Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are children just an "illustration"?

I’ve been doing a Beth Moore Bible study lately, the one on Psalms. This past weeks lesson contained a quote, the implications of which I found to be offensive. I don’t always agree with her conclusions but usually I find that I disagree on minor points. This, however was a bit different.

This past week we were studying Psalm 127 and 128. I was amazed at how actual, physical children were brushed over but more than that, I was taken aback that she would share the following quote as if it even made a very clear or beneficial point! It almost seemed as if the quote was added to make sure no one might leave with the impression that God could have meant for us to think this was REALLY about our physical children.

The quote is by Eugene Peterson and is referring to Psalm 128’s reference to a wife being a fruitful vine and the children being like olive shoots around the table. He says:

“The illustration is, as we would expect, conditioned by Hebrew culture, in which the standard signs of happiness were a wife who had many children and children who gathered and grew around the table: fruitful vine and olive shoots. This illustration is just that, an example that we need not reproduce exactly in order to experience blessing. (We, for instance, don’t try to have as many children as possible – or try to get them to stay home for all their lives!) But the meaning is still with us: Blessing has inherent in it the power to increase.”

Oh, the problems I have with this quote!! The first is his reference to “Hebrew culture”, as if to say it is only their culture that happened to value children. It is important to realize that the HEBREW culture is the one that was formed and influenced by God like not other culture we know. Their value of children came because children are literally gifts given by God and they accepted that as fact. God made that clear and they believed Him and their attitude reflected it. That attitude should be part of ANY culture that knows and believes God. It’s not a cultural thing, it’s one of our Creator’s things.

I also find it interesting that he thinks it’s just an illustration. Perhaps Biblical talk of a husband having but one wife is also just an illustration, and not something we’re meant to reproduce and hold to. And talk of working diligently that we find so often in Proverbs is just an illustration, not something God really expected to see His people put into practice. And, hey, while we’re at it, let’s just call everything an illustration and read the Bible according to our culturally accepted views, rather than seeing our culture through the clear view of God’s Word! (Tongue in cheek here, folks.) Where does this man get the idea that this picture is not truly God’s heart for His people and that this is just figurative? Does he get it from God’s Word? Or does he get it by trying to adjust the Bible to what is culturally acceptable?

The part of this passage that is illustration is the reference to the wife being like a fruitful vine and the children to olive plants. What we’re supposed to picture is the wife like (illustration) a lush, green vine that not only gives fruit but is beautiful and happily growing and producing in the home. This is how a woman is to be in her home. Literally. Not a thin, feeble, fruitless vine, but lush and green. People should see the wife and see that she is bountiful in her element. The children are illustrated by olive plants. Olive plants were very valuable. It was a good thing to have them and to have them growing tall and strong, to one day bear a valuable fruit. With that illustration we are shown that actual, literal children are valuable and mean good things for the future of God’s people.

It’s obvious to me that he really misses a really big point. Children ARE the primary blessing you find in Biblical references to blessing but Mr. Peterson says, basically, you need not have children to experience blessing. Well, yes, God does bless in other ways but in THIS passage children are THE blessing. If you do not accept God’s blessings (children) you WILL miss out on this particular blessing, and likely many more blessings that come as part of the child blessing. Without multiplying with children, you are greatly limiting the ways God can bless you in other areas. Had God not blessed Abraham’s line with children (even in the midst of the unfortunate circumstances of slavery), they would not have been able to take the Promised Land. What blessings might we not be able to take because we’ve refused the first blessing of fruitfulness in the area of children?

Finally, I found absolutely misguided, this part of his quote: “We, for instance, don’t try to have as many children as possible – or try to get them to stay home for all their lives!”

God is the God of conception and apart from His divine intention and plan, no child is conceived. What we, in our culture don’t do is accept God’s gifts! We resist and in many ways make it clear to God that we have no desire to take as many blessings as He would like to give us! If God did not want us to have these gifts from Him, He would not give them as much as we “try”. In the same way, God doesn’t give when He doesn’t have a special purpose and plan for all involved. This quote assumes that God is not intimately involved in each conception, an idea that is refuted by a number of Old Testament scriptures. But, Mr. Peterson might argue that those are just “illustrations” as well. Yes, I suppose if you don’t want to believe something, just tell yourself it’s an illustration and you no longer feel like you have to take it as if God actually meant what was written.

1 comment:

Everybody's Mama said...

Thanks for this post! I have not seen the study on Psalms although I knew there was one out. Being that her work tends to be very popular among many Christian women and in many churches, I find it sad that this type of teaching is interwoven into Beth Moore's lessons. You did a great job refuting the quote and backing it up with a correct interpretation of scripture. Blessings!