Family of God

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

John 1:2

It’s the thread linking every human being on this earth together. And it’s something that connects even the most diverse of people.

We are all someone’s son or someone’s daughter.

God, probably due to his Trinitarian character, created humans to exist within families. We may not all have spouses, siblings, or children, but every last one of us has, or has had, parents. Family is the reality that gives rise to our very existence. It helps shape who we become.

But families are made up of imperfect people. They give grief and pain as often as they give gladness and healing. Little else in life can grow us as much as family at its best, and few things can shackle us like family at its worst.

Such is the way of life’s most precious gifts. “[Family] hurts just as much as it is worth,” wrote essayist and novelist Zadie Smith in an essay on joy. Family is tough and often painful, yes. But its potential gifts are incomparably magnificent.

At its best, family grants continuity in a world of discontinuity, a glimpse of permanence in a world of change. Amid relentless transience and uncertainty, family provides stability. When all else fails, family will always be family. And if things go according to design, our family will always offer us unconditional love. Little else in life is as permanent as that.

Family, and its close corollary “home,” also offers shelter and comfort in the midst of a hostile world. At its best, we come home to a family and find forgiveness and healing, a place of warmth and love where we are known. Or home may be simply a place where we can sit around a table and eat Mom’s spaghetti while talking about jobs, school, or soccer practice. It’s a pause button, a space to decompress and recalibrate. A gift.

Family, I’d suggest, is the primary earthly structure that echoes our heavenly home. The kingdoms of earth and God meet in the concept of family.

That’s why Christians use the phrase “family of God.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are adopted into a heavenly family more permanent and (one day) more perfect than our earthly family will ever be. We have been given the right to become children of God.

As pleasant as all this sounds, I often find it hard to think of my fellow believers as “family” in the same sense as my own relatives. It feels forced and abstract — an artificial construct wherein people who are vastly different from one another play at being “brothers” and “sisters.”

But I’ve come to realize kingdom-of-God-things always feel a little bit real and a little bit fake. They occupy liminal territory, bridging concepts that couldn’t feel more earthly (like union with our own relatives) with concepts that are hard to fathom (like union with the God of the universe and all His children).

This transitional nature of family is what makes it so great. It grounds us in the now like nothing else can, even while it offers the clearest-possible glimpses of the not-yet.

Flickr photo (cc) by cafemama