Our family systems are broken by sin, but God is faithful to accomplish his purpose and build his kingdom through them. The damage of families is well known: Children are scarred by parental neglect and abuse. Parents struggle to raise unruly kids.
Spouses carry the wounds of hurtful words spoken, lies told, intimacy withheld, and anger unleashed. Many marriages end in divorce, wounding all members of the family system. We bumble through life and try to pick up the broken pieces. Yet God can use even our brokenness and make something beautiful out of our mess.
When we look at family systems in the Bible, we see that they too were broken and scarred. But in the midst of the brokenness, God is at work, redeeming what is broken, making something beautiful out of the broken pieces. We can see God work this way in three generations of a Biblical family system, beginning with Abraham.
God called Abraham to go to an unknown land, promising to make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2). Abraham stepped out in faith and went, but his faith faltered along the way. In Egypt he told his beautiful wife Sarah to pretend to be his sister so that he would be treated well for her sake. He gave her up to be Pharaoh’s wife and he received cattle and servants in return. Their family problems multiply as the book of Genesis unfolds: a long and painful battle with infertility, an arranged affair with a slave woman to try to bring about the promised child that God seemed to have failed to provide (Gen 16), and a son “born according to the flesh” that would produce generations of bitterness, pain, and turmoil (Gal 4:23). But God is faithful to his promise. Through all the brokenness he blessed them with the promised son, Isaac.
The brokenness continued in Isaac’s family system. He married Rebekah and they had two sons together, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a burly weapon toting, hairy-chest thumping, big-game chasing kind of man. Jacob was a smooth-skinned, kitchen-acquainted mama’s boy (Gen 25:27). But there was a problem in the family system, an issue of favoritism that brought dysfunction to the family: Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen 25:28). Divided parental affection tore the family apart. We can imagine the little comments and the strained family dynamics: Isaac praising Esau, a real man’s man, in the presence of his brother Jacob; Rebekah resenting Esau because of it and always showing special favor to Jacob to compensate; brothers playing their parents against each other, craving the approval of the parent who clearly likes the other brother more.
The division in the family came to a head one day. Isaac, who was old and dying, wanted to give his blessing and inheritance to Esau. Rebekah wanted it to go to Jacob. So she came up with an elaborate scheme to make it happen. In the end, a dying man was tricked out of his last request by his conniving wife. Esau burned with hatred and wanted to kill his brother Jacob, who ended up fleeing for his life. Esau was so embittered by the ordeal that he impulsively took another wife in a desperate attempt to please his father. This was a family steeped in sin and deception, torn apart by division, and riddled with dysfunction.
And the cycle of brokenness continued. Jacob fled to his Uncle Laban, married Rachel and Leah, and had twelve sons, one of whom was Judah. Judah’s family system was checkered with scandal. He married a Canaanite woman and had two sons, both of whom were deemed wicked in God’s eyes and put to death (Gen 38:7,10). Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, disguised herself as a prostitute one day and seduced him. They slept together, resulting in the birth of twins, Perez and Zerah.
On and on the stories go. Many family systems in the Bible were broken by sin. They were scarred by atrocious events, plagued by scandal, and crippled with dysfunction.
And maybe, to some degree, we see ourselves in these family systems. Family life is hard. Siblings bicker. Children rebel. Spouses fight, develop resentment, and grow distant. Some end up leading parallel lives under the same roof, some cheat, some get divorced. Many adults are still living with the wounds of parental abuse and neglect, and many perpetuate the cycle.
We find hope in a most unexpected place. We find it in a genealogy. Matthew begins his gospel with these words: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Matt 1:2-3). On and on the list goes from one dysfunctional family system to the next. Some are more well known than others, but all no doubt had skeletons in their closets, brokenness in their lives, and scandal in their ancestry. Through it all we come to the end of Matthew’s list: “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matt 1:16).
And so we see how God worked through these broken and dysfunctional families to bring about something beautiful, to accomplish his purpose and to build his kingdom. Out of the ashes of broken families the Savior was born. This is what God does. He draws beauty from the ashes.
If God can bring about the Savior of the world through a family tree checkered with prostitution, murder, and lies, then imagine what he might do through yours. Our family systems are broken by sin, but God is faithful to accomplish his purpose and build his kingdom through them. Let us walk with him, and watch him bring beauty from the ashes.
Even heroes of faith in the Bible like Abraham and his descendants were imperfect and suffered the brokenness of sinfulness. Many had lives that were train wrecks, but God can take a mess and use it for his glory. He can draw beauty from the ashes.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken