Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Family

What is family? Family is the communion of individual persons in one consubstantial being, knowing, and doing. By communion is meant an intimate sharing in. By consubstantial[1] is meant a sharing in that is primarily essential rather than voluntary (though it surely entails voluntary willing). By being, knowing, and doing is meant an essential sharing in what one is (shared life), what one discerns is true (shared understanding), and what one acts upon in according with what one is and what one discerns is true (shared work).

Any one aspect of the above definition is not itself sufficient to constitute family. One may be born of a woman, yet she is no mother who is not also consubstantial in knowing and doing with the child. One may consummate a sexual union, but he is no husband who is not also consubstantial in knowing and doing with the woman. These physical consubstantialities are insufficient for the communion necessary for constituting family. To the extent that any of these aspects is lacking, to that extent the ideal or perfect image of family is incomplete. In fact, the shared work of doing is properly derived (as hinted at above) from a share life and shared understanding.

It is even possible to have an ostensibly shared work, when in fact only the external aspects are the same. For example, two fathers train their sons to refrain from lying and to tell the truth. Truth-telling is a shared work. However, these fathers are not thereby necessarily part of a larger family, nor will their sons be so. One father’s ultimate reason (i.e. shared understanding) for the work of truth-telling may be “to honor God, whose work is truth-telling” whereas the other father’s ultimate reason for the work of truth-telling is “to honor myself, to whom I ought always be true.” One may further see that in this scenario the shared life is not the same for the two fathers. The father whose shared understanding is based upon a truth about God has his life constituted in the life of God. The father whose shared understanding is based upon a truth about himself finds his life constituted in himself alone (a solipsistic reality).[2]

The Triune God is family par excellence. There is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the last of whom has often in dogmatic theology been identified as the shared bond of love that is constituted between the Father and the Son in the Father’s begetting of the Son. Regardless of the complexities of the divine nature, and avoiding the risk of drawing specific conclusions concerning the being of each divine person, or their singular triune essence, it is clear that God has chosen to reveal Himself to man as Father and Son and Spirit—each name presupposing the idea of family.

As the image of God, the life of man reflects the life of God as family. The creation of Adam and his placement in the Garden of Eden to tend it constituted the first incomplete act of God in Creation—it was not good that the man should be alone.[3] The individual is decidedly not—at least not singularly—the most basic category of definition. The most basic category of definition is the individual person in communion with another individual person, and when we elaborate on the creation of Eve, the additional aspects of being, knowing, and doing emerge: she is taken from Adam’s side (being),[4] she is given understanding of the same God and His blessings and commandments (knowing), and she is given the responsibility to help the man in his duty of dominion (doing). With Eve by his side, Adam is now no longer alone in the world without an equal, and the fullness of possible relations is complete: God above him, Eve beside him, the animals and plants below him.

Because of the nature of God and His express image, Christ, who is the paradigmatic man, the family is an inescapable and the most basic category of human life. Every man is already son, every woman, daughter. Therefore every man receives and projects (or reflects) the understanding of Father as a prior (and, at least causally, higher) being. Each one of us enters the world thrown into submission to the one by which we have received our capacity for being, knowing, and doing as individual persons with other individual persons. And this is true even while our sin nature naturally inclines us toward autonomy from this dependency (autonomy being the privilege of the triune God alone) into a self-sustaining (solipsistic) life (again, a life reserve for the Triune God alone).

Because we are created as family, our purposes; the teleology of life as men and women in this world and in eternity, is family. Since we are to live in harmony of being, knowing, and doing; and since our sinful nature shuns this purpose, we are in a continual struggle to renew our minds to a proper understanding of our purpose as human beings in communion—consubstantial—with other human beings.[5] God has been gracious enough to provide natural affections within biological fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters for one another in order to encourage us to develop the qualities of communion that are ultimately to be realized in the family of God in Christ—who is the quintessential human husband and child in the quintessential family.[6]

Husbandry is the growing up of what is incomplete into what is complete, and the wife is indispensible in this task as both an object of husbandry and helpmeet in husbandry (since no husband has completed his development into the perfect paradigm of Christ, and no husband is fully equipped to cultivate his children)[7]. Although the Spirit is not per se female, it is interesting to note that it is the Spirit who goes forth from the risen and enthroned Christ to do the work of sanctifying the Bride (the Church) for her wedding at the close of history—not unlike the mother who goes forth unto her children at the direction of her husband to raise them (in one accord with the husband) in the home. Husbandry requires “wifery” for the completion of its task.[8]

Children bear the stamp of dependency more obviously than the other categories, but they also bear the stamp of innocence in that the direction of their cultivation has only just begun—the calluses on an elderly hand cannot easily be removed and reshaped, but one may easily heal or shape the calluses upon a child’s hand.[9] The malleability of the child is precisely the quality God desires in His disciples—a willingness to receive from His hands now the firmer press of His hand, now the gentle touch to direct. At the same time, the maturity of every disciple in not childishness, even in this positive sense, but rather fatherhood—it is a good thing to desire to be an elder or deacon (or older woman who trains younger women), that is, a father in the family of God. While we will always be children of God, we are not intended to remain children toward one another, though we are brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers—mutual relations as well as authority relations.

