4.1.1 Family: Relating to God
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 4.1.1
Family: Relating to God
It has occurred to me more than once that God would have had a tough time using modern America as the foundation of His symbol lexicon. Even though we have deep Judeo-Christian roots, we are now too dysfunctional and too culturally diverse for such basic principles as “family” to have any universal meaning. It doesn’t help that the prince of darkness has been working tirelessly to obscure or ridicule the picture Yahweh’s scriptures portray, but of course, that’s why we’re dysfunctional.
No, in order for it to be clear what God’s intended picture of what a “family” was to be, a small, homogeneous society such as iron-age Israel would have to be chosen as his communication vehicle. There was no question how the family was to be structured. It would have occurred to no one that this was a subject up for discussion or debate; it was simply “the way things were.” And this was important, because our families were designed to reflect what relationships between God and man were intended to be.
Israelite society was patriarchal. That is, the eldest male was invariably the family’s leader, its authority, and the holder of its wealth. This position defined him as the family’s provider, though the whole household was engaged in the labors that resulted in their mutual prosperity and financial security. Normally, of course, this patriarch was the father of the family’s children. As he grew aged and infirm (or when he died), the eldest son would assume the patriarch’s status and duties. And Israel’s family structure was also the model for the bigger picture. Its patriarchal structure was mirrored in the clans, tribes and entire nation.
The family’s land was the basis of its wealth. This being an agrarian society, land was need to pasture cattle or sheep, grow grain, or plant orchards and vineyards. So control of the family’s real estate was passed down as a legacy from the patriarch to the eldest son. Younger sons received inheritances too, of course, but the eldest—the firstborn—received a double portion, and with it, the status of the family’s patriarch, its leader.
Nor was this arrangement unique to Israel. Their contemporary neighbors ordered their societies in pretty much the same way (with a few significant aberrations—notably their pagan worship practices). The Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Egyptians (i.e., Israel’s neighbors, listed in clockwise order) all used the patriarchal system. As much as todays liberal-progressives and feminists hate the idea, men have always led their families and their societies.
The myth of the Amazons notwithstanding, matriarchal societies throughout history have been somewhere between rare and nonexistent. Wikipedia reports that, “Most anthropologists hold that there are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal. According to J. M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer, and Jake Page, no true matriarchy is known to actually have existed. Anthropologist Joan Bamberger argued that the historical record contains no primary sources on any society in which women dominated. Anthropologist Donald Brown’s list of human cultural universals (viz., features shared by nearly all current human societies) includes men being the ‘dominant element’ in public political affairs.” Even today, though nations occasionally elect female leaders or retain reigning queens, true matriarchal societies are extremely rare, and restricted to tiny people groups in out of the way places, like Mosuo, Minangkabau, Akan, Bribri, and Garo.
Throughout history, then, the husband’s traditional role has been that of provider, protector, and authority figure. The wife’s primary role has been to bear and raise children—to nourish them, guide them, counsel them, and teach them how to be productive members of the family society, honoring their father and preparing their sons to assume the role of leaders in their own right when the time came. Because society was mostly agrarian in nature, children were considered a blessing—the promise of “many hands making light work,” as the proverb goes. Thus a wife who was barren bore great shame, no matter how glowing her personal qualities may otherwise have been.
Although they were all patriarchal societies, one thing that set Israel apart from its neighbors (not to mention the seven pagan nations that God commanded them to drive out of the Land) was their attitude toward their wives and children. In Israel, wives were honored and valued, and sons and daughters were a man’s very heritage—a precious gift from Yahweh. Solomon writes, “Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
And the very next Psalm describes how very blessed family life among God’s people can be. The foundation and source of this familial contentment is God Himself: “Blessed is everyone who fears Yahweh, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you….” Note that a big part of the “contentment” formula is working hard with the expectation of personally benefitting from your labors (as opposed, presumably, to seeing the government take what you have earned and “redistribute” it to people who didn’t work for it). Liberals call wanting to keep what you’ve earned “greed,” but God calls it “blessing.” I find it fascinating that those trying to tear down the traditional family these days are invariably the same people who want big government to run everyone’s life and reallocate everyone’s wealth.
Anyway, the godly man’s blessings are then described as a faithful wife and growing children—a family: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears Yahweh. Yahweh bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128) Ultimately, God’s intended contentment, prosperity, and blessing upon our families has a prophetic element. Seeing the “good of Jerusalem” (as opposed to the “cup of trembling” the city will represent to the nations who align themselves against her) depends in the end on “Yahweh blessing us out of Zion.” That is, for this ultimate blessing to become reality, the risen Christ will have to reign as King in Zion, as the scriptures promise He will. In the meantime, our blessings are linked to belief, faith, and trust that Yahweh can and will keep His word.
But to Israel’s pagan neighbors, the dark side of patriarchy became the reality: men’s wives were treated as mere possessions (as in Islam to this day), and their children were seen as a resource—something one might sacrifice as a burnt offering to Chemosh or Molech or Ba’al (same “god,” different names) in hopes of being granted material prosperity—favor with their heathen gods. (Again, there is a strong parallel in Islam—who hopes to breed its way to world domination.)
In their attitudes toward their children, the ancient pagans were not all that far removed from the abortion culture under which the whole world labors today. There are some 178 million pregnancies annually in our world, but only about 133 million children are born. That is, about 45 million children—one out of every four of them—are murdered in the womb every single year. Why? Mostly for the same reason Canaanite children were burned alive to appease a false god: because their parents wanted more stuff and less responsibility. (Sometimes the state forces the issue, as with China’s “one-child” policy, but the majority of abortions are done for reasons of “lifestyle” or convenience. Abortion is the ultimate expression of selfishness.) Neither life itself, nor the God who provides it, are considered particularly valuable to pagans, then or now. But as Ronald Reagan once said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” It is apparently a lot easier to throw away a life if it doesn’t belong to you.
I realize that today’s secular humanists look at children (at least other people’s children) as little more than a burden on the planet. But Yahweh’s very first commandment to us was to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and manage it. Yahweh does not consider children disposable, or merely a means to an end. On the contrary: symbolically, they (we) are the whole point. That is, our families are meant to be metaphors for humanity’s relationship with Yahweh. He characterizes Himself as our “Heavenly Father,” our real patriarch. In the same way, our “Mother” (symbolically) is Yahweh’s Holy Spirit, dwelling within the life of every believer. We humans then, figuratively speaking, are the “children” in the family of God—the “olive plants (metaphorical for the source of the Spirit, you’ll recall) around His table.” Or at least, we can be.
Without parents (both of them) and children in human societies, families do not really exist—they can neither endure, continue, nor prosper. Without a father in the picture, you’re left with widows and orphans, functionally, if not in fact. Without the mother, there is no life at all—no nurturing spirit. And without children, couples have no one upon which to lavish their love, no one to whom to pass their legacy, and no one to represent them before the world. Families are relationship engines. In order to function, all the moving parts must be there.
If these things are true in our human relationships, how much more so are they in our spiritual ones? Without our Father, Yahweh, we children would be lost, with no one to instruct and provide for us—we’d be spiritual orphans. Of course, since God is there whether we like it or not, our rejection of Him renders us not orphans, but runaways—but the effect is the same: if we turn our backs on God we become unguided (or misguided), uncared for, vulnerable souls.
Without the Holy Spirit, we would be bereft of life itself, on a spiritual (not to mention eternal) level. As Yahshua told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…. You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7) In a very real sense, then, if we have not been born of Yahweh’s Spirit, we are not fully human, not entirely alive. That is, we are incomplete, unrealized, unformed—having a neshamah (the God-shaped vacuum unique to humanity) but nothing dwelling within it. It is as if we are a “potential person” in the womb of God, but we refuse to be born—refuse to even be conceived. (I realize that metaphor has gaping holes in it—please don’t take it too literally.) Such is the breathtaking nature of free will. Human children do not have the power to abort themselves physically, but spiritually, we do. Why so many do is a mystery to me.
