Family Through the Generations

Ten days ago my niece got married, and most of the extended family were present—four generations. My parents, both gone, now have 35 descendants, with more on the way.

I suppose it’s inevitable that with the expansion of our family, there’s a lot more variety in lifestyle and faith, some of which would certainly have saddened my parents. The clear, bright focus of their commitments carries on with some and not with others. I’m sure it’s so with all families. The couple committed to art and beauty has grandchildren who adore Britney Spears. The political activists produce mall shoppers. No matter how hard we try to pass on our vision to subsequent generations, they won’t all receive it. They have their own ideas and personality.

In many cases this erosion is merely an irritation, or a source of amusement. But for people of faith, there’s a stronger, sadder element. We feel that life and death are at stake. We wonder what we should have done differently.

I came home from the wedding to my Bible study group. We’re studying Genesis and have reached the life of Joseph. I was made to ponder: what changed Joseph?

As a teenager, he was notably brash and naïve, eagerly sharing dreams with family members who (the dreams suggest) will end up bowing down before him. His brothers resented it, and even his father was appalled. Thus dreamy Joseph got sold to some slave traders, who took him to Egypt.

The Joseph we see in Egypt seems different. He’s still brash and terrifically sure of himself, but he doesn’t seem naïve or full of himself. He makes a point (before Pharoah, no less) of giving credit to God for his abilities.

You can imagine that his sufferings as a slave and a prisoner cancelled Joseph’s naivete. But where did respect for God come from? His father had met God in two vivid nighttime encounters. No doubt those were part of the family lore. But so was his father’s outfoxing of Uncle Laban, his aunt’s barefaced theft of Laban’s household gods, his brothers’ trickster slaughter of the Shechemites, and other unsavory aspects of the Jacob heritage. Out of that stew of influences, good and bad, how did Joseph come to the point where in addressing the most powerful man in the world, he answers, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer.” (41:16) (For that matter, how was it that Joseph could interpret Pharoah’s dreams?) And how did Joseph gain insight into God’s ability to turn bad circumstances to good? (50:20)

The answer is actually plain: God grabbed Joseph. How, we are not told. But it clearly happened. God reached out to him and blessed him.

Genesis’ story of the patriarchs begins with God’s awesome promise to Abraham: I will bless you. God’s decision did not end there. It was not as though he set in motion an inevitable process and then only had to nudge it along occasionally. With every generation God had to choose and bless all over again, almost like starting from scratch. It is his decision, and his repeated decisions, that enable a people of God to grow through the generations.

My family is not so different. Unless God grabs people, our efforts to pass on the faith will be in vain.

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One Response to “Family Through the Generations”

  1. chosenrebel Says:

    Touching and sober reminder brother. Thanks for sharing. May the God of Joseph, who is not yet done with your family or mine, grab many of them for his glory, their joy and the joy of all that hew will give through them to the world.

    I also went to a nephews wedding this summer and found to my joy some surprising works of God in the midst of family members I could have never predicted. The God of all comfort lives.

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