September 24, 2007

Relax Those Edgy Teeth!
By Pastor George Van Alstine

When my brother and I were little, we experienced things that tasted good and things that tasted bad. Good tasting things were labeled “sweetâ€?; bad tasting things were labeled “sour.â€? We came across other flavors which fit into neither category. Today we would use the word “tartâ€? to describe these tastes, but that word wasn’t yet in our vocabulary. So we developed a descriptive way of referring to these taste experiences. We said they were “sveeet,â€? with this made-up word spoken through clenched teeth. We kind of hissed the word.

Later, when I read in the Old Testament prophets about grapes that had gone “off,â€? so that they “set your teeth on edge,â€? I felt I knew exactly what they meant. These grapes were “sveeetâ€? (through on-edge teeth).

Both Jeremiah (31:28-30) and Ezekiel (18:2-4) quoted a proverbial saying that was commonly used in their day:
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.â€?
The meaning is clear: that one generation’s sins often have serious consequences for their offspring. We sometimes seem to get away with sinful behavior, but our children may pay the consequences.

Originally, this saying was directed at the parents, warning them that their bad behavior would probably have negative effects in the lives of their children. But by the time it was quoted by the two prophets, it was more commonly used by the children, as an excuse for their messed-up lives. Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned them they couldn’t hide behind this alibi:
“… all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.â€? (Jeremiah 31:30)

“As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no longer be used by you in Israel.

Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is the person who sins that shall die.� (Ezekiel 18:3-4)

Every one of us can demonstrate that our problems in life—our sins, our failures, our depression, our alcoholism, our violent anger—are the result of our parents’ mistakes. The case is easy to make and we can support it with plenty of true-life stories.

But there are three problems with persisting in this attitude. First, our parents too are victims; their teeth are probably still on edge from what their parents did to them. How many generations do we need to go back to find a guilt-free ancestor?

Second, holding a grudge against our parents robs us of one of the most important relationships life will ever offer us. If we hold our “loved onesâ€? at arms length, we may never be loved by any one.

Third, and most important, we will never become well and whole until we take full responsibility for who we are and what we need to do to grow in a positive direction. Blaming others just postpones the inevitable: we are the only ones who can make the right choices now and in the future.

When it comes right down to it, the only way to get rid of the “sveeetâ€? teeth-on-edge taste is to experience some of the true sweetness of God’s forgiving love. That will calm our teeth down.