There is also another “family member” to whom we must relate, our “elder Brother,” so to speak—God’s firstborn Son and heir, Yahshua, who explained, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Himself], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17) This is the extreme example of what the Psalmist meant when he said of a man’s children (as we saw above): “They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:5) Yahshua was His Father’s representative before the world—God’s answer to His enemies, and His gift to everyone else. His life, death, burial, and resurrection achieved Yahweh’s purpose in the world—providing (in the Torah’s parlance) the “sin offering” required to atone for our transgressions before God. As John the Baptist phrased it, He was the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
But wait a minute. If Yahshua was Yahweh’s “only begotten Son,” then how are the rest of us able to become “children of God?” None of us are “born of a virgin,” conceived (as Yahshua was) by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:35). Not physically, anyway. But as He explained to Nicodemus, we can (and must) be born again, born from above in Yahweh’s Holy Spirit, if we wish to see the kingdom of God. So whereas Yahshua was uniquely born physically of the Holy Spirit into a human family, we have the opportunity to be born spiritually into God’s family—in a word, adopted.
As I mentioned previously, my wife and I are in a good position to see how this works, for after she had borne my two sons, we adopted nine more children. The first two, you might say, were born to us as Yahshua was to Mary—i.e., physically. But the last nine entered our family “spiritually,” so to speak. Although we share no physical connection (DNA, etc.), our nine adopted kids are in every other way “our children.” Although not our “firstborn,” they are all loved without reservation, are all legally part of our family; all bear my last name (or did until they married), have all been afforded the same opportunities for success (given their individual gifts and potential), and are all heirs of the family estate (for what little that’s worth). Seven of them were born in other countries, so we made sure that they all became naturalized Americans. Although we share no biological connection with our adopted kids, they are in no way “second-class citizens” in this family. Short of being able to donate a kidney, every facet of our relationship with our adopted kids is identical to that we share with our biological offspring. Nor is the relationship only “vertical” (between parents and children). It is also “horizontal”—all of the kids regard each other as actual brothers and sisters, even though they’re not physically related.
Is this not a picture of what the called-out assembly of believers—the church—is supposed to look like? We’re flawed and vulnerable humans, of course, but functionally, the roles we played in the Power family were pretty much as God ordained them. (I’m writing in the past tense, of course, because my wife and I are “empty nesters” now—our children are all grown up, with families of their own; three of our severely handicapped children have “graduated,” passed from mortal frailty into immortal glory.) I, the patriarch, was the provider and protector (in theory). Although the “buck stopped here” on the issue of authority, I went out of my way to make sure everybody got to exercise their free will (within limits defined by safety and propriety, of course). Meanwhile, mom fulfilled the role of the Spirit, staying home and filling the lives of our children with love, joy, peace, comfort, security, and (when necessary) confrontation and admonition. Our firstborn son never had to put his life on the line for his siblings (thank God), but he did watch out for them in their world—in the classroom and on the playground. Nobody picked on our girls because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes when he was around.
I would love to be able to tell you that it was all sweetness and light, but I’d be lying to you. There were rough patches, issues, detours, and tragedies—just as in any family, I imagine. These too have their spiritual ramifications, if we’ll open our eyes to perceive them. So at the risk of opening up some painful old wounds, I’ll discuss some of my family’s disasters a bit later, for there is probably more to be learned from our failures than from our successes. But for the moment, let us stay on track—exploring what it means to be adopted into the family of God.
Paul pointed out the same thing Christ did—that spiritual life is fundamentally different from—and subsequent to—physical existence: we must be born again, adopted, as it were, into God’s family. “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live….” The implication is that receiving Yahweh’s Spirit is how the sinful “deeds of the body” are put to death, since we are incapable of achieving sinlessness before God in our own flesh. The life and death of which he speaks happen in different realms, of course. All flesh is grass. Our bodies, whether righteous (comparatively speaking) or wicked, are doomed to physical death, for all of us have sinned. But if we have chosen (through our trust in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice) to be reborn from above in Yahweh’s Holy Spirit, then the deeds done in the body will not lead to the destruction of our souls. We will instead inherit renewed life as transformed, spiritual beings—as children adopted by God.
Receiving Yahweh’s Spirit is what makes us members of the very family of God. It is as if we have ceased living as the homeless orphans we once were, and have instead—at our request—been adopted by Yahweh and His Holy Spirit—our new heavenly Father and Mother, so to speak. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God….” The evidence of this adoption is our willingness—our desire—to be led by the Spirit, even if we (like any child) never quite achieve behavioral perfection in this life.
Paul next points out a stark and surprising contrast. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father….’” The purpose of adoption is to make someone a beloved son or daughter, not a useful slave. One of our intercountry adoptions got tied up with red tape for the better part of a year because the Indian government couldn’t figure out why anybody in his right mind would want to adopt a ten-year-old “untouchable” girl with polio. Being Hindus, perhaps they could understand the “spirit of bondage” angle, but why adopt some low-caste nobody who was crippled? How much work could you possibly get out of her? What could she possibly contribute to the adoptive family? The “spirit of adoption” in which the child had nothing tangible to offer just didn’t compute. What were we up to? It’s called love, folks—something that’s really hard to explain or put a price on. And it’s exactly what Yahweh did for us: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:13-17)
The funny thing is, she did end up “contributing” to the family. Nothing of intrinsic value, of course, but those intangible qualities that endear one to another—she brought those things in spades. She wasn’t pretty, or smart, or athletic, and her medical issues could be a real strain on the budget and the schedule. But she always had a smile on her face, a song on her lips, and hope in her heart—and she never ever complained, right up until her painful death from Huntington’s Chorea in 2013, though she had every reason to. Are these not the very qualities God would like to see in us?
Adoption into the family is just the beginning, of course. After a child “comes home,” the long process of “growing in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man” begins. Again, the personal adoption stories my wife and I experienced may shed some insight into the process by which we grow in God’s family. Most of our adoptions were either intercountry placements or “replacement” adoptions (in which children had first been adopted by someone else, only to be rejected for one reason or another, leaving them in legal limbo and psychological trauma). We found that because our newly-arrived kids (especially the older ones) had no “fallback” position—no “old life” to which they could imagine returning—they tended to see our home as “the only port in the storm” in their minds. It was the only place they felt safe and wanted, so their assimilation into and acceptance of their new surroundings took place very quickly. Surprisingly, they even dropped their native languages and picked up English in short order—which was good, since we spoke neither Korean nor Tamil. Total immersion.
Ideally, entering the family of God is just like that. Once “home,” we find that there is no conceivable alternative to the new life we’ve found. Not only is going back to our old life inconceivable, it’s unthinkable. That is, our relationship with Yahweh, forged in grace through the sacrifice of Yahshua, is utterly unlike anything we’ve ever experienced—it’s not just the next step in a journey, but an entirely transformed life. Just as an abandoned eight-year-old Korean child who suddenly found herself in a large, loving American family would not know how to find her way back to the cold streets of Seoul, as the reality of her new situation sank in, she wouldn’t want to. None of our adopted kids has ever expressed more than a passing interest in where they came from. Life for them began when they stepped (or were carried) off the airplane. For a while there, we not only celebrated birthdays, but also “gotcha days,” (i.e., the day we “got you”—the dates our kids came home). No one wants to go back.
It’s no different for a true follower of Christ. I am reminded of a time in Christ’s ministry when His teaching began to allow no logical alternative conclusion than that He was claiming to be the very Son of God. John reports, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” (John 6:66-69) And to this very day, we who have truly “come to believe and know” that Yahshua is Yahweh’s Anointed One find it impossible to imagine living any other way.
That being said, there are multitudes who practice Christianity as a religion, a cultural construct, without actually having formed any sort of relationship or familial bond with Christ Himself. Functionally, they are like houseguests or visitors—or worse, like the hired help—not the beloved children (and heirs) of the Patriarch. They may be living under the same roof, but they have not agreed to be adopted (though the invitation has been extended): they’re not family.
So there’s a fundamental difference between finding yourself under the same roof as the parents and being their adopted children. But it’s not to be found in what we do, exactly. Our children had household chores to do—clearing the table, making their beds, folding laundry, and so forth—but those chores had nothing to do with becoming children in our family. On the contrary, you had to be in the family in order to be assigned chores in the first place. Guests and neighbors were not asked to wash the dinner dishes. It’s the same with the family of God. Yahweh had issued lots of instructions to Israel, and Yahshua instructed the church as well. And it is true that obedience to God’s instructions results in blessing. But Israel did not become Israel by keeping the Torah, nor can one “join the church” by adhering to the beatitudes.
