and our children. Through contemplative practice we can learn to regard our children and ourselves with divine affection. This affection does not deny the full reality of humanity. But it focuses on the beautiful and lovely, on the charming, and takes great joy in the seeing. Such practice will ameliorate our anxiety and nourish our joy.
“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?
“If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.
“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
When Jesus spoke of God as Father, the picture he is summoning is the stereotypical daddy who is a generous provider and competent protector. Jesus imagined God as the father in the story of the prodigal son.
Throughout the Bible the predominant metaphor for God is father. With our modern understanding we instinctively expand the gender specific “father” into the broader term “parent,” evoking the positive attributes of all human parents.
When we give sustained attention to this vision of God it sets our hearts at rest. Contemplation—repeated, deliberate, sustained attention—is the best way I know of to make this vision effective in our lives. Even if we had less than ideal parents our imaginations can conjure visions of a hypothetical ideal parent. Even if we ourselves have been less than model parents we can imagine how we would be (or would have been) if we could live up to our own ideals. And that ideal image is the vision of God at the center of the theology of Jesus.
When we fret about the eternal destiny of our children and grandchildren we may remind ourselves that God is surely not less generous, less compassionate, less embracing, than we are. And if we are not prepared to damn our children, why do we imagine God would be more eager to do so than we are?
We are not ignorant of less-than-ideal elements in our children’s characters or inglorious chapters in their stories. However, in our mother-father-grandmother-grandfather eyes those elements and chapters assume their proper proportion. And our children remain beloved, our dreams for them always end in triumph (or redemption or reconciliation). Just as, at the end of the story of the two sons, both are at home and even the older son is assured, “Son, all that I have is yours.”
When we wonder about our own place in the cosmos, when we are troubled by our less-than-pure motives, by our failures, by our inadequacies, through contemplation we can learn to see ourselves with the eyes of the father of Jesus. This vision, frequently contemplated, appreciated, admired, can set our hearts at rest.
This class will present a biblical perspective that supports such an understanding.
How to join:
ATSS starting time depends on where you are. If you’re on the west coast of the United States, it’ll be 10:30 AM. On the east coast, 1:30 PM.
Times around the world:
- Reykjavík: 5:30 PM
- College Place: 10:30 AM
- Lincoln: 12:30 PM
- Denver: 11:30 AM
- Bracknell: 6:30 PM
- Loma Linda: 10:30 AM
- Nairobi: 8:30 PM
- Gackle: 12:30 PM
- Hosur: 11:00 PM
- Waco: 12:30 PM
- Tulsa: 12:30 PM
- Helsinki: 8:30 PM
- Stockholm: 7:30 PM
- Hamburg: 7:30 PM
- Capetown: 7:30 PM
- Madrid: 7:30 PM
- Paris: 7:30 PM
- Honolulu: 7:30 AM
- Cooranbong: 3:30 AM (Sunday)
- Perth: 1:30 AM (Sunday)
The class is intended to last about 2 hours, though the conversation often continues to 4 PM.
About our class:
- The AT Sabbath Seminar is intended to be a courteous forum. We discuss and ask questions politely. We don’t accuse, get angry, or put people down.
- Make your comments and questions short—don’t dominate.
- Keep your microphones muted unless you are called upon to make your comment or ask your question.
- Indicate your interest in speaking by raising your electronic hand—under the “reactions” button.
- Those who make accusations or unkind statements will be muted or removed.
- Please use your name when you sign in! Not your phone number, not your initials. This will help us differentiate you from unwelcome guests who want to disrupt us. You can set your name after signing on by clicking on the 3 dots next to your picture, which drops down a menu.
- If it should happen that we are attacked so that we have to stop the meeting, we’ll quickly post a new meeting link on our AT Facebook page.
We look forward to getting acquainted with you!
- October: Laura Wibberding
- Denis Fortin on Ecumenism
- Stanley Patterson