Be All That You Can Be

We want our kids to be all that they can be. We read descriptions of “tiger moms,” dictating their child’s every move to gain maximum results. We observe the phenomenon of “helicopter parents,” constantly hovering to protect, defend, and enable their children to achieve their heart’s desire

So how hard should we push? What kind of standards do we want our children to meet? In some circles, kids are supposed to train like Olympic athletes, study like Ph.D. candidates, perform like the New York Philharmonic, and keep a schedule like a CEO. Is it any wonder that by fourteen some are burned out and turned off?

I’ve been thinking about these things in the light of what is arguably the strangest story in the Bible–the story of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4. Here, god-like creatures cohabit with human females to produce a race of “giants,” described as “heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.” Turn to the story of the Nephilim and you will think you have picked up a supermarket tabloid–the kind of magazine you would be too embarrassed to buy, but might try to scan, as you wait in the grocery check-out line, hoping that no one you know is looking over your shoulder.

Some have suggested that the Nephilim, spoken of here as “sons of God” who took human wives, might represent ancient kings or nobles–powerful men who simply took what they wanted. The story, then, expresses the transgression of limits, reflecting the disorder into which creation has been plunged. Others have suggested that this story might be understood as a mysterious explanation of a race of giants, a tribe of unusually large and fearsome people. The Nephilim are mentioned only one other place in scripture. When the people of Israel are about to enter the promised land, the spies whom Joshua sends in to check out the land come back reporting that the Nephilim live there, “giants before whom we are like grasshoppers.”

F. H. Breukelman, in an essay in a book called Voices From Amsterdam, posits that if we can’t figure out what a Bible passage means, then a good question to ask is: How does it function in the text? Breukelman suggests the Nephilim function as a kind of foil to Noah. When the world seems beyond saving, the Nephilim turn up. But God does not turn to these “heroes” to save the world. The Nephilim, mighty and accomplished though they may be, are not the solution. They are part of the problem.

Instead, God turns to a nobody named Noah who is described as a “righteous” man–a saddiq–not perfect by any means, but a man whose heart is in the right place and whose life is oriented towards God.

This got me to wondering: What do we want most for ourselves and our kids? Do we want to be heroes of name and fame, god-like, fashioning our own destiny, taking what we want, scrambling to the top at any cost? This story reminds us that we are not called to be god-like, but to be like God; not usurping God’s supremacy, but serving God’s purposes. Like God, as in saddiq, righteous. Like God, as in caring, giving, serving–maybe even dying.

When the Centurion at the foot of the cross saw Jesus draw his last breath, he didn’t exclaim: “My hero!” but rather, “Here was a righteous (good) man.”

We want our children to be all that they can be. But so often we have thought that means preparing them to join the camp of the Nephilim. Maybe instead we should urge them and form them to join the company of the saddiq, the righteous. Now that really would be something, wouldn’t it?

Norman Kolenbrander is a “retired” pastor in the Reformed Church in America living in Pella, Iowa.