One had to be born into Israel (or received through adoption, so to speak, as were the “mixed multitude” who left Egypt with them), or born again in the Holy Spirit to be part of Yahshua’s called-out assembly of believers. Only after one was “in the family” did the instructions apply. Amorites and Philistines were not asked to keep the Law of Moses. Confronting confusion on this point was a major theme among New Testament writers. The writer of the Book of Hebrews went to great lengths to point out that the rites of the Torah were mere shadows cast by the reality of Christ’s life and sacrifice—they themselves did not save, but what they pointed toward did.
And Paul’s letter to the believers in the province of Galatia—most of whom were gentiles by birth—dealt with the same fundamental issues: “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) Unfortunately, some Christians have taken this to mean that the Law (Torah, Instruction) is of no further use, that it has been “nailed to the cross” and is no longer valid. But no. What has been nailed to the cross, rather, is the verdict of guilt (or certificate of debt) that was held against us (see Colossians 2:14). The Torah, on the other hand, remains in force, as relevant as it ever was, for it still points us toward Christ—and even the more “practical” bits are patently good advice, words to live by. (See The Owner’s Manual, elsewhere on this website.) As Yahshua Himself put it, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
It’s a “cart before the horse” sort of thing. One does not “keep the Law” (presuming such a thing were possible) in order to be admitted to the family of God. Rather, one who is already a child of God endeavors to follow His Instructions because (1) he loves the Father, (2) he trusts Him to know what’s best for him, (3) he believes the Father’s promise of blessings for compliance (not to mention cursings for disobedience—see Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, etc.), (4) he recognizes the authority of the Father, and (5) he is led, encouraged, and nurtured by the indwelling Holy Spirit. A Philistine cannot become an Israelite by merely getting himself circumcised and strapping on a tsitzit. It doesn’t work that way.
In the same manner, a child is not adopted into a family because they do their chores, study hard in school, and keep their rooms tidy, although such things may be pleasing to their new parents after they’ve joined the family. The parents’ sacrifice is made up front, just as Yahweh’s was. Usually, in fact, the adopted child never gets an inkling of what the parents went through to bring them home—the horrendous expense, paperwork, background checks, opening their lives to social workers and lawyers, waiting, praying, getting fingerprinted like a criminal, etc. Granted, it’s nothing compared to what God went through on our behalf, but it’s not like flipping a light switch, either.
John reminds us to be cognizant of what God’s love compelled Him to do, just so we could become His sons and daughters: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:1-2) Note that a transformation is implied in our adoption into God’s family—one that will, in the end, separate us from the world and link us instead (perhaps in unexpected ways) to our Heavenly Father. In short, we will become more and more like Him as time goes on, though that will make the world uncomfortable being around us, for they neither know nor revere Him.
Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, when my wife and I were living in Southern California and adopting all those Asian kids, we ran into a whole range of reactions when we took our little horde out into the public (shopping for groceries, for instance). People who “knew” us (that is, who understood the Judeo-Christian effect—that love has a tendency to overflow into the space around you—intuitively comprehended that a bunch of Asian kids with Caucasian parents meant they were adopted) usually greeted us with cordial smiles (provided the kids were being well behaved, as they usually were). But there was a large Southeast Asian immigrant minority in SoCal in the wake of the Vietnam War, and the reaction we got from them was often cold and hostile. I can only assume that latent racism coupled with cultural tradition devoid of Christian love made some of these immigrants very uncomfortable when they saw us, suspicious of our motives perhaps. It was the same sort of nebulous mistrust we’d run into with the Indian government. We wouldn’t cross the street for these unwanted throw-away kids. Why would you?
Don’t look now, but our heavenly Father is met with the same sort of suspicions from the world when He adopts us undeserving, unpromising, unwashed orphans into His family—just because we turn to Him in faith (or is that desperation?). These people haven’t done anything to earn their salvation: it isn’t fair, or even logical! Well, that’s true enough. But since they can’t give God “dirty looks,” they turn their discomfort into hostility toward us. As John warned us, “The world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” And as our transformation from orphan to heir becomes increasingly apparent—as we become more and more like Christ in the way we walk through life—the world will “know” us even less, for we are becoming less and less like them. So when we are ostracized in this world for being Yahweh’s adopted children, we shouldn’t take it personally, for they know not what they do.
I view guys like Paul a little like the “social workers” in the adoption process—those who facilitate the building of the family. As he writes to the Ephesians, “I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:13-19) That’s a long, complex, and fairly unintelligible sentence, but his points are that (1) we believers have all become part of the family of God—we have taken His name and inherited His character. (2) Yahweh is our Father, and Yahshua (the Firstborn) is our “Lord,” the Father’s representative among us. (3) Whatever strength we have in this world is the gift of God, for it is the Father’s function to provide what is needed to His children. (4) This strength is provided through His indwelling Spirit, who must be received by faith if at all. And (5) the foundation of our entire familial relationship is Christ’s love, something so deep and counterintuitive, the world cannot begin to comprehend it.
And what of Yahweh’s “only begotten Son,” Yahshua, who became the “head of the family” due to His physical relationship with the Father, so to speak? He is in a different sort of relationship the Father, for He was not adopted into it as we were, but was with God because He was God (see John 1:1). His disciples rightly called Him Lord, Master, and Teacher, for so He was. They were, by their own choice (in response to His calling), His followers, His proselytes, His students, and His servants. But as Yahshua approached His sacrifice, He introduced a game changer: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:15-17) A father provides for his own children, not for those of other people. What Yahshua did here was change the nature of His disciples’ relationship from followers to family.
This isn’t just a pat on the head, an encouraging platitude. It’s a fundamental paradigm shift. Without this, the best we could hope for was to be God’s sycophants, His minions, lackeys, subjects, or slaves—the way devout Muslims see their relationship with Allah, for example: they’re tools. Now, however, we have become “friends and family” with God Himself. As John put it, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) Note that becoming “children of God” was not our idea, nor did we figure out how to achieve this state—the goal of religion. It was all His doing, His design. All we had to do was receive Him.
The Bible uses several different metaphors to describe this new relationship. First, we are transformed from being mere citizens of the earth to its royalty—co-heirs with Christ: “They sang a new song, saying: ‘You [Yahshua] are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals. For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God. And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10) Kings (typically) and priests (always) were hereditary positions in Israel—one became a king or priest because of what his father did. To become both a king and a priest, one must be in the family of Yahshua, for He alone fulfills both roles: reigning as the rightful heir to the throne of David, and ministering as a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek. Christ is ruler and intercessor.
Another metaphor teaching the same truth is that the King (the reigning Christ) has taken the believing church as His bride, pure and undefiled before Him (thanks entirely to His own atoning sacrifice). The bottom line is recorded in Revelation, as we see the Messiah preparing to return to Earth in glory: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6-8)
This picture is bolstered through Paul’s admonition to husbands, who are related (in God’s metaphor) to their wives in the same way Christ is to the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) This glorious, spotless holiness was represented in the passage above by the “fine linen, clean and bright” with which the Bride of Christ was clothed—the scriptural symbol for imputed righteousness—worthiness assigned to us, not earned by us.
The Song of Solomon, for all its allegorical nuance, is a clear picture of this torrid love affair between Christ and the church. The King (ultimately, Yahshua) is madly in love with a Shulamite maiden (that’s us), who says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine…. The king has brought me into his chambers.” (Song of Solomon 1:2, 4) That is, she has been chosen as the king’s bride—a commoner elevated to the status of royalty by virtue of the King’s passionate love—a love that is reciprocated in kind to the limits of our ability. Sound familiar?
In a similar vein, the Psalmist writes, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions….” The idea of “God’s God,” of course, makes no sense unless you’re speaking of the relationship that exists between Yahweh and His human manifestation, Yahshua—the “Son” of God. “Listen, O daughter. Consider and incline your ear. Forget your own people also, and your father’s house. So the King will greatly desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, worship Him….” The “daughter” here, like Solomon’s Shulamite, represents us (the church) whom King Yahshua has called out of the world as His beloved bride. We have left the world and all of its false promise behind in pursuit of our true love, and in the process, we have been transformed from commoner (read: sinful) into royalty (read: godly).
