The center of the Christian faith is family
A human family sits at the center of the Christian faith. The singular image of Mary, her husband Joseph, and her son, Jesus, tells the main story of the kind of God that Christians worship. They are the complete image of God’s Incarnation in Jesus Christ. This family reveals that the Christian God seeks to dwell in, with, among, and as a human being, just like any one of us. Christians do not worship a God who sits in heaven, judging the world from some divine armchair. Rather, we believe that God actively draws near to us from within the dense networks of families, friends, and neighbors. We worship a God who delights in babies and children, close friends, and grandparents, and the bonds of far-flung cousins. This God chose to come to humanity as a Brother, as a Son, as a Friend. Families – in the broadest sense – are exactly where God wants to be.
The tragedy and love of families
But the cozy glow of the Holy Family is not exactly the biblical norm. From the ancient days of the Genesis sagas, families have been beset with hardship and tragedy. Once Adam and Eve knew good and evil, they began the blame game of “you” versus “me,” in which so many couples get trapped. They lost the sense of an “us.” Adam toiled on the ground while Eve labored in childbirth. And the tragedy only intensified among their two sons, as the brothers, Cain and Abel, struggled with jealousy. Such hard feelings ended up in fratricide. Cain killed Abel. Murder marks the first family.
But Cain and Abel were not the only ones who brought on family suffering. From within their mother’s womb, the brothers, Jacob and Esau, were in conflict. Joseph’s brothers tried to kill him by throwing him into a well. The prodigal son broke his father’s heart by leaving, and then drew his brother’s ire by coming back. In other words, despite God’s incarnational delight of dwelling in a family unit, God never promises that families will live without strife and hardship.
Aren’t most families beset by both hardship as well as heroic efforts at love, bonding, and tolerance? No one can predict what trials and triumphs families will live through. It takes faith to even start a family. It takes faith that two people will stay committed to each other; faith that they will have enough resources to provide for a child who might come into the world. Sometimes even with faith and effort, biological children are impossible to have due to the fertility levels of all of our different human bodies. Then it takes faith for a couple to figure out their next steps as a family unit. For some, this means remaining child free; for others it might mean medical assistance; and for others it might mean adoption or fostering children, or something else. God does not look away from us in all of these consequential decisions. God draws near to us and holds us in the challenges we all face as families.
Christianity’s affirmation of many forms of family
Christianity does not idolize the biological family. Nor does it insist on a model of what “family” is. Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son for all we know. Abraham and Sarah used Hagar as a surrogate, unfortunately to Hagar’s detriment. Ruth and Orpah chose to be family without the conventional male presence in their lives. The Apostle Paul seems to prefer the single life. He shows that the Christian faith does not require biological family ties to be passed down, nor does the Church need biological families to grow. Paul uses the model of a parent adopting a child when he talks of God and humans. God chooses us—all of us—to be in God’s family, and God gifts humanity with Jesus as our Brother and Friend. The family of God and humanity is a bond made out of grace and commitment. That is the simple formula of Christian family life: grace and commitment towards one another, no matter the biological status of the relationship. God’s affirmation of all kinds of human bonds is a strength of Christianity as a religion because it allows us to grow our faith and our love of God among so many diverse people such as friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, teachers, law enforcement, and even sometimes strangers, through our commitment to their dignity and through the grace that they show us. Families grow community.
We are God’s chosen family
To put a fine point on it, God actually chooses to not even be God’s Self without us. We are God’s beloved family. Prior to any other identity each one of us may have, whether that be familial identity, gender identity, socio-economic, ethnic, or racialized identity, every human person is first and foremost “child of God.” No cultural or human structure could alter that fact. God is who God is only with us by God’s side. Yahweh is the “I am Who I am and I will be Who I will be” only with us as God’s chosen family.
And for this reason, we do not need to summon some kind of heroic faith in ourselves to believe that we are worthy of love. Sometimes our own biological families instill in us an inherent sense of our own worthiness. And sometimes they do not. But because God gives that to us, we can have faith. We can summon faith in our own worthiness because God has said “Yes, You are my child.” God continues to say that universal “Yes” to us throughout our lives. We are God’s chosen family. That is one thing in which we can believe.