The Polygamous, Incestuous, Murderous Collection of Screw-ups God Called the Holy Family

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy

dysfunctionalfamilyThere is a uniqueness to unhappiness, as Tolstoy rightly observed, a sad fingerprint left by each family that is like no other. And it’s rarely as simplistic as outsiders usually assume. “Oh, it’s that alcoholic father who’s ruined that family.” Or, “Yeah, it’s that cheatin’ wife of his.” Or, “it’s them dope-smoking kids.” Maybe the husband turns to alcohol as an escape because his wife nags him, belittles him, and makes him feel worthless. Maybe the wife sleeps with other men because they give her the illusion of attraction, while her husband says she’s fat, never touches her, and makes her feel as undesirable as a wrinkled whore. And this merely scratches the surface. Dig down deep into any unhappy family, and you’re likely to unearth layer upon layer of manipulation, abuse, neglect, grudges, and horrors which have no name.

Joseph came from a family like that. His dad, Jacob, was married to two women, having sex with two more, and fathering children by them all. I don’t need to tell you that, in a household where four women are sleeping with one man, jealousy was thick. Each wife was trying to out-pregnant the other, and even enlisted their maid-servants as sexual pinch hitters to try and make even more babies. To add to the mess, Joseph’s brother, Reuben, slept with one of those maid-servants as well, father and son sowing their seed in the same womb, brother sleeping with his other brothers’ mom. Still more, after one of the daughters was raped in a nearby town, the sons rose to avenge their sister with bloodshed, all the while incensed at their father who didn’t want to ruffle any feathers over the incident. And, finally, the jealousy of the wives filtered down to the sons, especially when Jacob made it abundantly clear that Joseph, the firstborn of his favorite wife, Rachel, was his favorite son and the one who would inherit his blessing. If every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, then Joseph’s family had plenty of ways of breeding more unhappiness.

Some of you reading this come from an unhappy family, or you’re living in that unhappy family right now. Maybe you’re wondering if there’s any possible way God could glue back together the shards of your shattered family unity. Maybe you suspect things are so bad that God has washed His hands of your marriage and children. Or maybe you’ve simply given up hope; you feel defeated; you’re tired of pushing that boulder uphill, only to watch it roll down again. The pains and disappointments in life are teaching you the hard truth that God has a warm place in His heart for happy families, while unhappy ones are left shivering through winter after winter of divine absence.

If so, consider this: Joseph’s family—that polygamous, incestuous, jealous, murderous, motley crew of screw-ups—was in fact the holy family that God chose and dearly loved. This family was the foundation of the church of the Old Testament. Those twelve brothers, reared by one deceitful father and four bickering mothers, who were constantly fighting amongst themselves, were the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. This microcosm of humanity, in which just about every evil and sin was exemplified, was nevertheless beloved of God and chosen by Him to carry forward the promise of redemption. This was the family whose DNA would eventually find its way into a baby boy born to a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem. The Savior of the world would come from Joseph’s family; indeed, his foster father would bear that patriarch’s name. From this unhappy family would arise the one whose coming would prompt the church to sing, “Joy to the world!”

So is God interested only in happy families? No, if anything, He seems to be the patron God of lost causes. For him, there is no family, no family member, who is beyond hope. He is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one lost lamb. He is the father who dashes from his house and runs like a madman to throw his loving arms around the prodigal son. He is the Christ who suffers with you through every family fight, holds you when you cry yourself to sleep in a lonely bed, sits beside you in divorce court, visits your child with you when she’s in rehab. He has bound Himself to you and your family. That doesn’t mean He approves of the evil that takes place; what it means is that He is not a God who runs away when things get ugly. He might even get ugly Himself sometimes, show tough love to those who need it, but behind that divine scowl of reproof is a heart of love that beats with a ferocious compassion. He will not give up on you or your family. Inked into God’s skin is the name of every person in your family. He bears your family in His own body.

Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but no family is beyond redemption, beyond the recovery of joy, beyond the love of the heavenly Father. Because every unhappy family is the family for whom Jesus Christ died. For Joseph’s family, for your family, the Son of God came from His Father, was born of a mother, was raised by a foster father, that He might redeem every member of your family, and make them members of an everlasting family known as the church. With Jesus Christ, no family is a lost cause.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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2 thoughts on “The Polygamous, Incestuous, Murderous Collection of Screw-ups God Called the Holy Family

  1. I am sitting here before class in my last semester of undergrad having just read this post, and crying. I’m fourty four years old, and I am crying like a two year old child. You see my son is in rehab right now. He has both drug and alchohol dependancy that as a family we have been fighting for over six years now, but very recently he has also been diagnosed with two severe personality disorders that are the root cause of his addictions (Cluster B Narcissism and Antisocial). His disorders make him a danger to our family, which has been experienced by us time and time again. Insurance releases him from residential care in two weeks, and I am told by our counselor and all the wise men and women who advise me that I have to let him go to fend for himself, and let him experience the consequences of his crimes against his family. He is only 17. I am being ripped in half.

    I am not beating my chest and flinging anger at God. I am not questioning His goodness, His integrity, or His love for us. I am just so terrified for my boy. I know this is a breaking of the second commandment, and I know that God forgives me this weakness of faith, but I am at the point you mentioned in your post. I am helpless. My son faces a very cruel world, and I am supposed to be his protector, his adviser, and his provider, and he wants none of me in the first two roles, and all of me in the last. I stand helpless, scared, and in misery before my family and the rest of the judging world. I need these reminders of God’s mercy and grace to my son, a baptized child of God who never the less refuses His grace and wants nothing to do with the faith. Even with all my theology and the support God has granted me through faith and those advisors He has surrounded me with, I need to hear these words. So thank you so very much.

    I have to clean myself up before I head to class.

    • James,
      I read your comment at work this morning and have been thinking about it, you and your son, and your whole family all day. There are no easy solutions to the cross you are bearing. It has hurt and, as you well know, the pain is not likely to go away anytime soon. What I can stress is what I already said in my post this morning, that Christ is with you and your family, no matter how ugly and heartbreaking your situation may become. Your son is baptized. He will always be baptized. And rebel against God though he may, the Lord will always be His Father. You feel helpless. I get that. But you are also in hands of Christ, who does more than help us. He holds us, upholds us, and gets us through trials that would have destroyed us without His ever-present help. His grace will sustain you.
      Chad

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