Monday, December 21, 2009

Family Values

If we put second things before first things, we can lose not only the first thing but the second thing as well. (See C. S. Lewis' essay First and Second Things printed in his book God in the Dock.) If we ask what Evangelical Christians have put first in recent times, the first answer that comes to mind is family values. Yet never have family values been at a lower ebb, including among Evangelical Christians. Is there some relationship?

Now do not get me wrong; I am not opposed to family values. I am firmly convinced that God's ideal is one man and one woman for life (Matthew 19:1-12), that sexual activity outside this context is wrong (Hebrews 13:4), and that the parents have the primary responsibility for raising the children resulting from their union (Ephesians 6:1-4). But even a correct position can become distorted if it is blown out of proportion.

If we make something central when it does not belong there, it can become a panacea for solving life's problems. We look for the perfect mate expecting to be made unfailingly happy. Now in Christian circles, it is frequently recognized that marriage and family is something you need to work at. As an antidote to the "Some Enchanted Evening" view of instantaneous romantic perfection, this is a good thing. But it can backfire and produce a legalistic burden. If my family, for whatever reason, falls short of the picture-perfect ideal, then obviously I have not worked hard enough. And if someone else does not meet this standard, it is easy to condemn.

We need to realize that we are imperfect people in an imperfect world (Romans 3:23; 8:19-23). If we recognize this, we will be able to enjoy those good things God has given us (1 Timothy 4:3-5; James 1:17). But if we put anything on too high a pedestal, we can end up losing it. Sometimes the easiest way not to obtain something is to try too hard. We will settle for nothing less than perfection and will ruin the good things we have, seeking it. And when this does not work, we can end up going from person to person looking for the perfect match. We can even throw out family values entirely, concluding they do not work. Whereas if we keep our expectations within reasonable bounds, we can learn to love the real people God has put in our lives.

I am not in any way suggesting the abandonment of family values. But family, like everything else, needs to be put in the perspective of the total work that God is trying to produce in our lives (Ephesians 2:10). For it is God who genuinely claims the first place in our lives (Matthew 22:36-38; Isaiah 43:10-13). To attempt to put anything else, however good, in that place will only result in its destruction.

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