Do you have a Facebook account? Chances are, you do – the majority of people who read our blog are referred here from Facebook links.
If you’re on Facebook, you’re likely familiar with what happened to me a few days ago. I had a couple of spare minutes, so I logged on and looked at the various things people had posted. One of them was a link to a mildly interesting article, which in turn led me to a slightly more interesting article, which led to another article, and before I knew it I had wasted almost an hour.
I really need to stop doing that!
One of the more interesting articles, though, got me to thinking. The article talked about how many common ancestors are shared among various famous people in American history – Did you know that George W. Bush and John Kerry are distant cousins? – and noted that you don’t have to go very far back in history to find common ancestors between a lot of folks because the sheer number of ancestors we have increases dramatically as you look back through previous generations. (Each of us has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on…)
The author of the article did a little bit of math and calculated that each of us has 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. If each generation is about 25-30 years long, that means that each of us had 128 direct ancestors living sometime in the early part of the 1800’s.
That means that, at some point between the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, there were 128 random strangers living somewhere on this earth who made a series of decisions that led directly to your birth. Without each of those decisions having been made by each of those 128 individuals, you would not exist today. (You could argue that someone like you would exist, but it still wouldn’t be you, exactly – each of those individuals makes up 1/128 of your genetic material.)
It occurs to me that there are two very different ways to look at this information…
One interpretation is that we are all just the product of random chance and that our existence is nothing special. After all, just as 128 unique people made choices two hundred years ago that resulted in your birth, 128 unique, unrelated people made choices two hundred years ago that led to the birth of every other person on the face of this planet. We are all the product an extraordinary set of coincidences, which means that we are not so extraordinary after all.
When I think about that interpretation, I realize that it leads to a sense of real isolation and hopelessness. After all, if we’re all just little bits of genetic information passed along in a completely random way from one generation to the next, what sort of connection do we really have to our past? What kind of purpose can we feel in life if our very existence is just a coincidence?
The other interpretation, though, is this: If you believe that God has a unique plan and calling for your life, and if you believe that He created you to serve Him in this calling, then how amazing is it that He orchestrated the exact set of circumstances required to lead to your birth?
In Psalm 139:16, the psalmist says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God’s sovereignty over His creation and His unique purpose for you means that He has worked down through hundreds of generations to see to it that you, His desired creation, would emerge from the series of seemingly random and chaotic events that have made up human history, uniquely suited and prepared to do exactly what He has called you to do in this life.
Does that knowledge encourage you? I would hope so. Too often, it seems that the world is conspiring against us with trials and hardships that can seem overwhelming, and yet we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control of every moment. He designed your future before history even began, and you can trust that His plans are better than anything you could come up with on your own.
God’s act of creation didn’t end on the sixth day recorded in Genesis – it is an ongoing process of His Lordship over every aspect of life, including your family tree. As all of us continue to journey toward being the people that God has called us to be, may we never forget that He has been at work since before time began preparing us for His unique purpose and calling for our lives.
Jeremiah 29:11 – “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”