Our ultimate status, then, is that “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace. Her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors.” Like Joseph’s coat, this is a sign of special favor. “The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought. They shall enter the King’s palace.” (Psalm 45:6-7, 10-11, 13-15) The “virgins” accompanying the bride here are, I believe, the same people referred to in the Song of Solomon as the “daughters of Jerusalem”—belatedly repentant Israel, who will, in the end, recognize and rejoice at the love match between their King (our Christ) and His bride, the called-out believers, a.k.a. the true church. Their relationship with the King will be wonderful, but it’s not precisely the same thing as that enjoyed by the bride herself.
Paul uses the same figure of speech to describe the church-age believers: “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin (bride) to Christ.” (II Corinthians 11:2) Here, he portrays himself as a matchmaker, a metaphorical equivalent to the “social worker” role he played in facilitating our adoption into the family of God. It’s all the same thing.
Another metaphor used by Paul to describe the relationship we may have with God is that of a growing child. Think of the “child” here as the whole human race, and the “father” as a wealthy and powerful king (ultimately, of course, Yahweh Himself, our Creator and sustainer). We were not left to raise ourselves like feral cats. Rather, we were given guidance, advice, conscience, and finally the Torah—God’s codified Instructions for successful living that carried within them (albeit subtly) the conditions for our “coming of age” as fully privileged heirs of Yahweh Himself.
Paul writes, “The heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world….” To fine-tune his illustration in light of the “adoption” metaphor we’ve been using, we were once like underage wards of the King—not His biological offspring, but “foster kids” He had taken in, so to speak—children to whom the King had declared His intention to adopt as His own, whether we understood this or not. We were thus potential heirs, but with no royal status of our own yet (not only because our “adoption” was not yet final, but also because we didn’t have the wisdom and maturity needed to wield it). So in the meantime, our “tutors,” law and conscience, told us what to do and how to act. Heeding our “tutors” didn’t make us God’s children, but if we believed Him—trusting His promise that we were destined to be His beloved sons and daughters, we did our best to do as we were instructed, in honor of our Father. I trust you can perceive the difference.
There came a time, however, when the conditions for our adoption were at last complete. It may seem counterintuitive, but it had nothing to do with our coming of age or growing sufficiently in wisdom and worthiness to wield our Father’s power—for none of us were actually able to achieve such a goal. Rather, our “elder brother,” Yahweh’s firstborn (His only begotten son, in point of fact) fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law (our tutor) on behalf of our entire race. In effect, He “graduated” for us, passing all of the final examinations in our place. Or put another way, when Yahshua became King, we became royal scions—princes and princesses under His rule.
Paul explains, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:1-7) It’s all a matter of relationships. Yahweh, being Spirit, wasn’t exactly “like” us, though we are created in His image and likeness. So He took upon Himself the form of a man—Yahshua, both son of man and the Son of God. When Yahshua finished His work, fulfilling the Torah’s requirements of righteousness at Golgotha, He inherited Earth’s throne, becoming the eternal King, as we saw in Psalm 45: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” But since Yahweh had manifested Himself in human form, we at last are “like Him”—we can relate to Him. That’s when humanity acquired “the right to become children of God,” if we would but receive Him and believe in His name (as we saw in John 1:12).
Being God’s “heir” is swell, I guess—though I get the feeling I don’t have the faintest inkling of what that really means. The part of this that gets my juices flowing is that I get to call Yahweh my “Daddy.” I get to curl up in His lap and enjoy His company, receive His affection, and rest in His strength. Being His “slave” was the best I could have hoped for, and frankly, more than I deserve. And I was happy enough to stand against the doorpost (see Exodus 21:6) and ask Him to pierce my earlobe, wear His earring, and serve Him forever. But for Him to adopt me as His son, to make me His heir, to allow me to call Him “Papa,” that’s flat-out amazing. To put it in the terms of an unexpectedly literal popular euphemism, it’s “off the chain.”
The heart of the issue is what makes one a child of God. Is it sinlessness? No. As stated by another (equally silly) popular expression, it’s a question of “Who’s your daddy.” As Jesus explained in John 3, it is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that gives us spiritual life. So it’s a question of to whom you’ve been born. Your body (made alive by your soul) was “born” to your biological parents. If you disobeyed them, did you cease being their child? No, of course not, even if it meant chastisement or a temporary break in “fellowship” (as in “time out”). You can disappoint mom and dad, and even anger them, but you can’t change the fact that they’re your parents.
It’s the same with the Holy Spirit. As long as we exist as mortal men, children of Adam, we will have a sin nature—which will sometimes manifest itself in overt sin. But if we have also been “born from above” in the Holy Spirit (who, let’s face it, knows how we’re built) our relationship does not cease to be, just because we have not yet become perfect. Yes, we can “quench” the Spirit’s influence in our lives by being unthankful (I Thessalonians 5:19), and we can “grieve” the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) through bitterness and wrath (all of which are examples of “sin”) but these are not remotely the same thing as becoming “unborn.”
For that matter, unthankfulness or bitterness in the life of one who is not a child of God would presumably neither grieve nor quench the Spirit, for they are by definition estranged from each other. If the children of someone I never met, living in Finland or Zimbabwe, were to disobey their father, it wouldn’t make any difference to me. But if my own kids screw up, I'll notice and react.
So ask yourself this: under what circumstances would your own children cease to be yours? Temper tantrums and stolen cookies—simple screw-ups—even if they were costly and inconvenient, would not be sufficient reason for you to disinherit your small child and throw him out on the street, I’m guessing. But is that not the way God must see us, His children—as six-year-olds with behavior issues? It is my experience (though in this lost world, it’s hard to be dogmatic) that if a total relationship breakdown happens in a family, it is usually when the child is grown, or nearly so; and it happens at the child’s instigation, not the parents’. If you consider the parallel spiritual situation, then, it is we who leave God; He does not abandon us. Ever. Choice remains our prerogative.
This presumes, of course, that the parents are blameless—that even if we make mistakes, we’re trying our best. Abusive homes do exist, but they’re an aberration. Granted, we as parents sometimes “provoke our children to wrath” (see Ephesians 6:4) but we are admonished not to, for this is not God’s pattern. Yahweh is “the perfect parent.” We are not. Even though we as fathers and mothers play a role in Yahweh’s metaphor, our own failures all too often obscure the nature of the relationship we can have with God—which is the whole point of structuring our families as He did.
This is something so important that He arranged the entire created biosphere around it as a teaching tool. Think about it: for all higher organisms (and even many plants), sexual reproduction is how we get from one generation to the next. It is the mechanism through which families are built, though it is the most counterintuitive process imaginable. All by itself it disproves the theory of undirected evolution, for there is no plausible (or even conceivable) scenario in which organisms that reproduce asexually (through cell division) would all of a sudden “mutate” and begin replicating sexually.
No, sex was created by God to teach us some fundamental symbolic truths about the relationship we can have with Him—first, that we are His offspring, not His clones; and then, that we can be a family: fruitful, loving, and growing. On another level, it hints that the Creator of the universe wants a partner, a collaborator, a lover, and a friend. The one thing a holy God lacks within Himself is companionship. So it’s no coincidence that God’s very first command to us was to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)
So back to our provocative question. Under what conceivable circumstances would parents abandon their children? If you can’t imagine such a thing, you need to get out more. We live in a fallen world: it happens all the time. 126,000 times every day a mother abandons her child through abortion, before he even has a chance to breathe free air—the ultimate betrayal. And if a child makes it out of the womb alive, too many fathers today contribute nothing to the relationship but their sperm—leaving their “conquests” to bear the burden of the devil’s own choice: single motherhood, or murder. Most of my own adopted children (we’re told) were abandoned because of desperation borne of extreme poverty. One would like to imagine that they were “given up” in love, in order to give their children a shot at a better life, and I’m sure a few of them were. But our daughter from India was discovered as an abandoned newborn in a trash dump in Madras. Some of my kids were even abandoned twice—first by their birth parents, and then by their first set of adoptive parents, who decided they’d bitten off more than they could chew when the child was discovered to be “less than perfect.”
It is my sad duty to report that my wife and I also “gave up” on one of our kids, in a manner of speaking. The story haunts the musty memories of our family to this very day, though the “inciting incident” took place over a quarter century ago now. The sixth of our nine adoptions was a ten-year-old orphanage kid, a boy nobody wanted simply because of his age (or so we were told). He had been at an orphanage in Korea for several years, and although his back story was known to the caretakers there, they strategically hid it from the adoption agency—for a good (or at least practical) reason, it turns out.
