Saturday, April 21, 2007

Proverbs 17:6, The Incredibles, and a random excursus into Gen 9

Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers

If Brad Bird's film The Incredibles can be said to hinge upon any simple paradigm that really goes beyond the initial premise of a family of superheroes this would be the basic premise. To some degree the deeper fantasy or wish-fulfillment we have watching a movie like The Incredibles is not really that our parents would be super-heroes but that they would do and say and be for us something like what Bob and Helen Parr are for their children. The significance of this is, I think, actually extremely hard to overstate and its basic concept is nothing less than one of biblical proportions, encapsulated in a simple proverb.

And this is a proverb that we can't spiritualize away by making an appeal to how God is our heavenly Father who is our glory, though that would certainly be true but there are passages like Ezekiel 44 (in other words "And it shall be unto them for an inheritance: I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel: I am their possession." So if God promises to the priests in Ezekiel to be the possession and inheritance they receive and through Christ believers are a chosen people, a group of priests, and a holy nation then we can see how Ezekiel 44 is fulfilled in and through Christ, our posession. Which is to say that we have no need to spiritualize a proverb like Proverbs 17:6 as though it were chiefly having a locus other than this life and our flesh and blood parents, grandparents, or grandchildren.

We live in an era, however, in which consider parents a glory is not only not encouraged but in many respects either not practical or essentially impossible. Abusive parents can't be thought of as a glory to a child at all. If the father is the glory of his son or daughter and he is a drunkard or an abuser or an all around bad man then what kind of glory is that to a child?

What kind of glory, indeed, because a parent who does not in some way contain the image of God is no glory at all. But this is a pretty brutal double-edged sword because what it means is that for those of us who would be tempted to see no glory in the parents we have received through Christ's providential hand it means that we are not thankful to Him for His provision even if with it terrible things have also come. As Job put it, shall we accept only good from God and not accept evil?

And sometimes that evil includes our parents. It sounds morbid and nasty and perhaps it is. Conversely, that anyone could get the idea of presenting a family in a film that are a bunch of superheroes and present them not just as a family of "supers" but a family of loving supers, that's interesting. It can be interesting for who refuses to buy the premise as for who chooses to. At the risk of employing some form of ad hominem the people who seem least likely to buy the premise may truly be least likely to have had any sense that their own parents could ever be like Bob and Helen Parr. Conversely, by the same measure the people most likely to find this appealing may also be least likely to have remembered experiencing anything like that in their own lives. Once again, a double-edged sword, so it's best to infer nothing particular in the end, isn't it, about those who do or don't buy the premise.

But it is the nature of wisdom literature in Scripture that you have to study it a long time and reflect on it a long time and the proverb often exposes you rather than you being able to necessarily expose the proverb, at least at first. Studying the wisdom literature more and more enables you to understand it better.

I think at the bottom of things we all wish at some level that our parents could be, were, or are able to help us figure things out, solve problems for us. If we don't then what right do we have to claim that we, as Christians, see God as our Father? Or Mother for that matter? If Proverbs 17:6 is just bunk because of what we experienced are we missing the point of the proverb? Is the proverb even true? Why? Perhaps it's just an epigrammatic disclosure of desires in our hearts that can't and won't go away no matter how much we persuade ourselves otherwise. Perhaps the more we seek to dismiss the input and significance of parents the more we find ourselves enmeshed in their influence, even reflecting qualities about them without noticing it?

And in a way the cryptic tale of the curse on Canaan may be illuminating here. Canaan may have displayed a greater proportional quality of a vice than his father Ham, which may have been why Noah cursed him and not his father, who in Genesis 9 announced to the rest of the family that he had seen Noah drunk and naked. This would be a moment where the father is most certainly not a superhero! But his curse, if you will, seems to be used by God to exact a startlingly multi-generational punishment for what appears to be a multi-generational sin which seems to be somehow exploiting or capitalizing on a parent's moment of weakness, sin, and self-humiliation as an opportunity to speak badly of them or reveal this to other family members.

Or it might not, I don't really know exactly what's up in Genesis 9. But it seems that whatever Ham did involved Canaan for Canaan to have been cursed.

Well, this is sort of a rambling, directionless discourse on a couple of verses and the utterly tangential link they have to a movie I like and it's kind of late.