Cover Story

We are family

God still works through families, despite our feeble attempts to "improve" His design

Issue: "Marriage and the family," May 20, 2000

God could have chosen to make each human being separately out of the dust, observed Martin Luther, as He did Adam. But instead He chose to populate the earth from generation to generation by inventing the family.

When in marriage a man and a woman become husband and wife, they are entering a vocation, a calling from God. This union may well lead to another calling, that of being parents.

For Luther, the doctrine of vocation was not so much a matter of serving God in one's work as it was an understanding of how God works through human beings. God gives us our daily bread through the vocation of farmers, bakers, truck drivers, retailers, and checkout clerks. God heals through doctors, protects by police officers, teaches through teachers, and cares for His people spiritually through pastors.

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Though God works through the vocations of even non-Christians to exercise His providential care, Christians all have multiple callings: in the church, in their work, as citizens, and as members of a family.

There are even different callings within the family, each of which is a sphere of love and service to the others: husband, wife, father, mother, son, and daughter. Luther even considered being a child to be a vocation. A man is a husband to his wife, a father to his children, and still a son to his parents as long as they live. Each relationship entails specific kinds of responsibility, love, and service. Each relationship is also a means by which God blesses those who are touched. The husband is to be a blessing to his wife, and the wife to her husband, channels for God's manifold gifts to one another.

Parenthood-though so commonplace as to seem ordinary-may be the most miraculous calling of them all, the one in which God's workings are most dramatically evident. The husband and wife join physically and engender a new human being. Then they must take care of the child, tending to his every physical and emotional need. Then they must teach the child as he grows, showing how he is to treat other people, correcting his bad behavior, shaping his character, explaining what he needs to know, and initiating him into adulthood.

More than that, as Spenser points out in his great wedding poem "Epithalamion," to beget a child is to beget an immortal soul, and parents' larger goal is to fit their children for heaven, "of blessed Saints for to increase the count." To help in that process parents teach their children God's Word, take them to church, make sure they get a godly education, and guide them through the big and small trials of their lives.

This process goes on through time for generations and generations, as children grow up to have children of their own, whereupon they grow up to have children, until both the earth and heaven are indeed filled with a particular couple's "large posterity."

And yet, it is God all along who is working in the family, bringing a man and a woman together and calling them into marriage, creating new life in the mother's womb, providentially caring for children through the sometimes fumbling ministrations of mom and dad.

The family is God's invention. He protects it in the Ten Commandments-"Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Honor thy father and thy mother"-and His Word uses the family as a way to talk about God Himself. Since our dependence on Him is that of a helpless baby to a loving parent, we are told to address Him as "our Father." Since His relationship to us in Christ is as loving and intimate as that between a groom and his bride, the church is called "the Bride of Christ." Husbands and wives are told to emulate the relationship between Christ and the church in their relationship with each other.

The church is for believers, but God blesses even those who do not know Him with families, which become the foundation for every other social and cultural institution.

This is what the family is, by God's design. Its center is marriage, God's way. But today many people think there is a better idea: marriage, our way.

We live at a time when husbands and wives routinely divorce each other, even though Jesus warns human beings not to break asunder what God Himself has joined. Even when marriages stay together, they are often torn by marital discord, even though it is a violation of God's calling to make each other miserable.

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