“One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t press ‘record’ enough when I was speaking with my elders.”
Grandparents are a blessing from God. They possess a wealth of knowledge that, when passed down to their grandchildren, has the opportunity to influence the trajectory of their lives. The oral traditions that they pass on to their posterity cannot be overstated, since they provide a glimpse, not only into how things were before the advent of technology, but also how God worked and moved in their lives. Those who are unable to observe how God worked in the lives of previous generations may not find relevance in a relationship with God for themselves.
Grandparents are a source of knowledge, a cradle of comfort, a buffer against parental discipline. We all have parents, and most likely have access to them, but interaction with grandparents is only a potentiality. As humanity does not possess the natural capability to give birth to grandchildren, the generational gap that exists between grandparent and grandchild contains a finite amount of time until God makes the sovereign decision to call them to rest until resurrection morning. To put it simply, we were never promised that we would even know our grandparents.
God in His goodness allowed me to know three of my four grandparents, the most influential being my maternal grandfather. Named for a disciple and a prophet, Simon Zephaniah Jackson had the most impact on my life. A man’s man, with giant stonecutter’s hands but a heart of gold, Grandaddy was known as Uncle Bob, the avid fisherman, the expert grower of collard greens, but most important to me—the preacher.
The genealogy of Genesis 11 reveals the presence of a number of great-grandfathers.
Blessed with a photographic memory and the sharpest of minds, Granddaddy could recite large portions of Scripture and Ellen White’s writings. Naturally, everyone clamored to have him on their team for Bible games. My granddaddy used this gift to preach and teach, serving as lay and professional pastor, Bible study instructor, lay evangelist, and nursing home and prison chaplain.
Though he was able to share his love of Jesus with thousands of people, this was experienced best at home. Through the medium of oral tradition, he was able to teach his children about the love of God.
The story goes that he would show his daughters pictures of heaven and ask them, “Don’t you want to go?” He had also given each of them Bibles as gifts. One day, as the chimney caught fire, all three daughters ran out of the house, clutching only their precious Bibles as keepsakes from the potential inferno. To them, the Word of God was so important that clothes, toys, or other valuables were deemed secondary. This love of God’s Word was passed on to my generation.
How was the Word of God passed on to your generation? A parent? Or a grandparent?
My grandfather’s first encounter with Jesus was through his grandfather Calvin, who took him to the local Baptist church as a child, offering his protective hand as they walked, before taking their seats on the mourner’s bench.
In Protestant church history, the Moravian bishop Zinzendorf was raised by his learned and Pietist grandmother. He said that he knew his Savior by experience from the time he was young.
In the Bible, only a smattering of texts concern the role of grandparents, though highlights stress the importance of passing on God’s Word to grandchildren. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). The psalmist David declared: “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Ps. 103:17).
The genealogy of Genesis 11 reveals the presence of a number of great-grandfathers. From Shem to Abraham were 10 generations, and though the knowledge of God was seemingly lost after the Tower of Babel, Ellen White wrote: “God has ever preserved a remnant to serve Him.”* We can thank Abraham’s great-great-great . . . grandfather Shem for providing some sort of testimony of God’s goodness throughout his lifetime. How else would Abraham have recognized God’s voice when He said: “Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1)?
The 600 years of Shem’s life overlapped with those of Abraham’s, and though we don’t see personal interaction between them in the biblical narrative, Shem and his posterity in some way undoubtedly shared the knowledge of the one true God.
The importance of sharing stories of how God has moved in one’s life is crucial when it comes time for God to call a modern-day Abraham into a covenant relationship with Him. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).
My granddaddy took my twin sister and me out on a lake to go fishing when we were about 4 years old. I imagine that he wanted to show us, being city kids, something different. I imagine that he wanted to pour something into us spiritually, though maybe he didn’t know exactly how since we were so young. I can’t say that I remember a single word spoken out there on the lake, but I remember that we caught a good number of fish.
He may not have known it then, but Granddaddy was showing me something of great value. Four decades later I’m committed to fishing for believers, and remembering him as I do.
Sometimes you don’t have to press “record” for the message to be inscribed with full meaning.
* Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908). p. 125.
A graduate of Oakwood University, Jason Craig studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.