Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On Grandpa Dourte's Passing

 
(Painting: "A Funeral," by Anna Ancher, 1891, oil on canvas)

Tomorrow I'm gathering with the extended family of my in-laws to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of my wife's grandfather. He was a believer in Christ all his years, sprung from a family of devout Christians, a pastor in work and a disciple in life, who, together with his wife, was a jewel in the crown of the Brethren in Christ. 

His passing, along with his wife's earlier this year, deserves a mention amid the rambling stream of this blog's reflections. I didn't know him or his wife long enough to be the fittest person to pen tributes, and I'm sure there will be tributes aplenty, from much more qualified people than I, at the funeral. But even though I only knew them towards the end, these two faithful servants of Christ stand as two of the most important people in my life. Why? Because of the way they shaped and blessed and prayed for my wife. If not for them, my wife would not be the woman she is today, and I would be a lesser man for it. She has been both inspiration and anchor for me, a teacher in the ways of Christlike empathy and a courageous fellow traveler in difficult times. Most of the character traits that I adore in her, and have benefited from, I can see in the lives of her parents and grandparents, and so it is to them that I am indebted. 

In the middle of the Ten Commandments (though often excluded from the nice little numbered lists we make for our Sunday School classes) is this verse: "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Ex. 20:5b). Often the first reaction people have to this verse is an offended sense of justice--"How is it fair to punish children for the sins of their fathers?" (On closer assessment, though, I think we would agree that this verse is a fit description of how the consequences of sinful lives do have negative effects that ripple down through their families for generations.) The negative part of this verse isn't really the main point, however, and it certainly isn't the most astonishing part. We can wrap our heads around the timescale of three or four generations, but take a moment to think about a thousand generations. If we assign a length of 25 years to a generation (conservative compared to the biblical figure of 40 years), it would take, naturally, 25,000 years to exhaust the scope of this verse's promise. Abraham himself, living 4,000 years ago, is only 160 generations back from us. In essence, God pledges his favor forever to those who follow his ways. The vast inequality between the scope of God's punishment and the scope of his favor is the main point of this verse. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

I include these reflections on this verse because I've often felt humbled and grateful by the family situation in which I find myself. In the case of both my family and my wife's family, we can claim to be among those "thousand generations," blessed not on our own merit, but because our grandfathers and grandmothers, our ancestors stretching back as far as memory will allow, were faithful lovers of Jesus Christ their Lord. My wife's grandfather was a man whom I am proud to call my family, and I know that now, even in his absence, I am blessed because of the way he loved his God and because of the way God loved him.

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