He was a sharp kid, likable and funny. But he had a “street sense” about him that kept him from thinking of himself as part of the family. He was driven by self-interest and the instinct for self-preservation—trusting no one but himself. This much, of course, we were prepared for. He may have lived under our roof, but in his mind, he never really joined our family. We were (in his mind) just another orphanage—a game to be played, a “mark” to be targeted, as in some grand con game. In his early teens, he was caught in a few petty larceny schemes. One I remember in particular was that he found out where we kept our blank bank checks. Stealing a few from the very back of the series (presuming we wouldn’t find out for a long time), he forged our signatures and cashed them at the corner store. Of course, we found out almost immediately, and arranged a little “scared-straight” drama for him with our local police, who were all too happy to help us try to head off a problem-pattern before it could get him in real trouble.
It should have worked. It seemed to work. Caught red-handed and appropriately chastised (with a couple of hundred hours of court ordered community service), he appeared to have taken the hint. Did his mother and I disown him for his crimes, throw him out of the house, send him back to the streets of Seoul? Of course not. We were his parents, for better or worse—in it for the long haul. We’d get through this. We were sure of it, confident in our superior parenting abilities, maybe a little proud of ourselves. In other words, we had set ourselves up for a fall. (It didn’t occur to us until years later that of all our adoptions, God didn’t miraculously provide the funding for this one. We simply put the shortfall on our credit card. Stupid, I know.)
Our “fall” came in January, 1990. Our son was now sixteen, and everything had gone back to normal, or so we thought. My wife and I went out for a rare evening on the town, leaving our oldest son (then nineteen) in charge. The kids chipped in for our anniversary and got us tickets to see the illusionist David Copperfield in concert. But when we got home, we discovered that our happy family, like one of Copperfield’s stage props, had disappeared in a puff of smoke. The atmosphere was so tense, you could have cut it with a knife. It transpired that our eldest son had caught his adopted brother in the act of sexually molesting one of his younger sisters. Worse, further inquiry disclosed that he had been doing this for years, right under our noses—working his way down the line from older sister to younger. Worse still, he had told the girls that if they told us what he had done, we—their parents—would hate them and send them back to wherever they’d come from! So they’d kept their mouths shut, building up layer after layer of emotional scar tissue—wounds that never completely healed, even decades later.
It was all over. We—the well-meaning, over-optimistic parents who thought they could solve any problem with love and hard work—had to face the fact that we had invited betrayal into our home. We found out (much later) that our son himself had been abused—a fact that would have given us pause, at the very least, since there were younger girls in the house. But we didn’t know anything about it. Frankly, such a thing would never even have occurred to us under normal circumstances. I can tell you this: getting one’s eyes opened by experience is far more painful than learning from books.
My wife and I found ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place. We still didn’t want to give up on our son, but we couldn’t trust him around the other children, either. The law, of course, took the matter out of our hands. Our son would spend the rest of his childhood in a facility for juvenile sex offenders. (I didn’t even know such places existed.) He could never come home, for any trust shown to him from that point forward would have been perceived by our daughters as renewed betrayal—on our part. From that point on, any contact we had with our son had to be done surreptitiously, as we began the slow process of letting our family heal from its wounds.
There’s a spiritual lesson here, I think. Yahweh doesn’t want to give up on us, either. He’s willing to give us all the latitude and time we need if it will help us make the right choices in the end, for He is not willing that any of us should perish. But there is one thing that will “force Him” to turn His back on us: betrayal of His other children. Yahshua taught us: “I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32, cf. Mark 3:28-29) Christ holds out no hope for those who have “blasphemed” the Holy Spirit.
This is as serious as it gets, so we need to define our terms. The Greek word from which “blaspheme” is transliterated is blasphemeo, meaning to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, malign, vilify, or to speak evil of someone. It is derived from two words meaning “sluggish or slow” and “reputation or fame.” Its literal meaning, then, is to be slow in acknowledging someone’s good reputation, thus “to refuse to acknowledge good, or that something is worthy of respect or veneration; hence to blaspheme means to reverse moral values.” (From Helps Word Studies)
The epiphany comes when we realize where the Holy Spirit resides. It is (since Pentecost) in the lives of God’s children, those who have been “born again,” born from above in Yahweh’s Spirit, as described in John 3. The indwelling Holy Spirit is life itself, in the eternal sense, so to prevent one of God’s “little ones” (see Mark 10:14) from coming to Him is spiritual murder—and tantamount to “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” Like our wayward adopted son, there are all sorts of “sins” we can conceivably commit without making repentance and reconciliation impossible (not that this is the recommended path to redemption, you understand). But when you attack, molest, and betray the other children with the intention of separating them from the love of the Father, you have committed the unpardonable sin.
It may be helpful to draw a distinction between the pre-repentant Saul of Tarsus and the scribes and Pharisees with whom Yahshua dealt, for there is a subtle but significant difference. Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) began his career persecuting Christians, hounding them, imprisoning them and even killing some of them—presuming he was doing a service for God. He was passionate, though disastrously mistaken. But the scribes and Pharisees (as a class) were another story: they actively sought to prevent people from receiving Christ, not because of misguided zeal, but because their own prestige and wealth depended on keeping the populace in spiritual bondage. Basically, they were hypocrites, religious pretenders.
Matthew 23 is a scathing denunciation of their agenda and methods—things in which Paul (though a Pharisee himself) did not participate. Some highlights: “They say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:4-5, 13, 15)
Paul honestly thought he was doing God’s work by persecuting this new sect. He was young, idealistic, and zealous for the Law (not yet realizing what the point of the Torah was, nor perceiving to Whom it pointed). His elders, in contrast, were merely running a religious scam designed to elevate and enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow man—not unlike a few “Christian” leaders I could name (but won’t). Christ didn’t mince words with them. He called them (in Matthew 12:34) a “brood a vipers,” thus identifying their spiritual father as Satan—the serpent of old and the dragon who yet looms in the world’s future. In context, the Pharisees had directly blasphemed the Holy Spirit by claiming that Yahshua’s power came not from Yahweh, but from Beelzebub—a.k.a. Satan. And elsewhere He got even more specific: “You [Pharisees] are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world…. If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins…. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” (John 8:23-24, 44) If your father is the devil, your father can’t be Yahweh. That seems pretty clear.
The question is why. Why had the Pharisees gone out of their way to malign this Man who had done so much good—in the case of Matthew 23, healing a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute? It was merely to protect their own elevated status (and the wealth that came with it). If Yahshua were honored—recognized as the promised Messiah—they would find themselves with less power and influence than they had previously enjoyed. John the Baptist was fine with that arrangement, happy to decrease in prestige as Christ increased. But the Pharisees were livid—and terrified. So their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was linked directly to a systematic attempt to prevent people who trusted them from coming to live in Father Yahweh’s love and liberty through faith in Yahshua the Messiah.
Postscript: I would love to be able to tell you that my adopted son did his time, repented, and got his life together. But I can’t. He began well enough, graduating from high school while incarcerated, going on to get a college degree (in social work of all things), marrying, and fathering a daughter of his own. My wife and I missed all of this, of course, being cheated out of sharing in his joy by our estranged relationship. (The only thing we got to do was pay the bills—which were considerable.) But having been given a fresh start, he went back to his old ways, betraying his own family by kidnapping and raping a coworker. As Solomon wrote, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11) He’s currently serving a 128-year prison sentence.
I’m no longer angry. I am merely numb, saddened beyond comprehension at a life twice wasted. The only “good” thing that may have come out of my story is the spiritual parable it turned out to be. Our son was redeemed (as it were), given every opportunity to become part of a real family—just as we all were when Yahshua went to Calvary on our behalf. But he twice chose to turn his back on the prospect of a new life, first refusing to trust and honor the parents who had sacrificed so much to give him a chance, and then betraying his own wife and child by letting his lusts rule him.
