Are happy and intact families the result of good luck, or of something more? While society debates and redefines the very definition of "family," you can look to God for the truths that will help you have a happy family!
The rules of the family underwent a radical rewrite during the 20th century. At the dawn of the 21st century, law, religion and popular culture view the family far differently than they did just 100 years ago. Does this represent progress-or something else entirely?
Little girls look longingly at the bride in her beautiful dress, and dream of the time when they too will be married. Teenage boys whose interests have turned to the opposite sex wonder what it will be like to be married. While it is common to think about marriage and "living happily ever after," no one dreams of the day when they will be able to have their first divorce. Yet how many marriages are truly happy? Almost half of those marrying in the United States today can expect to become divorced eventually. Many others live in relationships that are marred by frustration and acrimony.
Are happy, intact families simply the result of good luck? Can we even be sure what a normal family is supposed to look like? The truth is that during the course of the 20th century we did not simply trade one definition of family for another. Rather, we have emerged with families in a state of flux. There are even differing definitions of what constitutes a family, not just what will produce family happiness.
In the last century, family law changed greatly throughout the United States. A century ago, the law defined the husband as the head of household. Divorce was not only a social scandal, it could only be obtained with great difficulty, under narrow grounds in most states. It would represent a virtual kiss of death for the career of any public figure. Couples who lived together before marriage were deemed to be "living in sin."
Even just 50 years ago, out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a scandal of great proportion. Today, illegitimate births have become so common that little social stigma remains in most communities. As for discussions of so-called "gay" marriage, this would have been unthinkable at the dawn of the previous century. Homosexuality was simply not discussed in any sort of public venue. It was considered too shameful. Adultery and sodomy were crimes in virtually every state.
The family-the most basic and fundamental unit of society-has, over the last century, been thrown into a state of flux. Roles that were once considered set are now viewed as fluid. It is not that new definitions have consistently replaced the old ones; rather, consensus has broken down completely regarding what is right and normal. Guided by the changes in public attitudes and behavior, Western society's mores have lost the rigidity of a century ago.
How and why has this come about? What have been the consequences for individuals and, indeed, for society as a whole? Is there a solution to this entire dilemma? Reliable answers are found in a much-overlooked source. Read on to find them!
The Western world long ago cast off the idea of moral and spiritual absolutes. After all, if there is no God, who is to say what is lawful? If man simply invented marriage somewhere in the process of evolution, then surely he can re-invent it and redefine it as he goes along. Who is to say that one definition of the family is superior to any other? Indeed, different societies have many varied customs and practices regarding marriage and family. From the Arabian concepts of patriarchy and polygamy, to Central African practices of polyandry and matrilineal descent, there are a wide variety of definitions of what constitutes a "normal" family.
The biblical definition of the family-based upon one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-5)-long shaped Western attitudes. Marriage was the fountainhead of the family. Laws and customs developed around this fundamental concept; even the concept of private property finds its roots in marriage, as property is acquired, held and passed on by inheritance through the family. Rearing children and equipping them for adult life was deemed to be the fundamental purpose of the family unit.
Would-be utopians have long recognized that the family stands in the way of their cherished social transformations. Intact families generate a loyalty greater than any other human institutions, and they pass attitudes and outlooks on to their offspring. Almost 2,500 years ago, in his classic work, The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato recognized this impediment to the "perfect" society. His dream of an all-powerful communistic state ruled by Philosopher-Kings could only become reality with the abolition of the family. Plato envisioned a society in which wives and children would be shared. The state, rather than the family, would be responsible for the education and rearing of children.
Following the 1917 revolution, the Soviet Union's communist government sought to implement a similar approach in the "workers' paradise." Yet what Lenin and Stalin were unable to implement by force and coercion, Western social schemers are on the verge of accomplishing. A combination of feminist rhetoric, materialistic encouragement to "have it all" and government-financed day care aimed at younger and younger children has created a situation unimaginable at the dawn of the last century. Increasingly, children are becoming wards of the state-their outlook shaped far more by the agenda of the Left than by the values of their own families.
