HARNISH: Biblical family values?

By Rev. JOHN HARNISH

Guest Columnist

What can you say about “Biblical family values?”

One thing for sure, you don’t want to take the Bible literally when it says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father, take him to the elders of the town, and the men of the town shall stone him to death.” (Deut. 21:18) Or “If a man enters a marriage and she does not please him, all he has to do is put a letter of divorce in her hand and send her out of the house.” (Deut. 24:1) Of course, there is no provision for a woman to do the same.

If you are not sure about the literal teachings of the Bible, how about Biblical models for family life? In reality, the Old Testament is the story of one dysfunctional family after another: Adam and Eve’s struggle with temptation did not end well and the sibling rivalry between their sons over forms of worship ended with one brother killing the other. Father Abraham was so impatient for a son he had a child with his wife’s slave girl, and Noah, after his great success in saving the family from the flood, ends up raging drunk and buck naked, then curses the son who tries to cover up for him.

In the New Testament, Jesus seldom mentions family, except to pull away from his own and who wants to take St. Paul literally when he says you ought to stay single unless you just can’t control yourself, or that wives should be submissive to your husbands? So if you can’t take the Bible literally, what can you say about Biblical family values?

The basic Biblical family value is simply to value the family.

Even in the face of all its dysfunction, God has chosen to reveal Godself through families — the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah and Ruth, the family of Noah and his descendants, David and his sons, the family of Ruth and Naomi, the people of the Exodus. In spite of all their shortcomings and failures, the Old Testament is the story of how God makes his grace known through these all too human families.

In the New Testament, the Gospel writer says Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and humankind.” In the simple home of Mary and Joseph and in a day when children had no rights and were often of little regard, Jesus placed a child in the midst and said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”

The first family value is to value the family. That means making family a priority. It means investing time in our families. The simple act of eating meals together (without TV and cellphones, please) is one way to value the family. In a book entitled “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the Modern American Family,” Marialisa Calta says: “ It’s not rocket science — you sit down together and you look each other in the eye and you talk. It’s plain and simple and very powerful.” Research has shown that having meals together can be a major determining factor in children’s success.

Following the school shooting at Columbine High School, Amy Dickinson wrote an article called “Where were the Parents?” She says, “Every parent knows that raising children requires bicycle helmets, Beanie Babies, the grace of God and plain dumb luck. Most teenagers exist in a state of near constant mortification at the prospect of supervision by their parents, but surely a parent can risk a child’s embarrassment and his own discomfort to get in his or her face a little bit; to find time to read their school papers, listen to their music, watch what they watch and get to know their friends. Surely we can manage to love them a little louder.” (Time Magazine, May 3, 1999, page 40)

Valuing our kids means making time for family, eating meals together and “loving them a little louder.” And that is the best Biblical family value I can find.

Rev. John E. Harnish is a retired United Methodist pastor living on Platte Lake where his family gathers around the family table.

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