But every human who ever lived faces the same kind of choice. Although we are born with one strike against us—a sin nature inherited from Adam—there is still hope for us, if we will but “join the family.” That is, we merely need to trust and honor the heavenly Father who gave everything so that we might have abundant life in a family that endures forever—demonstrating that trust and honor by loving our brothers and sisters in this world. The alternative is to remain suspicious, rebellious, lost, and alone. Even then, while life persists, we can still change our minds—repent and be reconciled to God—unless we have “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” (our heavenly Mother, so to speak) by purposely molesting Her beloved children. As Yahshua told His disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-2) Mama Grizzly bears are notoriously fierce about protecting their cubs. We should not presume that God is any less interested in our welfare.
There’s an old expression: “blood is thicker than water,” implying that biological family ties are more reliable than mere “legal” alliances (like marriage, treaties, or religious convictions held in common). The theory is, the closer you’re related to someone, the more you have in common with them, the more your interests align, thus the more you can (and should) trust them. So generally, people’s “enthusiasm” in defending their homes diminishes in ever widening circles. One protects his or her own children first, then extended families (brothers, cousins, etc.) then clans, then races or nations.
I’m speaking in anthropological terms, of course—broad trends throughout history and worldwide. The principle can get frayed around the edges a bit in “melting-pot” nations like America. Mobility and communication capabilities can also facilitate shifts in one’s priorities. As Daniel was told concerning these Last Days, “Shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:4) And indeed, the breakdown of the family unit is turning out to be an undeniable indicator that we are indeed approaching the “time of the end.”
That being said, the usual close bond within our families is just as Yahweh intended, for He wants us to perceive that our relationship with Him can (and should) be just as close, just as reliable. If He is our heavenly Father, we can trust Him to defend us, His children and His wife (He uses both metaphors), with His whole heart. This explains why Satan works so hard to destroy families (or prevent them from forming in the first place): he doesn’t want us to comprehend what a father’s role in the family is supposed to be, for if we did, we would gain crucial insight into what our relationship with Yahweh could be.
But there’s something we usually tend to miss in all of this: we are all part of the same family—the human race. Everybody alive on the earth right now is a descendant of Noah, who with his wife, three sons, and their wives, repopulated the earth after the great flood. Scientists have even noted a severe constriction in the mitochondrial DNA profile of the human race sometime in our history, something you’d expect if there were a flood as described in Genesis. Not surprisingly, they try to link it to the idea that humans are descendants of apes, so they imagine it to have taken place about 150,000 years back, based on the assumption that the mutation rate has remained constant throughout time—a theory for which there is no evidence whatsoever. But the idea is destroyed by a complete lack of transition species between apes and people today. Chimps are still chimps, gorillas are still gorillas, and people are still people.
If the mDNA constriction took place at the time of the flood, however, it has been only about 5,000 years—a sensible estimate if the mutation rate has greatly increased since that time, which seems likely if the antediluvian earth was as scripture portrays it. The historical record indicates that typical human lifespans grew much shorter during the millennium or so following the flood, dropping dramatically from eight or nine hundred years to only a tenth of that. And if the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth remained somewhat separate from each other as they settled new lands, any slight differences in their DNA profiles would have tended to become more pronounced over time—more concentrated in their collective genome—creating the “races” we know today.
Ironically, it is God Himself who “encouraged” us to form the separate human enclaves that eventually became our various nations and races. Yahweh’s very first command to Noah’s family after the flood was to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1) If we had obeyed Yahweh’s original instructions, there might not be “races” at all as we know them today—no clear-cut Caucasoid, Negroid, or Mongoloid categories. Rather, humanity would (probably) share features and traits in a much more homogeneous demographic distribution. I imagine we’d all look a bit “Middle Eastern” or maybe “Italian.” Of course, skin color would still presumably be darker the closer to the equator one’s family tree ended up getting planted. (All mammals are equipped with melanin, “a complex polymer derived from the amino acid tyrosine, responsible for determining skin and hair color and present in the skin to varying degrees, depending on how much a population has been exposed to the sun historically.”—News-Medical.net.) But our other physical traits would doubtlessly have been far more evenly distributed than they are.
But what did we do? We did not set out to “fill the earth.” We forgot all about what Noah’s God said to do, but stayed together and invented religion instead: “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there…. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:1-2, 4) Getting “scattered abroad” was what they were supposed to be doing. But this way, God could easily envision the whole world’s population going apostate again (as it had in the days of Noah). So He introduced a mechanism designed to separate and isolate a remnant of faithful believers, through whom He would eventually provide salvation for the entire world. That mechanism—a surprisingly effective one—was the confusion of our once-common language, making us incapable of understanding one another. No communication, no cooperation, no universal corruption. Thus we read, “So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth; and from there Yahweh scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:8-9) The “omelet” of our salvation got made, but God had to break a few eggs to do it.
Today racial animosity, distrust, bigotry and hatred are a fact of life in our world. Some people appear to hate each other just because they have skin of a different color, or a nose, lips, or eyes of a slightly different shape than somebody else. But racial hatred is stupid. The fact is, we’re all the same race—the human race. We’re all descended from only eight people, only five thousand years back in our history. We’re all part of the same big extended family.
The whole clan mentality is based on the idea that family members can be expected to defend each other and look out for their mutual interests. It is normal for families to overlook (or cover for) each other’s quirks, faults, and idiosyncrasies. We rejoice with family members when they win, and mourn with them when they lose—even if we wouldn’t go out of our way to choose them as friends if they weren’t already family. Every family (it would seem) has its “black sheep,” its crazy uncle, or good-for-nothing brother-in-law. But if the family functions as it was intended to, we cut them a great deal of slack as they bumble through our lives—because that’s what we do for family.
Why, then, don’t we (the human race) all get along with each other? Why don’t we act like one big happy family? Silly question. It’s because we refuse to heed God’s command to love one another as we love ourselves. Our hatred is not really due to the fact that we look a little different from one another. We hate because we’re haters, a fallen, sinful race. Even if we all looked exactly the same, we (being fallen creatures) would still find reasons to hate each other. Even if all men really were “created equal” (physically, that is), some would still decide they were more equal than others (as George Orwell would have phrased it).
If we loved one another as we were intended to do, the Bible would not be peppered with instances of fratricide, both historical and prophetic. You remember the story of Gideon’s little band of commandoes, sneaking up on the camp of the Midianites: “When the three hundred blew the trumpets, Yahweh set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp.” (Judges 7:22) And when Jonathan (the son of King Saul) and his squire snuck up on the Philistines, “Every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion.” (I Samuel 14:20) You may protest that these heathens killed each other only out of panic in the fog of war, but remember, the only reason they were there at all was their animosity toward Israel. Their confusion was merely an extension of their own genocidal hatred of Yahweh’s people. Those who did not go to war did not find themselves killing each other in self-imposed terror.
The same sort of panic-driven fratricide is also prophesied to repeat itself during the Tribulation. One of the “weapons” Yahweh plans to use against the Islamic hordes of Magog (in addition to earthquakes, disease, floods, hail, fire, and brimstone) is fratricide: they will turn on each other. “I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the Lord Yahweh. Every man’s sword will be against his brother.” (Ezekiel 38:21) Actually, this development is not particularly surprising, for Islam has always been its own worst enemy. When your “religion” is based on hate, lust, and greed, one enemy looks pretty much like any other. Sunnis and Shiites loathe each other, though they follow the same scriptures for the most part, the same prophet, and the same false god. But prophetic clues suggest that both sects (Shiites from Iran and Sunnis from Turkey, for starters) will participate in Gog’s invasion of Israel. Note that Yahweh Himself will not encourage their fratricidal tendencies until they actually invade the Land with genocide on their minds.
And elsewhere? Isaiah is apparently referring to the same future conflict when he writes, “Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt. The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst. I will set Egyptians against Egyptians. Everyone will fight against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.” (Isaiah 19:1-2) Egypt (Mizraim) is not listed in Ezekiel among the allies of Gog, but that will not prevent them from becoming engulfed in the madness of the times. Verse 4 predicts that a “fierce king” and “cruel master” will rule over Egypt, and Daniel 11 makes it reasonably clear that the Antichrist is meant. And in the larger (symbolic) sense, note that Egypt is God’s metaphor for “bondage in the world.” In other words, the whole human race will turn on one other during these dark times, as they will fall under the lash of the cruelest of masters—the Antichrist. God’s modus operandi has often been to use one evil as a tool to eradicate another, and it appears that this will continue through the Tribulation. All of the world’s evils (code-named Babylon in scripture) will be absorbed and usurped by the Man of Sin, who himself will be crushed, after his terrifying three and a half year reign, by the returning Messiah-King—Yahshua, the descendant of Abraham through whom “all the families of the earth would be blessed.” (See Genesis 12:3.)
