Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No perfect families

     Someone has remarked that there are no "perfect" families mentioned  in the Bible. When my husband and I heard this, we immediately tried to come up with evidence to the contrary. Jesus' family must have been ideal -- after all, Jesus himself was a most illustrious member of it, and he is the most perfect person who ever lived! But, upon close examination of the text, we learn that his family lived in the backwaters of Israel (Nazareth), his mom and dad mistakenly took off for home and left him in the temple, and his brothers and sisters thought he was crazy and tried to do an intervention to keep him from spouting all that nonsense about God being his real father!
     We also thought of Noah and Mrs. Noah -- they stuck together through difficult and improbable circumstances, and Mrs. Noah heroically put up with her husband's boat-building hobby for all those years, and in the middle of the desert, for heaven's sake... And I thought of Isaiah and his wife (referred to as "the prophetess") who agreed to the crazy names he came up with for their sons -- "Shear-Jashub" and "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz." (They don't get any better in English: "a remnant will return," and "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.")
     The Bible stories are littered with tales of imperfect, less than ideal families. We read about incest, polygamy, arguing, murder (in the very first family!), adultery, wayward children, sickness and sorrow. It seems that every family takes up a cross of some kind; the greatest being in the family of our Lord, for as the elderly sage Simon prophesied to Mary: "a sword will pierce through your own soul also." At the foot of the cross, newly adopted into the disciple John's household, she felt the sword of separation from her firstborn son, who was, at the same time, in the dark agony of separation from God, his Father.
     But, like so many things in the Bible, the point of the stories of imperfect families is not their brokenness, but their restoration, not their sin, but their salvation, not their failures, but their redemption. For Adam and Eve, it is baby Seth, the beginning of a long unbroken line to Christ, for Noah and his family, a second chance at life in this world, for Abraham and Sarah, a child so long-awaited, loved and unexpected that his birth resounds with joyful laughter. In every story, something comes along to wipe away the sorrow, even if it is only the promise of eternal life to come. Even in the story of Jesus's earthly family this rings true -- our last picture of them is found in Acts chapter 1-- "Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" are gathered with his followers in the upper room, waiting for the Holy Spirit, who, as Jesus said, "will abide with you forever."
     Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the Biblical families is that the child of Bethlehem, when born in our hearts, is the one who brings peace and hope into our chaotic lives. When we become a member of his family, we are born into an eternal oneness with him and partake in the blessed position of sonship with him. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!" -- John writes with joyful pride. He will never abandon us, or make an unwise decision about our lives, or think of anything else as being of greater importance than his relationship with us. As children of God, we have truly found a forever home.
      And during those dark times, when we look at our own families and despair, for many and complex reasons, we must bear in mind that "there is one God and Father of us all" who "works in all things for our good." He is, in his own and perfect way, working in each life, in each family, with an eternal purpose in mind, for a time when we will all be related and living in true relationship. There is no better description of Heaven than "home," because it illustrates to the fullest degree how God will take the broken, disconnected things of this life and make them perfectly whole. Until then the greatest work of love we can do for our families is to be redemptive in our relationships; to take the things that go wrong and, by the power of God's love and grace, turn them into something touched by goodness, set free to love and be loved.

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