Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Purpose of God in My Generation

“People try to put us down just because we get around.
Things they do look awful cold. I hope I die before I get old.
Talkin’ ’bout my generation.”
— Pete Townshend, 1965
I’m dating myself with this quotation, but you don’t need to have been alive in ’65 to be familiar with The Who’s anthem. I’ve left out the awful Roger Daltrey stutter that features in seven of the song’s eight lines, but you get the drift. It’s an expression of teen alienation; a de rigueur dissing of the previous generation.

“Why don’t you all f-fade away?” Townshend asked the parents of his audience and of course, eventually, they did.

Paul, on the other hand, had this to say about King David:
“David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.”
(Acts 13:36)
Okay, maybe the last part of the verse could be considered a bit of a downer. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the first clause. Would it interest you to serve the purpose of God in your generation? I know I like the idea.

The Search for Meaning

It speaks of a meaning to one’s life that Townshend’s own generation looked for and failed to find. They looked back at their parents, as every generation does, and came to the reasonable conclusion that the “things they do look awful cold”. And they probably did. The generation of Townshend’s parents bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after all — not that as individuals they had any say in the matter. Then they endured the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the racial divide in the U.S. and plenty of other things that certainly appeared plenty “cold” to agitators like Abby Hoffman, who wrote in Village Voice.:
“I am interested in fundamental changes in American society, in building a system on love, trust, brotherhood, and all the other beautiful things we sang about.”
Pretty words, but the sixties couldn’t deliver on them. The flower power generation eventually made all the mistakes their own parents made, and threw in a few new ones for good measure.

Two Ways to Serve the Purpose of God

But back to serving the purpose of God in your generation and mine. There are two ways we can do that, you know:

The first way is to flail around like Townshend, Abby Hoffman and most of those who came of age in the presidency of JFK, trying to do what makes sense to you in reaction to the things that don’t, chucking out the baby with the bathwater, overturning the apple cart, and all those other old-guy metaphors that evoke inchoate rage at ‘what is’, and an immature but sincere desire for something better. In a sense, such floundering may still be said to serve the purposes of God, in the same way that the self-indulgent, precipitate maneuvers of any subset of humanity may be worked together to accomplish the purposes of the gracious Almighty.

The second way is to serve as David did. Oh, David made a bunch of mistakes, some of them major ones. But David did a couple of things right that are quite distinctive to him.

One is that David knew how to wait.

Unfulfilled Promises

Moses, by contrast, had great difficulty waiting for God to deliver Israel from Egypt, so he slew an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew in the hope that it would start the ball rolling. Instead, he ended up running from Pharaoh for the next forty years or so until God’s time came around.

Abraham had a tough time waiting as well. God had promised him an heir, but the clock was ticking. He and his wife Sarah determined that having a child through Sarah’s handmaid might give God’s program a kickstart.

And Jacob traded for his brother’s birthright, lied and manipulated to acquire his brother’s blessing, and wrestled an angel in an effort to make something happen. You would certainly be accurate in labeling Jacob an activist.

These were bad ideas, all of them. And unnecessary, to boot.

David, though imperfect, seemed content to wait for God’s time.

He had been anointed king by Samuel, after all, in 1025 BC, assuming Bible chronologists can do the math, at age 15. If he assumed the throne at age 37, as we are told, that’s 22 years of waiting for God to fulfil his promise. It started promisingly enough: a full year younger than Pete Townshend was when he formed The Detours, David was out in front of two armies killing a giant that nobody in Israel wanted to fight, including the king.

Then … nothing. Well, okay, he might have fought in Saul’s army and made a name for himself, become alienated from Saul and had to run for his life for a few years. But nothing in the sense of God fulfilling his promises. So David waited, living in caves, living in Philistia, always on the run and always looking over his shoulder.

David knew how to wait for God. And rather than serving the purpose of God in a passive way, raging against ‘the machine’ and failing to make any long-term difference in society, David served him in an active way.

He actively waited for God.

Active Waiting

You know what I mean by ‘actively waiting’, right? I mean that every time an opportunity arose for David to take the situation into his own hands and to advance what he perceived to be God’s purposes for him, unlike Abraham, Moses or Jacob, David stood pat. He made the deliberate, conscious choice to not budge until he knew he was acting in the will of God. So when an opportunity came to kill Saul, David found himself politely apologizing rather than holding up the severed head of an enemy: “The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed”, he said. David was not passive, not at all. But he waited.

And while he was actively waiting, maybe he had the idea for this psalm:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.”
(Psalm 40:1-3)
How about you and me? Are we willing to wait actively for the Lord to bring about those things which we believe he wishes to accomplish through us?

David “served the purpose of God in his own generation”.

I would be quite okay with that as my epitaph.

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