Yahshua once sent the twelve out on a “short-term mission trip,” instructing them to announce that “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:6) Upon reflection, it seems to me that He was primarily instructing Tribulation age saints—and especially the 144,000 of Revelation 7—about how to reach the world in the darkest of times. He warned them, “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22) Fratricide again, and worse: the complete breakdown of the family at every level. What is the bone of contention? Why will your own family hate you—so much they want to kill you? It’s the name of Christ—Yahshua, meaning “Yahweh is Salvation.” In the end, the issue that will divide the world-family into warring factions is simply this: who can you trust to save you?
But in sane and civil times, love among family members has always been the norm—even if we’re not all that lovable. I believe God intended this natural affection among families to be a reflection of how His children—the called-out assembly of Christ—are meant to relate to each other in this world.
Paul described the attributes of a loving relationship. If we replace the word “love” in this familiar passage with “family,” I think we’ll begin to see how it’s all supposed to work: “[Family] suffers long and is kind; [family] does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [The family] never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8) In short, we are meant to love each other, forgiving each other for our faults, for we all have them. We are to be patient, supportive, humble, polite, selfless, trusting, and helpful toward our family members—even when they don’t behave perfectly. One who loves his brother doesn’t want to see him get into trouble. And remember: all men are our brothers. We’re all in the same big family, the human race.
“Supportive” and “helpful,” however, are two traits that tend to temper the others on the list, for our love and forgiveness for our brothers and sisters does not mean we are to tolerate or excuse their self-destructive behavior (or worse, participate in it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty), but rather help them overcome it, to see the error in it. The famous Torah passage admonishing us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” quoted by Yahshua in Mark 12:31, begins by admonishing us to try to keep that neighbor out of trouble by confronting him about his sin before it can do any permanent damage: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)
So although we aren’t to be self-appointed morality police, assuming for ourselves the roles of judge, jury, and executioner, we aren’t to tolerate sin either, for sin leads to death. Deal with it: call it what it is. The word translated “rebuke” here is the Hebrew yakach, which would perhaps be better translated reprove, correct, dispute, convince, convict, admonish, or chide. That is, we are to confront our neighbor—our brother (notice how Moses equates the two things)—about his sin, warn him of its consequences, and help him to overcome it. God says that failure to do so is actually hatred. We are not to pick up and carry another person’s sin by pretending that it’s acceptable when God says it’s not. Rather, we are to help him put it down, if we can. If your brother listens to you, your love will have rescued him from his chain; if he does not, at least your conscience will be clear and his blood will not be on your hands.
It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that if we confront a brother/neighbor about his sin, we must be absolutely certain of our ground. The standards are Yahweh’s alone (as revealed in scripture), not our culture’s, the government’s, the church’s, our engrained traditions, the latest social trends, or even our own opinions. The world’s prevailing beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on the truth. There is no correlation at all between what is deemed politically correct by society and what is acceptable to God. Of course, we must take care that while pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye, we have not chosen to ignore the plank that is obscuring our own vision. And, perhaps more to the point, we must admit and confront the sins in our own lives according to the same standard by which we “rebuke” others in love.
We aren’t to judge people, you understand, only the things they do. For instance, it is my duty to call theft wrong, because God defines it as sin. If I see you carrying ten pairs of Air Jordans out of a burning shoe store during an inner city riot, don’t call me a racist bigot for suggesting you repent. As I said, the standards are Yahweh’s.
What would you think if you witnessed a new movement pushing theft as a “fundamental human right”? Picture this: editorials in newspapers suggest that income inequality should be addressed by allowing the poor to rob the rich…. Movie studios write “token thieves” into their plot lines to get folks comfortable with the idea that stealing is a normal, natural alternative lifestyle…. Cat Burglar Pride parades are held in major cities…. Convenience store owners are arrested for failing to hand over the cash with a smile…. “Ski-mask Mondays” are promoted in the workplace…. The installations of burglar alarms and security cameras are condemned as “thiefist” and “kleptophobic.”
What? That would be ridiculous, you say. And you’d be right. Everybody “knows” that theft is “bad.” Really? Thieves apparently don’t. Besides, for every unhappy mugging victim, there’s presumably a happy mugger. So does happiness justify an action? Does unhappiness condemn it? And if there’s no victim (other than the insurance company), can something even be said to be wrong? We could argue, of course, that it’s right there in the Bible: “Thou shalt not steal.” But if that’s our standard, why don’t we apply it consistently? Why aren’t all of the Bible’s precepts supported equally?
I wouldn’t even bring this up, but liberal-progressives spend so much time and energy pushing the issue of homosexual rights and gay marriage these days, I guess we should examine the issue in light of God’s command to “admonish your brother.” The prevailing mantra from the political left is that Christians are required to be “tolerant” of the homosexual lifestyle, because (they say) “tolerance equals love.” But as we have just seen, tolerance of sin is actually the antithesis of love—God actually calls it hate when we fail to judge a behavior or lifestyle based on Yahweh’s revealed word. At the very best, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions”—G.K. Chesterton.
So what does He have to say about homosexuality? How about, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) That’s pretty clear, I’d say. The Bible doesn’t make a big deal out of it, though, or single this sin out for special consideration—it merely says, “Don’t do it.” To put things in perspective, in the very same paragraph, God also forbids—labels as sin—having sex with a woman (even one’s wife) during her menstrual cycle, committing adultery, performing child sacrifices, using the name of God in a profane manner, and committing bestiality. I realize that He seems to be all over the map here, saying in the same breath (so to speak) “Don’t talk back to your mother, and don’t throw her into a wood chipper, either.” But in context, all He’s really doing is listing the sorts of things (and there are many more of them) that the Canaanite tribes did to get themselves thrown out of the Land: “By all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 18:24-25)
Christians don’t single out homosexuals for “religious persecution.” We merely acknowledge (and only when pressed on the matter) that God defines the practice as sinful, just as so many other things are—just as we are commanded to do. We’re sorry if it hurts your feelings, but stating the obvious—that sex is appropriate only between a man and his wife—is truth. Throwing a tantrum because someone tells the truth doesn’t change anything. If having sex with your sister or worshiping the moon suddenly became all the rage, Christians would be duty bound to point out the error of that, as well. (Oops, I just offended half a billion Muslims.)
Let’s face it. All of us have sinned and are in need of a Savior. And the choice of whether to repent or continue living in sin remains the prerogative of the individual. The problem arises when the liberals insist that we Christians—in this one instance—must reject the authority of God, declaring that what He calls evil we must call good (or at least normal). Sorry, it’s not going to happen. Yahweh’s sovereignty is not subject to the lusts of mankind. It doesn’t work that way.
Why does Yahweh consider homosexuality a sin? For that matter, why does He call it an “abomination,” the strongest expression of condemnation in the Bible? First, of course, it’s a matter of “His universe, His rules.” And as with so many sins, this one is as symbolic as it is practical. On the practical side, the basic reason He made us as sexual creatures is for the purpose of procreation: two males or two females pretending to “mate” cannot produce offspring. You can’t hold anything together with two bolts—you’ve got to have a nut in there somewhere. That’s why God created women.
Okay, that didn’t come out right.
On the symbolic side, Yahweh is a God of order, of design, of purpose, of life, while Satan our adversary thrives on chaos, nonsense, ignorance, and death. Men and women were designed to go together, to “fill in each other’s gaps,” so to speak. As far back as the Garden of Eden, Eve was presented as someone Adam needed to complete him, to make him whole. But they weren’t the same. Adam didn’t need a clone—he needed a counterpart. “Yahweh, God, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” (Genesis 2:18) The word translated “comparable” here (in other translations: suitable, fit, corresponding to, right for, his complement—or the KJV’s archaic “meet”) is neg̱eḏ: “A preposition indicating before, in front of, opposite; corresponding to. It has a special sense to indicate Eve’s likeness to Adam… over against, opposite… in front of spatially.” (Baker & Carpenter)
Let me propose a silly question. How did Yahweh know that “it was not good for Adam (or man—it’s the same word in Hebrew) to be alone?” I believe that it was because Yahweh had observed this very thing about His own nature. His fundamental attribute was love, and yet all the power and wisdom in existence would not allow Him to exercise that love in a vacuum. He needed—if I may be so bold—a “helper comparable to Him.” That is, His love could not be brought to fruition without an appropriate object—someone endowed with free will who was capable of reciprocating His love. (Angelic beings are apparently built without free will—they’re more like soldiers than citizens.) So He decided to created humans—even if it meant He would have to create a whole universe—matter-energy, space-time, and the laws of physics—in order to do so.
