Writings by Cole Huffman

Full of Days

Happy families do exist, maybe just not in the Bible.

Consider Job, the somewhere-east-of-Eden neighbor of Adam’s broken family. Job’s grown children were happy in that they enjoyed each other’s company. The text says they feasted together frequently.

It kept their father up at night. Not because he feared Sabean raiding parties would attack them, but because he worried that his children might “curse God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). This was the unthinkable for Job. So the narrator describes conscientious Job, many mornings after, rising early to offer God burnt sacrifices on his kids’ behalf.

Job died “full of days” (Job 42:7), living 140 years after calamitous events that included the deaths of those children. He saw his fortune restored and descendants to the fourth generation. That phrase full of days is on David’s epitaph, too: “He died at a good age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chron. 28:29). But he too experienced intense family pain. The trouble “man is born to” (Job 5:7) can visit us hardest through those we’re born to or those born to us.

Consider David’s great grandmother, Ruth. Boaz married her, a beautiful story of grace, but we cringe a bit at the engagement party toast, like it emerged from the mouth of some Cousin Eddie in attendance: “And may your house become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12). Did they have to include that part? Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Even in the happy moment of kinsman redeeming, securing the future of a Moabite widow through whom the Savior of all would come, there is that in the background.

(In the foreground also: David named one of his daughters Tamar, a name of honor among Judeans. But the sexual assault David’s Tamar suffered, in her own family, forever moored her name to tragedy [2 Sam. 13:20]. Most daughter narratives in Scripture are tragedies, in fact.)  

Consider Samuel’s family, a page past Ruth. His father had two wives. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, suffered infertility. The rival wife needled her for it mercilessly. In the Bible we see polygamy always descended into rivalry or idolatry. Samuel was everything Hannah wanted but her grandsons through him grew up to be absolute louts (1 Sam. 8:1-5).

In the New Testament, Paul is of the opinion it is wiser not to marry in order to avoid certain troubles (1 Cor. 7:28). He knows most will marry, and have children. He praises his protégé Timothy’s heritage: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5). Why no mention of Timothy’s father? Was he absent to his son’s spiritual formation?

What of Jesus’ own brothers thinking him crazy (John 7:5)? Or that time Jesus said our households might call us crazy for following Him (Matt. 10:36)? When it comes to the family, the Bible shows us the stain of sin is not just present, it is glaringly so, like tomato sauce dribbled down a white shirt. Sin requires that we go for our own will our own way, and we tend to get that all over those we’re closest to.

Why must the Bible include all these old family tragedies, like so many skeletons in the closet? This is why: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scripture we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

Endurance. Encouragement. Hope. The value of former day stories is they fill our present days with lasting hope. We aren’t the first grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters in need of the grace and mercy of God to see our family through. As Anne Lamott put it, “If the earth is forgiveness school, family is your postdoctoral fellowship.” The family is the place where we have to cultivate at least forbearance if not forgiveness. To do this well requires some things to bear.

The evangelical church has an embarrassment of riches for resourcing families. To follow the script is to assume our family will become a beacon of exemplary virtues to attract (or, for some, to shame) the pagans down the street. But at times they need to see our hope more than our exemplariness. George Bush put it well when eulogizing his father: “He accepted that failure is part of living a full life, but taught us never to be defined by failure.”

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). That looks nice etched into a pewter doorknocker. It defines the Christian home. But what does it mean?

It means there will be endurance in the face of whatever comes knocking. There will be encouragement from God in and through every failure that is part and parcel of a full life. And there will be hope because our Savior is not only present in our home and Lord of our home. He is our home. We are His family.

This makes me happy.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 1:37 PM
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