Syndicated columnist and family psychologist John Rosemond put it succinctly in a March 15, 1993 column in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate: "For the past 30 years, the American family has been 'changing,' or so the media inform us. The subliminal impression created is that some natural, inexorable evolutionary process is behind the steady increase in one-parent and two income-earner families. Further, that the only problem is the failure of society and government to make sufficiently rapid and effective adjustments to this new set of circumstances. Here is the truth: For more than a generation, the American family has been in a steady state of decline, precipitated by social experiments and forces which are fundamentally at odds with a general state of family health."
The state of flux in which the modern family finds itself is a reflection of decline and deterioration in a society that has lost its way. While social theorists and utopian schemers have pursued an agenda in the Western world for well over a century, there are reasons why that agenda has gained such a foothold.
Note the warnings of the ancient biblical prophet Ezekiel. Taken into Babylonian captivity in 596bc along with many other Jews, Ezekiel obeyed God's command to record a message for the House of Israel. Remember that the ten-tribe House of Israel had been taken into Assyrian captivity well over a century earlier, and had been a separate and distinct nation from Judah for two centuries prior to that. This message was meant not for his own day, but for the end-times!
Ezekiel 22 indicts three facets of the House of Israel-the priests, the princes and the prophets. The priests-the leaders of organized religion-have not taught the people the difference between what is holy and what is not. They have violated God's law and ignored His Sabbaths. They have failed the nation by their false teaching (v. 26).
The princes-those at the helm of political and financial power-are indicted for their greed and selfishness. They are compared to ravening wolves, always hungry for gain without regard for those whom they are supposed to lead (v. 27).
What does the Bible say about the prophets? The term comes from the Hebrew word nibba and refers to those who proclaim or announce a message. In our modern world this would describe the media, those who are opinion molders of society. False prophets include both the secular media (the overwhelming majority) as well as the religious media. The modern prophets in the Israelitish nations are indicted for their propaganda, which obscures the true nature of their nations' problems (v. 28). In Ezekiel 13:10 the message concerning these media-prophets is that they have seduced God's people with a false message of peace. Ultimately the false foundation of everything that they have built up will be uncovered and revealed by the Almighty (Ezekiel 13:14).
But what of the people who inhabit the modern nations of Israel? Ezekiel 14:3-5 tells us that the idols people have set up in their hearts have estranged them from their Creator and His ways! God's message to the people is to repent and to turn back to Him.
Families are in flux because our nations' leaders have all failed to carry out their responsibilities honestly. Yet as God inspired Jeremiah to observe, "…My people love to have it so" (Jeremiah 5:31). Men and women have been seduced into abdicating their God-appointed roles through the allure of a self-centered and materialistic lifestyle-perhaps the chief idol set up in the hearts of men and women throughout our Western nations.
As the constraints of traditional morality have broken down, the number of illegitimate births has skyrocketed. Young people, urged on by the media, are encouraged to experiment sexually and to view restraints upon any sexual activity outside of marriage as hopelessly unrealistic and out of date. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of single parent families are mired in poverty. Because of that, increasing pressure has been generated for the government to step in and do something.
With the breakdown of traditional morality has come the denigration of the traditional feminine role of wife and mother. Young girls are told that they can become anything that they wish to be. The implicit message is that they should aspire to traditionally male roles because these have value, while traditional female roles are seen as demeaning. Feminist rhetoric, coupled with the materialistic pull not only "to have it all" but also to have it right now, has produced devastating results for families. If Mom and Dad are both busily pursuing individual careers, then whom, pray tell, is taking care of the kids? Many women have become terribly stressed trying to juggle career and motherhood, and, as a result, society has seen the multiplication of "latchkey kids" and cries for more government programs to provide day care for children.
