That little reversal in the title of this post is intended to shake you out of idolatry.
Yes, we all know the aphorism, “The family that prays together, stays together”. And there may even be some truth in it. But it gets things precisely backward and here’s why:
This way of looking at things instrumentalizes God.
It turns God into a means to our chosen end. It may be a good end–families sticking together in this case, and I’m all for that. But I can think of at least one instance when a family break-up can be a good thing.
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters , yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26.
Sure, this is hyperbole, but it is overstatement for a very practical purpose. Jesus is telling us that his true followers recognize his divinity. They know that he is God. And because of that, everything else comes second–even family.
But who wants to be presented with such a choice? And well-meaning marketers for prayer and church attendance have backed into an idolatrous way of thinking in order to prevent us from even making such a choice. Ironically they’ve turned the family into an idol with the name of God.
But if that gets things backward, how should we think of the relationship between the glory of God and our families? Are these incompatible?
Of course not. God is the father of the family–it is his fatherhood that makes human families possible. (Eph. 3:14-15)
The way to hold them together though depends upon reversing the order of things–or I should say–by getting the order right. And that’s the reason I gave this post the title you see above. Families should stay together so that they can glorify God together.
How to save the family.
The way to recover the family in a world were families are falling apart is by remembering what families are for. We need to re-instumentalize the family.
Today, if you ask people what families are for they’ll tell you they’re for making people happy. This could be a good answer, but generally it is not because people have a very bad sense of what happiness is and what would truly make them happy. What they think will make them happy is a sort of warm and fuzzy feeling of acceptance. Happiness has been psychologized.
Getting back to families, the reason they’ve been reduced to this state is because we really don’t have a need for them anymore. Actually, we do need them, more than ever–but we just don’t know what we need.
Households have been reduced to recreation centers. All the important work they once performed has been outsourced. People go someplace else to work, they send their kids someplace else to be educated, elderly parents are sent someplace else to be cared for. I’m sure you see my point. This isn’t all bad, of course. In some ways it is even good. But it does raise questions about what families are good for. Apparently not much for more and more people.
To save the family we have boiled it down to little more than a feeling.
But it isn’t enough. People don’t always feel the love. And if you truly want people to stick together you need to give them reasons to when they don’t feel like it. This is where instrumentalizing the family comes in.
The first way to do this is by taking back some of the things we’ve outsourced. The more we need each other, they more we will work together to make sure we stick together. (This is where truth telling and forgiveness become so important because people will inevitably disappoint each other.) But there is a limit to how far this can go. Nevertheless, I think you’ll be surprised by how much families can do if everyone just works together for the common good of the family.
A second way to do this gets me to the point of this post. There are things that only strong traditional families can do to glorify God. In functional, traditional households not only can the nature of God be demonstrated through the work of the father, the very workings of the household itself can serve as a living illustration of the gift of salvation. Everything from imputed righteousness to the new birth can be put on display for all the world to see.
This is why sticking together as a family is so important–because it is the family that stays together that can pray together–and work together, and love together, and glorify God together.
If you’d like me to go into more detail on how this works, just come back to this blog every Tuesday and Thursday. And to remind you to do that, why not subscribe? You can even become a fan on Facebook by going here.