(Awful) Sacred Kin

Navigating the beautiful, thorny family metaphors the Church has claimed for itself and God.

Mother's and Father's Days

Family is one of the Bible’s primary metaphors to describe God’s relationship with people and our relationships with each other. That is especially true in the New Testament, where over and over we are called “brothers and sisters in Christ.” It’s a wonderful sentiment, a spiritual truth, and a source of much potential power. But it is also fraught with trouble. Our families’ strengths and weaknesses influence every aspect of our health--spiritual, emotional, physical. They instill assumptions about how decisions get made; who is “allowed to feel” and who isn’t; what conflict is and what to do with it. They leave us with memories of tender care and vicious abuse. Our families influence our hopes and dreams and our abilities to reach them. Our families train us--for better AND for worse--how to react to everything life throws at us.

Carrying all of that baggage, we step into this spiritual family that has its own complicated history and expectations--where we are encouraged to relate to God as "father" (but rarely as "mother") and to each other as siblings (but mostly "brother"). This family's scriptures teach both that in Christ "there is neither ... male nor female" and that wives should "submit to your husbands as to the Lord."[1]

To say the least, the "family of Christ" metaphor is a thorny one. The global Church and its members bear the scars of so many careless attempts to embody it.

But God knew the risk he was taking in asking us to relate to him and to each other like family members. God knew that we would bring the best and worst of ourselves into that experience. God also knew that he would be in it with us. And he knew that this would mean our brokenness could be healed and our strengths could be magnified by his.

God-as-parent and Church-as-siblings are imperfect and sometimes unhealthy metaphors. They also carry the shadow of something beautiful, true, and life-giving. The good news is that redemption in Christ always begins right there: imperfect, unhealthy, and full of potential.

[1] See Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 5:22.


May 8: Mama (Mother's Day) [listen]
May 29: Brother/Sister (or, What happens when you adopt?) [listen]
June 19: Papa (Father's Day) [listen]

Photo Credits
Family frame: Kevin N. Murphy; CC BY-NC 2.0