December 19, 2007

If You Could Choose Your Family Tree

2007 1535 page24 cap PROFESSOR FROM A UNIVERSITY phoned me. “I’m putting together a detailed genealogy of all people with your surname,” he said. “Can you help with your branch of the family?”
I was about to say, “Why on earth devote your time to such an undistinguished tribe?” when I remembered reading about a man who through a similar genealogy search discovered that he was related to a famous contemporary inventor, a fascinating man who subsequently opened new horizons for him. Something stirred in me. What if one of my ancestors was, say, a certain Lord Pelissier in Queen Victoria’s government? Or Le Comte Pelletier in Louis XIV’s inner circle of savant-advisers? Or Baron von Peltz, a right-hand man to Austria’s great Metternich? (How can a man named Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar von Metternich fail to be fascinating?) Wouldn’t such family connections make an interesting after-dinner talking point?
I hesitated no longer. “Do you have any specific questions?”
I jotted down his requests, then drew a bow at a venture. “In your researches, have you ever come across any of my forebears who, er, shall we say . . . distinguished themselves?”
2007 1535 page24Did I detect a minute quickening of the pulse as I waited for his reply?
“Well, let me see,” he murmured judiciously. “Yes, here is one who lived in Hamburg, Germany, in 1680, a certain Abraham Peltzer. No, sorry, I see he was only a furrier.”
He hesitated. I could hear the rustling of his notes; then, “Well, here is an interesting character. He must have been a man of unusual enterprise, because he was convicted of being a highwayman and hanged on the gallows. His name . . .”
“Thanks very much!” I interrupted. “Unaccountably, I’ve just lost all desire to know my pedigree! I’ll drop you a letter with the information you need. I appreciate your call. . . .” He was chuckling when we rang off. My imagination conjured up a handsome face with a too-merry light in his eyes.
Maybe that bit about the highway robber and the gallows was a leg-pull. I piously hoped so. Surely it was just a bit of fiction, a flight of the fertile academic imagination. A man with a sense of humor—I doffed my hat to him.
If I Could Choose
Later, in a reverie, a glum thought intruded. Why are humans such flaccid, will-less victims of birth? Why am I given no choice in the matter of my ancestors? Shouldn’t I be entitled, isn’t it humanely my due, to have a say in something as far-reaching as that string of beads called my genes?
Life is so mysterious, the universe so brimming with staggering surprises, that the future “me” could surely have been conjured up and briefly endowed with prescient knowledge to state my preferences, as follows: “Among my forebears, definitely no users of soft or hard drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. None who were cowardly or immoral. No cruel men or women. No frivolous characters. I want only intelligent, hardworking, kind, decent, health reform-minded, God-obeying people for at least 500 years previous to my conception.” Ah! how every fiber of my being resonates to that prescription!
Then sudden insight informed me: That’s exactly what God has done! He does give you, and everyone else, a say in who your ancestors are to be. Not “you get what you get,” but “you choose, and you get what you choose.” This shows God’s goodness and fairness.
A perplexing thought—until God’s Word shows the way: by faith I can enter the lineage of God’s servants. Not by natural birth but by the supernatural birth. And far, far better too that He gives me the choice of my ancestors now when I’ve had a taste of life, when experience has given breadth to my judgment.
I can choose to be a descendant of Abraham, the friend of God. And of Joseph. And of King David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Daniel. I can with the utmost assurance lay claim to being in the line of the great prophet Samuel! Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Paul are my people, my family.
I can revel in my ancestor Mary Magdalene’s spiritual qualities, her devotion and determination to brave mockery and sneers so long as she could anoint Jesus’ feet. I can replenish my soul by hearing again the words of my ancestor Ruth: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). I can look at Rahab of Jericho as she shows amazing perception and a death-defying courage by throwing in her lot with Joshua’s spies and their God.
Such rose-colored thoughts set my whole body tingling. These are the people who comprise my lineage, the lineage of faith! Not a highway robber in sight. They were decent, often heroic, servants of God. They were men and women to be proud of.
A Second (Shocking) Look
At just about this juncture when I was transported with delight and aglow with pride in my genealogy, a shocking thought obtruded. Abraham, called a friend of God, was not just the great hero of faith; he was also known for his sin, his infamy. He blatantly and cowardly lied about his wife, and so exposed her to potential danger and an ordeal worse than death. He committed adultery with a servant girl, so producing Ishmael, because he doubted God’s word about giving him and his wife a son in their old age.
2007 1535 page24David sowed seeds of dissipation by marrying many women, and was a sad excuse for a father. He murdered a noble man while futilely trying to hide his adultery with the man’s wife. Solomon was worse than his father. Tamar went in for harlotry and incest. Rahab ran a brothel in Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite, people cursed by God in Genesis 19. Bathsheba committed adultery. Yet all these people were in the lineage of Jesus Christ! Matthew 1:1-17 reveals that the ancestors of Jesus were sinners, sometimes scandalously so; and yet they were chosen to be precursors of the Child of Bethlehem.
Even more stupendous is the thought that it was the Son of God Himself who chose His human genealogy beforehand. “Without Him nothing was made that has been made,” as John testifies. He was involved in every work, every decision. He could have chosen to fill out His family tree with people like Joseph, the son of Jacob; the likes of Daniel and Isaiah and Jeremiah. He could have said, “For My genealogy . . . definitely no users of soft or hard drugs (including alcohol) and, in future years, tobacco. None who were cowardly or immoral. No cruel men or women, No frivolous characters. I want only intelligent, hardworking, kind, decent, health reform-minded, God-obeying people.” He could have! He had the wisdom, the power, the opportunity.
Instead, He chose people who desperately needed conversion and sanctification. He chose people with whom we can identify, people like us. There wasn’t a single person in Jesus’ lineage who was not a sinner. But so staggering is His grace that He says to me, “I’ll give you what I Myself never had—one person in your genealogy who was impeccable, noble—in fact, perfect! As you give your whole self to Me, I’ll put Myself in your lineage.”
Better Than What Jesus Had
Thus, my genealogy is better than the one Jesus had. When I receive the new birth and a fresh start, Jesus adopts me into His personal heavenly family. “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18).
Ellen White remarked: “What a promise is here made upon condition of obedience! . . . Oh, what a relationship is this! higher and holier than any earthly tie. . . . God adopts you into His family; you become members of the royal household, sons and daughters of the King who rules in the heaven of heavens. Can you desire a more exalted position than is here promised?”1 “Even as Christ was in the world, so are His followers. They are the sons of God, and joint heirs with Christ; and the kingdom and dominion belong to them.”2
Can any thought reach higher than to be reckoned as family by the Almighty? A descendant of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother?
On that same sublime level comes another thought. Jesus Christ is not only our Ancestor but also our Immanuel, God with us. He is not the kind of ancestor who is dead. He is my living Ancestor, the One who is with me today, every moment. He is my past, my present, my future.
Thank God for my noble, eternal, totally undeserved but freely bestowed spiritual family tree. Oh that the Holy Spirit might each day make me—this unworthy one—an adopted, cherished son of the royal Inventor and Owner of the universe!
1Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 510.
2Ibid., p. 287.
Frederick Pelser, an author of various books and former union evangelist, writes from Cape Town, South Africa.