During my childhood I was introduced to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books as well as his well-known poem, IF, which begins: If you can keep your head when all about you; Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too. If you can wait and not be tired of waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,…
Interestingly, the words of the third and fourth lines of the second stanza: If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same; … are found above the players’ entrance to the Centre Court at the All England Tennis and Croquet Club where the Wimbledon tennis championship is played.
Written in 1895 as a parent’s advice to a son/daughter, IF expresses the stoicism of Victorian Britain. Remarkable and highly esteemed though Kipling’s poem is, it makes us appreciate all the more, the deeper riches of the wisdom of Proverbs.
For example, in Proverbs 2:1ff we read: My son/daughter, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice of understanding, and seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God…
I touch on these matters of wisdom because there are voices today that reject the wisdom of the past. Sadly history shows that people reap the consequences when they fail to learn from the past. So, in an age that thinks it knows best, we need to help one another view life from a bigger perspective.
Consider, for example, not just the wisdom, but the command of God given to his ancient people on the subject of family: “Honor your father and mother… that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16).
These words introduce the second section of the Ten Commandments given to Moses some three millennia ago. As someone has observed, the Ten Commandments were something like the Bill of Rights for God’s people, setting out their relationships with God and with one another. The first four commandments concern the relationship of God’s people with him; the second six address relationships at the human level – with one’s neighbor.
If the Ten Commandments are like a Bill of Rights, then it comes as a surprise that the first of the human relationships addressed is the relationship with parents. We might have expected this fifth command to address our duty towards the State – be it the President or Head of State.
That this first command concerning our relationships, addresses relationship with parents, shows us that from God’s perspective, the family needs to be at the heart of our human relationships. Loyalty to family comes second only to our relationship with God. And significantly this is the only commandment that comes with a promise.
Now, you may think that this pattern belongs only to the Old Testament. But consider Jesus’ response when he was questioned on the subject of divorce. In Matthew 19:4-6 we read: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh?…’”
Furthermore, Paul the Apostle takes up the fifth Commandment in his Letter to the Ephesians where he writes: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:2-3).
Now some will feel uncomfortable at this because they have had painful experiences of family. They don’t feel any responsibility to family. However, it is evident that throughout the Bible God treats family seriously.
Many today consider that human society is evolving from a primitive beginning to some future ideal. The Bible has a different view. It speaks of men and women having fallen from an original ideal and in danger of progressing to a future disaster. Moses, Jesus and Paul the Apostle indicate that family order is important for the well-being of society.
How important it is that we do not lightly dismiss the wisdom of the past, thinking we know better. Yes, we do need to respect those who have a different perspective, but we also need, to use Kipling’s words, to keep our heads, holding firm to God’s commands and the trustworthiness of his promise.