Families are in flux as the 21st century begins. Without a clear sense of definition, government will expand to fill the ensuing vacuum-and will increasingly usurp traditional family roles. The consequences-both to individuals and to society as a whole-will be devastating.
Many politicians pay lip service to family values. However, if we wish to move from empty rhetoric to practical solutions, we must examine exactly which values produce an intact and nurturing family. There is only one reliable source for such an examination-the Creator's instruction book, the Holy Bible.
Just what should be valued? Firstly, the God-assigned roles for male and female should be deeply valued and appreciated. Secondly, the institution of marriage itself must also be valued. Described in Scripture as a union designed by the Creator to be exclusive and permanent, marriage in contemporary society is increasingly redefined or treated as irrelevant. Thirdly, children must be valued as God's gift to the family. Upholding these values and valuing the spiritual above the material, the family unit can find stability.
In the beginning of the world as we know it, the Creator God said "Let Us make man in Our image" (Genesis 1:26). The Creator formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life. Then, noting that the man was alone, the Eternal God said that He would make a helper exactly compatible for the man. Causing a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, God took from him a rib and made the first woman. In this way the woman came from his own body and was intimately connected with him (Genesis 2:18-23). Man and woman were created as joint heirs of salvation, and have the potential to be born into the Family of God as real sons and daughters (1 Peter 3:7; 2 Corinthians 6:18).
From the beginning, the Creator assigned roles to His creation (Genesis 2:15, 18). After sin entered the world, those roles would be harder to fulfill and every aspect of life would be touched with sorrow. Recognizing this, both men and women must go to their Creator for help in overcoming the obstacles and difficulties involved in carrying out their roles. Adam was assigned to work hard and provide a living for his family, while Eve was to be his helper. Her body was designed to carry and bear children. The Apostle Paul addressed this when he encouraged young women to marry, have children and manage their households (1 Timothy 5:14).
God inspired the prophet Malachi to record that the God of Israel hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He reminded God's people in his day that marriage was a covenant relationship and that God served as a witness to the covenant. Why was a permanent holy union between one man and one woman so important? The answer is given in Malachi 2:15 where we are told that God is seeking a godly seed. The Creator is concerned about the coming generation. The ability of our children to achieve their human potential is greatly helped by coming from a loyal, intact family.
Children, the psalmist tells us, are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). If we value them as such, then we will expend great energy and effort to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. While physical needs are certainly important, even more vital are spiritual needs. Many contemporary parents rush around to provide material things while neglecting to nourish the spiritual hunger that lies at the core of every human being.
"Marriage is honorable," the Apostle Paul tells us (Hebrews 13:4). Preserving and cherishing what Scripture describes as a sacred relationship protects the integrity of the family unit. The Bible expects those who are older to teach these values by their words and deeds to others who are younger and just beginning to establish their families (Titus 2:3-5).
Husbands are to lead their families, and to love their wives with a sacrificial love like that of Christ for the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Men are to dwell with their wives understanding that they are more fragile and easily hurt and therefore they should show them special courtesy and consideration (1 Peter 3:7). A wife is admonished to show respect and deference to her husband's office, and to yield to his leadership (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Proverbs 31 describes the virtuous woman, whose husband's heart safely trusts in her because she will do him good and not evil all her life (vv. 11-12). Her husband never needs to worry about betrayal or humiliation at her hands. He can open up and share his innermost thoughts and dreams, and know that they are safe with her. (For more on this important subject, write for our free booklet, God's Plan for Happy Marriage).
So many in the Western world are sacrificing their children on the altar of materialism. Refusing to become ensnared in this acquisitiveness will set the stage for building a family far different from contemporary models. What does it take to do this? Fundamentally it takes faith. Faith that God is right and that the roles He established are right and good. Faith that God's way works when we properly apply it. Faith that what has value to God is of far greater worth than all of the alternatives touted in contemporary society.
Are families in flux? Yours does not have to be-if you embrace the eternal values that come straight from the Creator!