A parting thought is to realize that to be family is to be as God is, and to shirk family is to deny God. To deny God is to reject love and peace and embrace wrath and enmity. To embrace wrath and enmity is to embrace destruction—to love death. Is it any wonder then, that the 5th commandment contains the promise that those who honor father and mother shall live long in the land, for in these relations are contained the whole requirements of holiness and harmony in human life? Or, as William Ames, Puritan divine puts it: “And one reason why there is mention only of parents in the fifth commandment is because only domestic society, being clearly natural, is to remain one and the same throughout all ages and nations. It is primary, the fountain and seed bed of all society, and thus the authority of all superiors is at once set forth and mitigated when they are called fathers, 2 Kings 2:12; 5:13; 13:14; Gen. 41:8, 43; 1 Sam. 24:11; 1 Tim. 5:1.” And because our honoring of earthly family directly reflects our understanding of God, to break the 5th commandment is also to break the 1st commandment—dishonoring an authority is tantamount to honoring oneself above that authority.

There are many other practical implications to be drawn from the above. Ames does a fine job of doing this in some detail, and I would commend all readers to consult chapter XVII of his Marrow of Divinity to receive the full account. Also, Isaiah 63 shows in particular the extreme lengths to which God is willing to go in order to parent His children and husband His wife. Another is Jeremiah 31, which expresses the same Fatherly love in chastisement and restoration. Let these few examples spark your zeal to find others in order to understand them, work them out, and thereby thrive the life of God.

[1] While the term “consubstantial” has for the most part been identified as a metaphysical attribute, I wish to here use the term, not as a category of being per se, but within each category of philosophy—metaphysics, ethics, epistemology. We cannot, for example, argue that being a family makes us metaphysically or one essence in such a way that destroys individuation—God is one being, but three persons; the family is one being (we might say, a shared life), in many persons.

[2] It is important to note that this equation is concerned with ultimate reasons and not given reasons. It may be perfectly consistent that one’s given reason for truth-telling is to be true to oneself and one’s ultimate reason be that God is truth-telling. The given reason may be subsidiary to the ultimate reason, such that “being truth to oneself” is itself based upon the reason “because God is true to himself,” thereby determining one’s own identity in the identity of God, which completes the chain of reasoning to its ultimate ground in the nature or life of God. As a father reasoning to a son, one can see how vital it is to stress this ultimate understanding, and to evaluate given reasons in light of the ultimate, in order to ensure that one is basing one’s understanding in the right ground of life, that is, God’s life. For example, to teach a son that his truth-telling is about honoring himself without tying that reason to the ultimate reason of honoring God, the father risks the son’s misunderstanding the given reason (honor yourself) as the ultimate reason. Such misunderstanding leads away from a shared life, even if its outward work looks the same.

[3] It is possible that one of God’s reasons for suspending the creation of female as He does is precisely to teach the male that his life is fundamentally as family. This instruction would be especially necessary given that God had probably not revealed himself to the man as Triune. It would only be through his life with the woman that the man would come to understand the life of God. It is not only not good for the man to be alone for the sake of his life in the Garden, but it is also not good for the man to be alone because it inhibits him from understanding and thereby sharing in the life of God. It is only in the communion of man and woman (family) that man or woman understands, and thereby communes in, the life of God.

[4] It is interesting to note that the woman does not receive the spirit of God directly, as the man did. God breathed life into the man, which inspirited (now we see the person of the Spirit in man as the image of God) him into life. Eve receives her spirit directly from the life of man, which has already received his life from the life of God breathed into him. There is a giving that reflects the giving of the Godhead—Father gives to the Son who sends the Spirit to give to Creation, which receives from Spirit to through the Son in return to the Father. Man receives from God, woman receives from man, children receive from man and woman, and children also give back to father and mother in the form of grandchildren (though this is hardly the only possible means of developing the nature of giving and receiving).

[5] The idea of the “universal brotherhood of man” is mistaken only in that it avoids the eternal rift within humanity between the elect and the reprobate. There are two distinct modes of life—unto God’s love and unto God’s wrath, and therefore two separate ways of family. This is reflected in Scripture through the line of Seth and the line of Cain, or more properly, the line of the Christ (the Son of God) and the line of the serpent (Satan).

