Many religious folk of our day have reduced Jesus to a family values preacher who sells eternal fire insurance on the side. We live in a world that gives lip service to Jesus, the eternal Savior but rejects His teaching absolutely.
The other day I was listening to a television news magazine program concerning the power of evangelicals in America. The preacher being interviewed repeated an oft-quoted threat that his parents made to him: “If you get a spanking at school, you will get one at home.”
Told and retold, that threat might help the school keep order, but it is emphatically not gospel. The gospel is about a son who went away with his daddy’s money and wasted it on riotous living, yet was welcomed home and totally restored to his prior place without a beating or even a stern lecture. He doesn’t get what he deserves; he gets a party.
A family focused faith cannot be biblically supported. No good role models are found in the Bible.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have as flawed a family life as one can imagine.
Abraham has a son by his wife’s handmaid. He takes Hagar and their son, Ishmael, to the wilderness to die, because his wife Sarah tells him he must. Ole Abe was apparently not the head of his household.
Isaac has two children, Jacob and Esau. He loves Esau, while his wife, Rebekah, loves Jacob. The mama’s boy comes out on top when his mother helps him to steal Esau’s birthright by tricking the old and blind Isaac.
Jacob marries two of his first cousins. After working seven years for the beautiful Rachel, Jacob’s uncle tricks him into marrying Leah, the oldest daughter. Jacob must work seven more years for Rachel.
He has 12 sons by these two wives and their two handmaids. That’s just halfway through the book of Genesis, without mentioning Cain killing his brother, Abel.
The kings fare no better than the patriarchs.
David’s family life is rough and unruly. He has at least four wives when he sees the beautiful Bathsheba, which leads to an affair and a resulting pregnancy. To hide his sin, David plots to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed.
David’s oldest son, Amnon, rapes one of David’s daughters, Tamar. Then another of David’s sons, Absalom, kills his brother Amnon because he raped his sister. All of this finally leads to a war between David and Absalom, in which Absalom is killed.
David’s son, Solomon–what a family he had! Among his wives were 700 princesses and 300 concubines. There was not a lot of monogamy among the Kings.
Jesus’ family values are strange indeed. When he is told that his mother and brothers are at the door, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
Farther along Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Jesus is using hyperbole when it comes to the word “hate,” for Jesus calls us to love even our enemies, but this passage needs to be taken very seriously. I understand its meaning because much of my work involves dealing with family dysfunction.
I know many people who never feel adequate, because one or both of their parents always found fault with their behavior or looks. Some say their mother or father never once said that they loved them. These people may strive with all their might to gain positive attention from their parents or others, or they may become withdrawn and depressed.
I have had young people tell me they would always be prejudiced, because their parents had taught them to hate.
I know parents who struggle with the question, “What did I do wrong?” because their child might have taken a wrong turn. Parents need to know that children belong to God before they belong to us.
As a parent I struggled with whether to protect my children from temptation or trust them to do the right thing. I know that I failed my daughter and son because I made faulty decisions in both directions.
Parents often want to protect their children from the radical call of Jesus to bear the cross. When my daughter was a child she talked about going to the Peace Corps, and I cringed. As much as I want my children to be all God wants them to be, I want them next to me so that I can protect them.
Whenever I talk to my own parents about what I feel is God’s radical call for us all, they always say, “Be careful.” Careful is not what Jesus calls us to be, but we love our children, and it is hard to trust God with their safety.
Many of us have been bruised by family, some crippled by it, and some even totally destroyed.
One of my most honest friends told me the story of fighting to get ready for church, fussing all the way to the church yard, and then striving to hide their imperfect family once they arrived.
People who hide behind the pretense of perfection might believe they are the only ones struggling to keep the dialogue going between husbands, wives and children. They might believe that God has abandoned them, and everybody else has the perfect family that they pretend to have. They might believe that God won’t love them if they fail at family.
The church needs to be a community that loves enough to help one another overcome the tyranny of family when it befalls; a grace-filled place where we can find the family of Jesus striving together, in spite of our failures, to hear and do the word of God.
Larry Wilson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Biscoe, N.C.