So what are we? Did Yahweh create a race of gods—people who were just like Him in every way? No. Although we were created in “the image and likeness” of God, we are in many ways very, very different from Him, beginning with our own mortality: death is a merciful “escape hatch” God built into our race for people who choose not to reciprocate our Creator’s love. So no: we are not “gods.” That much should be obvious. But we are like Him where it counts: in our ability to recognize the love of our Creator, and to love Him in return.
In the same way, Yahweh created men and women with the capacity to complement each other, love each other, and share lifelong, fruitful relationships. That definition reveals homosexuality to be a mere counterfeit—a liaison that may look a little like the real thing to the naïve or unwary (like any well-crafted fake), but is, in the end, proven worthless. A homosexual union cannot be the basis of a godly family.
But gays would insist that they consider having sex with partners of the same sex more pleasurable (or at least less stressful) than with the opposite sex. Is not pleasure part of God’s design? Of course it is—if sex were not pleasurable, the species would have died out eons ago. So it’s not that God is against pleasure—He invented it, after all. It’s just that pleasure is meant to be a byproduct of love—it’s not the whole point. Think of it this way: food is supposed to taste good (so we’ll naturally want to eat it), but experiencing flavor is not the only—or even the primary—reason for eating food. It’s supposed to fuel and replenish our bodies. That’s why most of us try to provide our children a balanced diet instead of feeding them only Skittles and Mountain Dew. Our Creator wants us to be productive and life giving, for that is what He is. So He designed us to be fruitful. And same-sex relationships are not.
At the risk of mixing my metaphors, we need to distinguish between godly complements (e.g., the relationship between God and man, mirrored in the relationship between a man and a woman) and ungodly contrasts. Paul admonishes us: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says Yahweh. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says Yahweh Almighty.’” (II Corinthians 6:14-18, quoting Leviticus 26:12, Isaiah 52:11, II Samuel 7:14)
There is a difference between being different (as God is different from mankind, or a man is different from a woman) and being divided. It’s a question of holiness and unity—the strategic separation of the godly from the worldly. We must be vigilant to remain separate from the world, even as we walk through it. God created a man and a woman with the potential to become “one flesh.” So a man marrying a woman (even though they’re wired differently) is not a case of being unequally yoked. But because Yahweh defined homosexuality as an abomination (as we saw in Leviticus 18:22) it is by definition unclean—something we should not even touch if we wish to be part of His family.
The bottom line is that Yahweh designed our families to be a reflection—a symbol—of the relationship we can share with Him. He uses two different metaphors to get the idea across, both of which are touched upon in the Ten Commandments. Sometimes we are depicted as the beloved bride and lover of the Messiah-King. So we are warned in the Seventh Commandment not to betray that trust: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) That is, adultery is not only a violation of the bond of marriage, the foundation of the family, but it is also a picture of idolatry—of giving to someone else the affection and loyalty we owe exclusively to our loving Savior.
Marriage (something we’ll discuss separately in a future essay) is a precondition of adultery. That is, adultery is the breach of a covenant, the breaking of a promise—in a word, betrayal. So although sex and pleasure and procreation are all good things, ordained and invented by God, they become evil if practiced outside the bounds of a marriage covenant—outside of the family as God structured it: husband/father, wife/mother, and children/heirs. Adultery (something Yahshua identified as the only legitimate grounds for divorce) not only breaks the bond of trust between husband and wife, but it is also a betrayal of the children, who require a stable, loving environment if they are to thrive. As adultery destroys families, idolatry destroys the familial relationship we could and should be sharing with Yahweh.
So not surprisingly, we are often symbolically portrayed as children of a loving father. The Fifth Commandment speaks of this relationship, and Paul built upon it: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4, quoting Exodus 20:12) In addition to the obvious practical instruction to actual offspring toward their literal parents (and parents concerning their children), this speaks of the relationship that human families are designed to mirror—that of people to God. Our “Father,” of course, is Yahweh—our Creator, provider, protector, and ultimate authority. But notice that our “Mother” is also to be honored. I take this to signify our relationship with the Holy Spirit—the manifestation of God who dwells within us, guides us, comforts us, gives us counsel, helps us remember who we are, and pricks our conscience when we need it.
The command here is to “honor” them. The Hebrew word is kabed, literally meaning to be or make heavy—that is, to honor, glorify, be made abundant. “It is an easy step to the concept of a ‘weighty’ person in society, someone who is honorable, impressive, worthy of respect.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) We are, then, to honor Yahweh and His Holy Spirit—consider our “Spiritual parents” to be magnificent and wonderful, respect them, and take their counsel and instruction seriously. If we do this, we as Yahweh’s children cannot fail to “grow in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
You’ll notice that Yahweh didn’t bother putting a prohibition against homosexuality in the Ten Commandments—the most basic and fundamental synopsis of His Instructions in scripture. Why? After all, the practice had been around as long as anybody could remember. Perhaps it’s because, unlike the other prohibitions on God’s top-ten list, homosexuality (or any other form of gender confusion) wasn’t merely a foible of our fallen human nature, a sin common to mankind. It was a self-destructive aberration, a perversion of God’s natural order that wouldn’t even occur to the vast majority of people, as abnormal as suicide.
On the other hand, maybe He did imply it—very subtly, under the radar—in the Third Commandment, the one that’s usually so badly mistranslated we have no idea what it really means: “You shall not take (nasa: lift up, accept, advance, bear, tolerate, respect, or regard) the name (shem: the position, individual nature, character, designation, name, authority, fame, reputation, or report) of the LORD (literally: Yahweh) your God in vain (shav: destructive, beguiling, false, evil, ruinous, idolatrous, harmful, devastating, wasteful, immoral, deceptive, or dishonest).” (Exodus 20:7)
In plain English, we are not to accept or advance anything that is false, deceptive, or destructive in Yahweh’s name, or associate these things with His character, or say that they’re His word. How does the LGBT agenda violate this? By presuming, as their baseline assumption, that God made a mistake in making them whatever gender they are. Men covet women’s roles, and vice versa. The presumption that Yahweh doesn’t know what He’s doing is a poor way to begin a relationship with Him. In fact, it makes such a relationship impossible.
A human family, then, is an illustration, a metaphor, for what Yahweh’s relationship with the human race was designed to be. In order for the family to fulfill its role as a symbol, (1) it must be complete—all the players must be present; (2) each family member must fulfill his or her assigned role, mirroring God’s plan for us (and we will explore each of these roles in greater detail in the following essays); (3) it must be based on covenant promises that are kept, honored, and mutually understood; and (4) it must be fruitful, a loving, growing organism in its own right.
Don’t be dismayed if your own family doesn’t fit all (or any) of these criteria. Truth be told, few do today, for Satan has been working overtime to obscure what Yahweh’s plan for our relationship with Him could and should be. If the devil can make fathers look distant (or absent), abusive, preoccupied, or unforgiving, he will have skewed our perception of what Father Yahweh is really like. If Satan can portray mothers as pleasure-mad, self-absorbed, or obsessed with usurping the father’s place in the home, then he will have successfully obfuscated the Holy Spirit’s role in the believer’s life. And if children can be persuaded that selfishness, tantrums, bullying, and disrespect can get them what they want in life, then Satan will have precipitated a pattern of misery, failure, and insecurity that can follow the child throughout his or her lifetime.
But as with the wilderness tabernacle, just having God’s specifications for the family at our disposal—even if we can’t experience the real thing—may be enough to teach us what we need to know about our Heavenly Father’s love, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and our own responsibility for living in peace and harmony with our brothers and sisters, insofar as it is possible in this fallen world. The closer we can adhere to God’s ideal in our own lives, the better we can communicate to those around us what life in Yahweh’s love is really like. And that knowledge can spell the difference between life and death.