Psalm 95:6-7c, 8-9, 10-11
After spending the holidays with the four generations in my large extended family, the emphasis in the readings for today on a generation with an unfaithful heart takes on a personal meaning. The texts here are not referring specifically to the ancestors in our family, but to the ancestors of the family of God. But the mention of an older generation reminds me that it is so easy for all of us to criticize the older generation in our family for their hardness of heart. But it is their hardness of heart toward us, not God, that concerns us. We grow weary of their constant warnings to the younger generation to avoid hardness of heart through rebelliousness and sin.
How does hardness of heart toward each other become hardness of heart toward God? In Hebrews, Chapter 3, the Holy Spirit is speaking about the older generation as the ones with the erring hearts, not the younger generation. And in Psalm 95, it is also the fathers who hardened their hearts to the Lord, not the sons. In my family, the oldest generation, my parents, now in their 70s, are good God-fearing people who take care to not fall into evil. They also seek to guide their five adult children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren to not forsake God in their lives. It has been interesting for me, a cultural anthropologist, to reflect on how each generation perceives "falling into evil" and "hardness of heart." I can get some distance from these generations and can identify with multiple perspectives because I do not have children of my own. But I too am clearly caught up in a generational perspective in which I feel that the older generation and the younger generation harden their hearts to the challenges and experiences of my generation.
In my family, it was always the prerogative of the older generation to criticize the younger generation for going astray. My parents were extremely strict in their guidance. We really never did anything bad but our parents feared that we would become hardened by the deceit of the sin of the world and that we rebelled against their guidance out of disrespect for them. In response, we felt that they hardened their hearts to the challenges and struggles of our lives that are so very different from theirs. Perhaps because our parents practiced such strict discipline and demanded unconditional respect for their children, my youngest sister and her husband and my brother and his wife rebelled against the older generation's practices and chose not to discipline their children. In each of their families, the oldest child proved to be a model of discipline and respect, but the youngest child caused great suffering. One nephew was expelled from the public high school and placed in an alternative school system because of his rebellious behavior. The other nephew has been fined for almost every misdemeanor under the law and shows absolutely no respect for his parents.
The older generation, the grandparents, are provoked by this younger generation to "swear in anger" as the Psalmist does in response to weariness of a peoples' unwillingness to let God guide them. But instead, to my surprise, they have heard the voice of the Lord and have not hardened their hearts to the pain and humiliation my sister and her family and my brother and his family experience. The older generation is not being critical or judgmental this time. I am so thankful for their faith that more disciplined and structured lifestyles, not hardness of heart, will encourage these two young men to respect the guidance needed in their lives. And I am praying that this faith will encourage my brother and his wife and my sister and her husband to play more confident roles in the guidance of their sons. It is very tempting for all of us to criticize the perspectives of other generations. We usually feel that our parents have been too harsh and that our children are too disrespectful. To some extent, this is always true, but if we become partners with Christ, we can avoid hardening our hearts to each other and enable God to guide our lives.
My family is experiencing some pain at this time and the problems
of the younger generation are a serious challenge to all of us, but at
least we have not hardened our hearts to each other. I think this
is what the Holy Spirit is telling us. If we harden our hearts to
each other, we harden our hearts to God. If we forsake each other,
we forsake the living God.
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