My mother-in-law, Erika, arrived last Thursday for a few weeks. Yesterday she took the rest of the family for a couple days up to Zasenbeck – a small town on the old border between East and West Germany, where she lived as a little girl. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to learn a little more about their Nanny and what life was like for her growing up. At the age of 12, after the difficulties of the war, her family went searching for new opportunities in Canada. It was a challenging and yet exciting time for her whole family.
I am of the opinion that it’s a good thing to know your family history. Some people claim not to be interested in such things but I think it gives us a greater sense of personal identity. It helps to answer the question, “Who am I?” It’s helpful to know where we have come from; how events and cultures have shaped our ancestors and us. We didn’t grow up in a vacuum but rather we are a product of many family histories. I want my children to have a sense of where their roots come from. I want them to know the stories and adventures that have given them the building blocks for life. For example, last summer in Canada the kids went to a camp that was just a few kilometres from where the Fortunes first settled when they emigrated from Scotland in the mid 19th century. The kids seemed unimpressed by visiting the old farms and meeting distant cousins but I know that some day they will come to appreciate that sense of history, that sense of family roots. In the same way they will be able to picture where the German side of the family comes from.
Some people haven’t been as fortunate to discover their roots. Perhaps they never knew one or both of their biological parents. Or, maybe past events were just never shared with them and they have never had the chance to know their personal stories. Finding and understanding their personal identity may be more challenging in those cases.
But our biological family only contributes to part of our personal identity. The Bible tells us that we are also part of a spiritual family. When we became a Christian we were given a new family and what a history it has! The story of the Bible then becomes our personal story as well, it tells us about our ancestors and where they came from. Abraham is the father of those who believe in faith. Romans 4:16 says, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”
The Bible isn’t a book about other people and other events unrelated to us. It is part of our life story. It is our history and heritage. We have been grafted into the family of God. Our spiritual journey has been influenced and shaped by family members who went before us. Think of some of our Biblical ancestors and their stories: Adam and Eve, Noah, Ruth, David, Elijah, Josiah, Matthew, Barnabas, Deborah, Paul and many others.
We learn from their mistakes. We are strengthened by their acts of courage. We are encouraged by reading that they faced problems we can identify with. God saw them through the storms and difficulties. They were not perfect but he loved them and was faithful to them. God kept his promises to our family. Knowing their stories and understanding their world helps us know and understand our identity in Christ and our place in the world. It’s a wonderful family to belong to.
So when you read your Bible this week remember that it’s like a family album and you have been influenced by all that has taken place. Reading with that perspective may just make it seem more relevant and hopeful.