The first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel opens the New Testament with a genealogy. It is a Christmas list—not a wish list, but a Providential list. It is the outworking of God’s Hand in the generations through history, culminating in the birth of Christ.
Matthew 1:17 summarizes the genealogy. “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.” Fourteen is a Providential number.
Today, two thousand years after the incarnation, we are no less a part of God’s great story than the Old Testament prophets and kings, or the New Testament disciples. What wonders might God have in store for America at the brink of 2006? Is there a Fourteenth Generation somewhere in the nation’s wings, ready to act upon some great plan of destiny?
Thirteen, of course, is known to the superstitious as the unlucky number. Generational scholars Neil Howe and William Strauss labeled the apathetic, bewildered, ambiguous Generation X the Thirteenth Generation for its strange place in history (born in the late 1960s and 1970s). “Counting back to the peers of Benjamin Franklin,” they wrote, “this generation is, in point of fact, the thirteenth to know the American nation, flag, and constitution.” After the Thirteenth Generation, Howe and Stauss called the new youth the Millennial Generation, but we might just as well be called the Fourteenth Generation.
Fourteen generations ago was the age of the men and women who first called themselves Americans. It was the elder generation of the Founding Fathers, the contemporaries of the Great Awakening: Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams. About fourteen generations before them lived Christopher Columbus.
The early Americans, from the Puritans to the Founders, considered themselves the objects of God’s special favor and the tools of His service in this land. “We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the Strong,” John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson on July 20, 1776. “Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?” To the American founders, the “Supreme Ruler of the Universe” and “Divine Providence” directed that storm. Patrick Henry wrote to Henry Lee in 1795, “The American Revolution was the grand operation, which seemed to be assigned by the Deity to the men of this age in our country.” Dare we presume this generation not called to some task of equal measure in the course of human events, a task that will demand the same brand of highly cultivated courage and faith that attended the American founding?
We have little reason to think ourselves exempt from God’s plan, tempting though the alternatives seem. The world promises a whole lot of stuff to those who make the world’s investment. But it isn’t for the sake of our prosperity and physical satisfaction that God orders the world; that He does for some higher reason that confounds even the most expert observers of hurricanes and earthquakes and of the rise and fall of nations. We are here, in our generation, in our little moment of time, to serve the King of Kings. Our task is to be conformed to His plan, not He to ours.
America is unique in the world. We can view that uniqueness as a product of ourselves alone, or of something higher, something that in turn gives us meaning. To choose the second vantage would mean revival to a dying civilization. Such a revolution of intellect, morality, culture, and spirit would be the reversal of the prior revolution that even now attributes its aging breaths to retiring Baby Boomers on college campuses, in the old media, in liberal churches, in public high schools. Slow fades the flicker on the marijuana joint; fast rises the Light of the World.
The emergence of a generation, like the incarnation, is a reminder that history is going somewhere.
The vanguard of the Fourteenth Generation is now graduating from high school, in college, entering the work world, and defending America in the Middle East. We were born and raised in prosperity. We are the chief recipients of the financial consumption that I witnessed in the parking lots and checkout lines of my local mall two days before Christmas. We are not protestors or slobs like the Baby Boomers. We are not slackers or radical individualists like the Xers. The leading edge of the generation is proving itself to value community institutions, personal connections, religious tradition, respectful tolerance, self-government, and spiritual purpose.
In the Fourteenth Generation, drug use is down; teen pregnancy and teen abortions are down; optimism is up; support of traditional moral values is up; “reality” is the big word because interest in absolute truth is up. A higher percentage of young people are pro-life than of any other age group. It is a generation of whom liberalism was expected and conservatism is being returned. We are patriotic and ambitious like our grandparents, morally rebellious like our parents. We are now in the beginning stages of that rebellion, and it is a rebellion against rebellion.
If, as President Bush said last year, it is to be “liberty’s century,” the members of the Fourteenth Generation are the appointed guardians.
Hans Zeiger is a junior at Hillsdale College and author of Get Off My Honor:
The Assault on the Boy Scouts of America, as well as a forthcoming book about
the rise of conservatism amongst young Americans.