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What gives me hope in the new year

Psalm 128 and the blessing of grandchildren

iStock/Mladen Zivkovic

What gives me hope in the new year

Much of the last three years of my life, when I have not been in the classroom, I have been giving public lectures and interviews on the major changes and challenges that the sexual revolution and its various offshoots—the transgender chaos, the pressures on free speech—have helped to unleash. It is a bleak story that does not become more encouraging with each retelling. And more times than I care to remember I have been asked at the end of these lectures or interviews what gives me hope or keeps me cheerful in such circumstances.

In flippant moments, I state the obvious: “I don’t read Twitter” or “I never believe what my wife tells me people say about me online.” But then I offer the serious answer: We know who will win in the end. God’s promise is to Christ’s church, and, by His promise, all will be well.

That is true, but as with so many truths that trade in claims about the distant future or lack any easily articulated immediate content, it can also be trite. Not trite in the objective sense because it is, as noted, true. But trite in the subjective sense, in that it is an easy answer to give and one that can on occasion be an excuse not to engage seriously with the present, rather like telling the bereaved husband that it’s OK, he will be reunited with his wife on the day of resurrection. True, but on its own not necessarily an adequate pastoral strategy.

And so where have I found hope and joy in 2022? The answer is simple: Psalm 128, especially verse 6, “May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!” I must have read that verse over five thousand times over the course of my life and I had always assumed the psalmist was wishing that the one who fears the Lord (hopefully the reader) would live a long time such that he would see two generations rise up before he himself died. But as with many truths, and many texts, new experiences of the reader can enrich meanings never before noticed.

That was what happened to me when I received news of the birth of my first grandchild in February. Then I knew that this verse is not simply, or even primarily, speaking about longevity. Just as children are a blessing to those, well, blessed enough to have them, so grandchildren compound and transform that blessing in beautiful and wonderful ways.

Just as the death of a loved one reduces those bereaved, so a new birth enriches us beyond imagining.

To hold in my arms life that has been, in earthly terms, created by life that my wife and I created was a remarkable experience, not one that cultivated pride—“Behold what I have made!”—but deep gratitude that I should have been blessed not merely not to go through life alone, not merely to have children of my own, but now to live to see my child have such a gift himself and for me to be privileged to share in it—that is a blessing no money can buy, reading no book can provide, but only the Lord can give. Just as the death of a loved one reduces those bereaved, so a new birth enriches us beyond imagining.

That is where the hope and the cheer in the immediate present come from: an acknowledgment of God’s goodness to us here and now, in this life. Yes, new life brings with it obligations to parents and grandparents, but these are light, joyful burdens. And holding my grandchild in my arms was the moment when the depth of Psalm 128:6 became personally real. It was not quite a “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace” moment, but one of overwhelming delight nonetheless. Nothing impresses on our hearts that life is a gift more than a newborn child. And, in this life, no newborn child presses this on us more than a grandchild.

Of course, as a father only of sons, I have discovered over the years that I am hopelessly vulnerable to the charms of my younger female relatives. My army of nieces shaped their relationship to me on the basis of a simple theological principle: Behold, the ATM has become flesh and dwells among us. No doubt my granddaughter will be of the same doctrinal conviction. And I will be happy to oblige that incarnational principle. Indeed, that too will bring me joy.

Yes, the culture is a mess. Yes, I fear what the world will look like in which my granddaughter will grow to adulthood. Yet I rejoice at the blessing I have in being able to see her, to hold her, and to delight in her. Christianity is, after all, a religion that sets priorities. Dealing with the crazy people reducing our culture to rubble is important but it should be cheerfully done. After all, it is hard to be unhappy when cradling one’s granddaughter in one’s arms.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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