“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God adopted me into the family of Christ when I was 17 & finishing my first year of college. My believing Mom “bequeathed” me, so to speak, into the care of her best friends Marty & Marv, when she died. I was 26, then. They’ve been my parents-in-Christ for half my life, and encouraged me to live, work and rejoice in Christ. God has blessed me through a continuity of parents, mentors, brothers- &-sisters-in-Christ; they’ve been humble, trustworthy and wise people whom I trusted to reflect faithfully to me who I am, according to their (imperfect, but loving) perceptions, to support, build up and encourage me to follow godly paths. Thanks be to God!
One very complicated part of the ongoing journey has been reconciling my heart and life in Christ to the family into which I was born. Understanding that every, single one of us is “God’s handiwork”, first and foremost, is central to being healed. God has said, we are his children, and the family into which we are born may support, damage, affect, harm or strengthen us in that knowledge, in varying measures. Knowing we are God’s handiwork, though, holds each of us responsible and accountable to God in our actions, reactions, choices and words. In the Day of God, we are accountable to the LORD, our Judge, not to our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, or our enemies. (Rom. 14:12) Jesus commanded us to love God, neighbors and enemies. Paul also continued to say, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” (Rom. 14:13)
My birth family was a broken family, and both my birth parents are now long deceased. Our parents had a terrible marriage, and all of us suffered from their conflict and divorce. My decision not to frame life according to their sins and mistakes reflects my decision to worship God who lives, loves, and offers grace and mercy. The foundational question is whom do we believe tells us the truth about ourselves, God or people? Insofar as people fail to reflect God’s incarnate Word of grace & truth to us, we must distrust and disbelieve them. Following Jesus Christ, I could not judge my parents, but will love, forgive and give grace to them. God presented many opportunities and the power to serve them in offering grace and forgiveness, over the years. As I matured in Christ, I humbled myself, loved and served them more, but earlier, there were too many times when I failed to love them and God because I held onto (justifiable, to my mind) anger, bitterness, resentment or pride. Over the decades and years, however, the truth of Jesus’ wisdom has been manifest in choosing love over judgment. Even in memories, the daily choice to love and forgive them has redeemed the blessings and memories of good & joyful times we had together. I know, now, that both my parents loved me as best they knew how to love, and parented me with the goal of my good, in mind: to raise me to be a truthful, wise, ethical, scholarly & hard-working woman. I thank God for the gifts given to me in Mom and Dad. I know that each of them, as every one of us, failed God, themselves, one another and us. Only by grace, with thanksgiving toward God, may we truly receive, honor and rejoice in God’s gifts to us in one another. Otherwise, we easily fall into the trap so clearly described by the Psalmist in Psalm 50, in the italics.
1 The mighty one, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
God shines forth.
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
for God himself is judge.
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
the cattle on a thousand hills.
and all that moves in the field is mine.
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
or drink the blood of goats?
and pay your vows to the Most High.
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
“What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
and you cast my words behind you.
and you keep company with adulterers.
and your tongue frames deceit.
you slander your own mother’s child.
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
I will show the salvation of God.”
Divorce and alienation from one another reflect human judgment; divorce is an ongoing separation carried out upon one another – “I refuse to be ‘with’ you.” We usually use “divorce” only in reference to marriage, but in Scripture, the Greek and Hebrew words describe separation, abandonment and cutting off. Attempts to hinder one another, to cause others to stumble, to throw obstacles in their ways, to gossip about or slander men or women, to threaten people with punishment, to lord it over them by making one’s words, laws and reasoning a false judge/god, are sinful ways using human laws to defy God’s Law of love. The goal of human laws is to separate and divide ourselves from one another, to manufacture a deceitful, death-producing and punitive hierarchy within humanity (cf. Psalm 62).
God’s covenant is the power and light-filled antidote to the creeping death that revels in divisions, divorce and alienation. The goal of God’s covenantal law is unity in love, in Christ through his broken body and shed blood, which is reflected through us as we confess our own brokenness and failure to love. While laws may resemble one another, superficially, human essence is revealed in our love, words and actions toward one another. When we love one another well, we increasingly conform to Christ’s image, becoming beautiful in holiness and relational righteousness. The psalmists and Scripture’s authors wrote of the unrelenting alienation within families which grows out of wrongly applied laws and unloving legalism. Most children of The Great Divorce and the smaller divorces (secular or spiritual), today, suffer from the inability to turn from the faulty foundation which broke humanity as a whole, and their families, in particular. They elevate themselves above and justify continuing enmity toward siblings. Their path evidences unremitting divisiveness and self-justification. They seek to break up unity, to harm what is good (cf. vv. 17-20, above). They simply cannot discern healthy from harmful outcomes, and that which is whole, loving and fragrant of Christ infuriates them so much that they seek its destruction.
To leave those paths of death, we humbly accept the God who loves us and them, the Creator of our earthly father and mother, the Lord who knows our families and ourselves thoroughly, the one who brings light and life from darkness and death through self-giving service. God brought our life out of our parents’ unity (however temporary and flawed), and God calls us to choose life and love, carry our crosses, share one another’s burdens. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, humbled by God’s grace, I offer thanksgiving to God, and I will honor and love my father and mother. I cannot love God, in truth, if I fail to love them and others created in God’s image. As James noted, when we’ve broken one part of the law, we’ve broken the wholeness of it (James 2:10). We all fall before God’s holiness and righteousness, but God’s steadfast love and mercy in Christ Jesus enables us to stand – in order that we may embody the mercy and love of the indwelling Christ toward others.
[Mortals] say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death.
(C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)
7But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.