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Weekend Reads: Enjoying the good things of this life

Books

christianfamily1026_2.jpgThe Christian Family

By Herman Bavinck

First published a century ago, Herman Bavinck’s Het Christelijk Huisgezin has finally been translated from Dutch and published as The Christian Family (Christian’s Library Press, 2012). Though he died in 1921, Bavinck was perhaps the foremost conservative Reformed theologian of the 20th century. He taught for many years at the Free University of Amsterdam, and as the second of 11 children, he certainly had some firsthand experience of what “family” means.

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The work begins with a historical survey: Bavinck could not resist pointing out that “the history of the human race begins with a wedding,” and he looks briefly at Adam and Eve in the garden. There, man was created male and female—both equally human, but with different characteristics and roles. The Fall took place through role reversal—Adam, who was to lead, followed his wife’s lead, producing sin and the shame unique to humans (animals and demons have no shame). Marred by sin, the family was restored to its original splendor by grace in Israel, even as it persisted among all the nations of the world in various stages of corruption. Bavinck summarized this corruption by saying that men are most likely to sin against their spouse by infidelity, while women’s chief failing is stubbornness.

In the 20th century, statist anti-family ideologies came to the fore. Many in 1912 (and their descendants today) believed that the state ought to take over the nurture of children from the family. But to be anti-family is to be anti-God, because God has providentially handpicked each person within the family for the good of himself and the others. The state may try to duplicate this, but technocrats are no match for divine wisdom.  

More than a history or a how-to guide, Bavinck’s work is a theology—which is why it’s still helpful.

copingwithchange1026_1.jpgCoping with Change: Ecclesiastes

By Walter C. Kaiser Jr.

Speaking of the good things of this life, one exposition of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, “… neither they of themselves are able to sustain us, nor we to merit, or by our own industry to procure them” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 193). That’s also the theme of Ecclesiastes, argues Walter Kaiser in his new commentary, Coping with Change (Christian Focus, 2013). In God’s infallible wisdom, He has separated the good things of life from the ability to enjoy them. Solomon had it all, but he did not necessarily have the ability to appreciate what he had, because that comes only by fearing God.

Kaiser presents his own translation, which departs from the traditional rendering of the Hebrew hebel as “vanity.” Rather, he argues, the word means “puzzling.” In other words, Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s treatise on the conceptual difficulty of a world where the absolute providential rule of a good God does not prevent many foolish and wicked events. Solomon wanted us to think about the reality that wisdom and joy are out of sync. He told us that the eternal solution is God’s final judgment, which will put everything to rights. The temporal solution is to fear God, and, as the Larger Catechism phrases it, “Pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift … enjoy a competent portion of” the good things of this life. Those means include work, food, and marriage. Yes, they are puzzling, but when enjoyed with reference to God and His sustaining grace, they make life joyous. In other words, Ecclesiastes affirms life by affirming that it can only be enjoyed in the fear of God. That sounds biblical to me. 

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb, a graduate of Patrick Henry College, is a Presbyterian rancher from Northern Colorado who loves the quirky, the eccentric, and the true.

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