[6] That our biological family is not the quintessential family is revealed in Christ’s sobering claim that anyone who loves his mother or brother or father or sister more than they love Him shall have no place at His table, that is, in His family. Nevertheless, because the biological family is the natural image of the divine family, our first responsibilities according to the law are to the biological family, for it is the family into which God has placed us to work. It is only by a kind of apostasy or prodigality that the immediate family is removed from one’s chief concern, and even then, as with excommunication, the hope is for eventual restoration and renewal of the shared life, understanding, and work.

[7] God has crafted a natural argument for this reality in that women bear the means of sustaining the child’s physical life through her sides, that is, her breasts.

[8] The truism of motherhood is more readily acknowledged than the truism of wifehood, although this was not always the case, and still persists in the slightly perverted sense of young men needing to “settle down” into marriage in order to fully “grow up.” On the other hand, as I write this essay, there is renewed attention to the necessity of fatherhood, with the parallel subjugated emphasis upon husbandry. Anyone wishing to be a good father ought to recognize that in raising sons and daughters to be good fathers and good mothers, they must also see what it means to be a good husband, for there is properly no father or mother without a marriage of husband and wife.

[9] And let us remember that calluses demonstrate both the extent of work and its precise nature. An illustration: a callused backside bears and bares a lazy bum. To turn the other cheek: the rod well applied leaves no external marks, but is fruit is borne in the heart and bared in the work of the well-disciplined child.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Parallelisms in Scripture

Stephen Dempster, in his book, Dominion and Dynasty, points out several interesting parallels between the Exodus and Moses, Moses and the Flood, and the Tabernacle and Eden. Here are some of the highlights:

Moses' salvation from the water [the River Nile] echoes backwards and forwards in the text; backwards to the salvation of humanity from the judgment of the flood by Noah (Gen. 6-8), and forwards to the Israelites' future escape from the waters of the Reed Sea (Exod. 14). Significantly, as Fox (1997:253) shows, the figure of Moses, this child born as a type of saviour figure, not only saves Israel but also embodies Israel at times. His rescure from the water prefigures the nation's salvation from the water; his escape after the death of the Egyptian (Exod. 2:11-15) is a prelude to the Israelites' flight after death of many Egyptians (Exod. 12:29-39); his experience of being in the desert for forty years (Exod. 2:21-25) foreshadows the same for Israel (Num. 14:33); his divine encounter before the burning bush (Exod. 3) anticipates Israel before the fire at Sinai (Exod. 19-24). (p. 95)

When viewed against the wider context of the biblical storyline, the subsequent account of the ten plagues is another expression of the battle between the seeds, which culminates in the Passover. Israelite firstborn males are spared while those in Egypt are not. If the Passover is a sacrifice, it is the first one since the act of Abraham in Genesis 22 [offering of Isaac, the firstborn]. Similarly, the Passover rite suggests substitutionary death. A male yearling sheep or goat is slain and its blood spattered on the doorposts and lintels of an Israelite dwelling in order to save the firstborn child from death. (pp. 98-99)

The goal of the journey out of Egypt is to relocate Israel in the land of promise in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. The pathway through the Canaanite armies in the land of promise will be much like passing through the Reed Sea (Exod. 15:14-16). As the Israelites passed unscathed through a watery gauntlet, they will now pass through a human one [this seems also to be a parallel with the Flood and Tower of Babel, where you have a scattering of waters and a scattering of peoples following one after the other]. (p. 100)

The next chapters depict Moses' ascent of the mountain, where he spends forty days receiving plans for the creation of the tabernacle, which is patterned after a heavenly archetype (Exod. 25-31). There are enough clues in the text to suggest that the tabernacle to be made on earth is also a microcosm of the creation of the world [perhaps even a foreshadowing of New Heavens and Earth?], and its innermost sanctuary a garden of Eden. It takes place in seven actions, with the sixth stressing the installation of two human beings filled with the Spirit of God to implement the making of the structure [footnote: Exod. 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12 are the introductions to the seven actions]. The seventh action stresses the importance of Sabbath-keeping and its basis in the creation of the world (Exod. 31:12-18). (p. 102)

As you can see in only a few pages (and I didn't post all of the possible examples) Dempster labors to uncover the many parallel types within the narrative of Scripture (or, in particular, the Old Testament). These parallels are helpful in keeping the unity of the Scriptures in mind, and weaving an overarching theme or plot from which to understand the smaller details of Scripture that often escape our notice or understanding (he has a very good literary explanation for the near death and circumcision of Moses' son in Exod. 4, for example).