“Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” (Psalm 127:1-3)
When I was growing up, there was an end table in our living room that had a Bible on it. The Bible was always opened to Psalm 127. That particular Bible translation gave titles to all the Psalms, and it called this one “The Happy Family.” It was a good Psalm for my family, which had four loud kids in it. Sometimes at supper, my dad would look at us devouring everything in sight, spilling milk, fighting over the last biscuit, and say with a grin, “Like olive shoots around your table.” I’m glad he thought of himself part of “The Happy Family,” considering all the work we made for him and my mom.
When I look at that Psalm as an adult, I doubt that someone outside the church would like the title supplied by our end table Bible. It’s not very enlightened, with its talk of wives only in terms of how many babies they can crank out. Some translations just say “sons,” not “children.” The Psalm right before this one talks about how great it has to have a lot of kids–certainly not the trend in our 1.8 children per family society. In fact, “The Happy Family” has taken some pretty hard hits in the last century. Marriage is optional for people who “really love each other.” On the other hand, anybody who wants to should be able to get married, regardless of gender or number (why shouldn’t three people be able to marry each other?). And when you’re tired of the person you’re married to? No big deal, just call it off. Babies must be carefully scheduled to fit into the important lives of their parents. Pregnant and don’t want to be? That can be taken care of quickly enough. Siblings are expected to hate each otherjust a fact of life. Grandparents and sick people are shipped off to the pound (or worse) once they become too inconvenient. Essentially, family takes whatever form fits the externals of your life.
But what does God say about family? Regarding marriage, God says, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) To Adam and Eve and all married couples, God says, Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). To the unfaithful, God says, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16). To those responsible for the lives of others: young, old, or sick, God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
How do we know that this bunch of verses from the Old Testament applies to our families today? Because each one is part of a bigger picture. Marriage isn’t something that God made up just for the sake of good order; it’s a picture of Christ and his bride, the Church. Kids aren’t just a way to keep the race going; they’re a picture of God’s tremendous love and how it proved itself by generously creating and taking care of us to share that love. Siblings aren’t an accident of nature; they’re a microcosm of the family of God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Taking care of the weak and sick is beyond an ethical obligation; it models how Jesus saved us when we were suffering from the terminal disease and utter helplessness of sin.
Every aspect of Christian life is a manifestation of God’s work and love for us, and how we live it is an example to the world of the love of God. Family according to God’s plan is the closest we will get to heaven in this lifetime, because it’s the closest thing we have to the way God himself behaves. Was God happy to see rebellion in the children he created for the sake of his love, the unfaithfulness of the people to whom he had committed himself for the sake of his love, and his beloved children hurt and kill each other? Nobut for the sake of his love Jesus died to forgive those rebellious sins and restore the relationships that we should have had with him and with each other. God’s family is the real “Happy Family,” where love takes its truest form. The Bride of Christ, the Church, fills the table at the marriage feast of the Lamb with God’s children by telling the good news of Jesus. Our families on earth will never be perfectly happy, but the Family we are a part of as the Bride of Christ, the children of God, and brothers and sisters in Christ promises eternal joy.
Published January 2004