To be a human being is to be born into a family, this is a given reality from the beginning of creation. As God created all things from nothing, He declared “it is not good that the man should be alone,” and “makes a helper fit for him” (Genesis 1:18). The man and the woman together are called to be fruitful and multiply, expanding their union into a family (Genesis 2:24-25). After the fall, God outlines the consequences of rebellion including the introduction of pain and dysfunction into marriage and birthing of children. Yet, the family in its created and spiritual form remains God's chosen object of promise-making and keeping, which is to say remains the object of His love.

Transfiguration of the Family

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his father’s house and go to an undisclosed land which God will show him (Genesis 12:1). This call bears a striking resemblance to the description of marriage in Genesis 2, just as a man leaves his father and mother to hold fast to his wife, so too will Abram leave his father’s house to hold fast to God (Genesis 2:24). The Lord calls Abram to forsake what he has known to be the vessel through which God redeems His children which will be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:2).

God promises Abraham that He will redeem His children through a miracle of birth, bringing forth a son (and from him a multitude) from Abram’s dead seed and Sarai’s barren womb (Genesis 15:3-5; Romans 4:19). This child will not solely be a blessing for Abram and Sarai, but is given for the blessing of others (Genesis 17:7). Here we begin to see God’s purpose for the family, that in their faithfulness they would bear witness to God’s redemptive promises in such a way that others would be blessed and be directed to their Father in heaven who “gives good things” (Matthew 7: 11).

God Places the Lonely into Families

The redemptive ends of Abram’s family do not exempt them from sin’s havoc-wreaking hand. In their impatience, Sarah and Abraham took the fulfillment of God’s promise (as well as their vulnerable Egyptian servant) into their own hands. After Hagar conceived a child with Abram, Sarah’s rivalrous jealousy overtook her initial pragmatism as she dealt harshly with her servant causing her to flee into destitution (Genesis 16:1-6).

On one hand, the family is undoubtedly a gift of God and often the vehicle of His activity, but on the other it is not immune from the horrific effects of sin.  This is a reality so many of our brothers and sisters know quite well. Yet God does not remain silent at such distortions of His intended blessing, but instead He places the lonely into a family, often in surprising ways (Psalm 68:6). For Hagar, at the height of her despair, she was given a promise from the Lord who listened to her affliction: that her honor would be restored as her offspring would be a multitude (Genesis 16:10-11).

The placing of the stranger into a family seems to be one of God’s favorite activities and a key part of His redemptive work. Just as Abraham’s lineage was to be a blessing to the nations, so was a “mixed multitude” delivered from the bondage in Egypt, with strangers given a home in the storied family of Abraham. Just as Hagar was spared by the God who sees, so too was Rahab spared because of her faithfulness. Just as Abraham and Isaac were given a child, so too was Naomi given a lineage in her old age.

Perhaps the best example of God’s expansive and disruptive vision of His family can be found at the foot of the cross. In his gospel, John includes a beautiful scene where the dying Jesus gives Mary and John to each other as family. As He hung from the tree, He saw His mother and said, “Woman, behold your son!” Then turning to the beloved disciple, he says, “Behold, your mother! (John 19:26-27).

In the very last moments of His pre-resurrection life, He poetically demonstrates what He has taught for the preceding three years about family – it is a God-created, sustained and given gift which is to point to His Fatherhood and bring others into its fold. In Mark 10, Jesus makes this very point plainly,

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29–30)

Just as Abraham was called to leave his father’s house to follow God, so too are we to follow Him with undivided loyalties – even our families. Yet, as the epistles make clear, this is not a reversal of God’s gift of family, but rather a redemption of it expanded to exist within God’s own household under His fatherhood.

Adoption as Sons & Daughters

In Romans, Paul describes salvation in familial terms, that we are not just servants of God but rather His children. The gift of the Spirit is the gift of adoption, as we are able to cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) to the Creator of heaven and earth. Through God’s redemptive work through the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even those outside of their lineage are given the opportunity to become heirs of God (Romans 8:17). In Galatians he proclaims this good news even more boldly:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

The interwovenness of our lives within a biological family are meant to serve as a loving school in which we are given the language and images to speak of our truest union and belonging – in the family of God. Throughout the Bible, God uses the family in precisely this way, to uniquely reveal the truer family of which His people are a part. This does not undermine the goodness of the family but places it in its rightful place – under the Lordship of Christ. At every turn, God places the biological family underneath His family of which He is the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15). In short, family ought to be a visible display of God’s love as He transfigures the meaning of family; places the lonely into families; and adopts us as sons and daughters.