Explore the Bible: The Past

• The Explore the Bible lesson for June 11 focuses on Psalm 78:5-8, 32-39.

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• The Explore the Bible lesson for June 11 focuses on Psalm 78:5-8, 32-39.

In a 2014 interview of students on a major university campus, the interviewer asked basic history questions of student passersby. The first question was about who won the Civil War. One student replied to the question with two others: “You mean the one in 1965? What Civil War?”

Most of the students who were interviewed had no clue who fought the war or when it was fought, much less why or who won. These are our future leaders, in case their ignorance of basic American history isn’t frightening enough on its own.

Of course, it’s easy to judge those who know so little that is so fundamental. The question their lack of knowledge forces to the surface for us is how well informed we are about our spiritual history. 

Edward Burke (1723-1792) is the Irish statesman credited with the famous quote: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Those words apply not only to ill-educated college students, but also to any of us, no matter our age or station in life, who have failed to know and learn from our spiritual past.

Teach your children well

In the first part of today’s text, the psalmist reports God as commanding his children to teach their children their spiritual history, even “the children yet unborn” (v. 6). Of all the responsibilities any parent bears with regard to their children, none is more sacred than teaching them their spiritual heritage.

One reason, is so that, hopefully, they won’t stumble into sin as did some of their ancestors—that from their history, “they should set their hope in God, not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (v. 7). If we don’t teach our children, to whom will we relinquish that responsibility, if anyone?

Two of the most formative years of my life were my freshman and sophomore years in high school. My father helped me throw my morning paper route from his car. When we got home around 6 a.m., we’d sit down in the living room, Dad would read Scripture, we’d discuss its meaning and then pray together. 

Dad always made certain I participated fully in the life of the church. He also made certain not to relegate my spiritual development to anyone else more than himself. My father ensured my spiritual formation more than any Sunday school teacher or even college or seminary professor.

Learn from our own history

Of course, passing along the torch of spiritual formation to the next generation presumes we have learned from our own history, as well. 

For Christmas this past year, my wife gave me a kit with which my DNA can be tested. I’ve heard that my heritage is German/English but I want to know more. I want to know the roots of my heritage.

Just as much, especially as I grow older, I want to know why I think about God and people and the church the way I do. What is it in my spiritual history that makes me tick the way I do? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life simply living on automatic. My life’s story has a story behind it. I want to know as much of my history as I can, so that I may pass along what was good and hopefully stall some that is not so healthy before my children and grandchildren inherit it.

Learn from the example of others

One of the main reasons for knowing our history is that, in learning it, we don’t have to repeat it out of ignorance. It is not true that we must personally experience everything in order to learn from it.

In my peripheral vision, and too late to stop her, I once saw my 3-year-old niece stick an object into a light socket. I saw a blue light streak all the way up her arm. For just a moment, not understanding what had happened to her, she was stunned silent. In a few seconds, however, she began to wail as anyone would.

From observing her behavior, I know I don’t have to insert an object into a light socket in order to know how painful it can be. I can learn from her example. Neither do I have to commit every sin in order to know its horrible consequences.

Be faithful to God

However, having not learned from the error of their ancestor’s ways, the people of God met what is described as a terrible end—the way of death at the hands of God. There is mystery here. God doesn’t kill every sinner, praise be! What is clear is that the way of sin is the way of death.

Yet, even in their sin, the psalmist reports something remarkable. Despite their hypocrisy, insincerity, lying tongues and duplicitous lifestyles, God, “being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger and did not stir up all his wrath” (v. 38).

We should learn from our spiritual history. We should pass along those lessons to the children we’re given, and we should seek to be genuinely faithful to God. Yet, in the end, our true hope is that, even when we fail to be faithful to God, God is faithful to us. 

There is no greater lesson our spiritual history teaches than the faithfulness of God to redeem us even when we miserably fail to honor him. What amazing grace!

Glen Schmucker is a hospice chaplain in Fort Worth.

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