A funny thing happens to me these days when I listen to pop songs. In many ways, they are no different than the pop songs I grew up on. They are filled with lyrics of love, passion, sadness, betrayals, and recoveries. But what is different as I listen to them today, is I no longer think of my situation. Instead, I think of my children and youth in the church. It isn’t that my kids (or many of the kids in church) are yet old enough to be falling in love, or someone falling in love with them. But some are and within a few years the time will be coming for the rest. And I consider the advice I will offer when those days come.
But, the pop songs situation, to a degree, parallels the Biblical stories. I once remember a pastor saying, “I wonder what Jesus would have said if he had lived into his 50s or 60s.” I was 30 at the time and the idea sounded strange to me then, but much less so today. Almost all of our Biblical stories feature people as children, in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Even the “old” prophets probably weren’t so old by today’s standards. There are some characters though that are older. There are even those whose age seems extreme to us (but that might have been a literary device to say they were really old. I struggle with believing people literally lived 900 years and so). Nevertheless, the main focus of stories in the Bible are on people who are younger than forty.
Therefore issues that we face as forty plus Christian people in the 21st century (living also as parents, step-parents, grandparents, and even wise men and women in our various communities), is really breaking new ground. Even in the 19th century, people did not live as long as we do (or wait to get married so long). People got married in their teens, not their late twenties, in Biblical times. People certainly didn’t consider marriage optional as some younger people do today. So, what advice should we offer? We can’t just pick up a Bible and find a law or a story with a direct answer. We need to talk it out, pray over it, and discern what God is calling on us to say.
In Biblical times, elders often would gather at the gate to give advice to younger ones going to and fro the cities. In the end, I think we in the church may be tasked to do something similar, at least conceptually. God is blessing us with more years. What does our age and experience have to say as we look out at younger generations today? How can we be the “men (or women) at the gate” to advise those starting out? There may be nothing new under the sun in regard to the human heart but lifestyles are increasingly different from previous generations (more-less from life millennia ago).
And again, we can’t just look up rules in the Bible for an answer. How many monogamous relationships can we list in the Bible? Not many. And yet we all know that that is the most sound footing for a long and lasting relationship. How did we come to believe this? And today, how should people handle birth control? Whose advice on relationships should people listen to when contradictory advice is everywhere? Is marriage a must? Is living together morally equivalent to being promiscuous? When should couples get married? Are the standards for divorce and remarriage the same as in the first century? The Bible is not going to give unambiguous guidance on any of this because it isn’t a 21st century book but rather a 1st century library of ancient sacred texts.
The Bible may not give us 21st century black and white answers but it surely continues to inspire 21st century people. God speaks to us through prayer and the study of Scripture. What passages should we study when thinking of modern relationships? Where does that inspiration lead us to say? We can only find the answer together. And together, we can plot the way ahead and give our best moral advice to our younger counterparts.
The challenges of 21st century life are many and complex. But the potential blessings are even more. Let us face the challenges as God’s people – together. And let us help as many as we can as we travel The Way.
Until next time,