We are now finished with our review of fictive family and the Household of God. In these concluding posts, I want to reflect on what significance fictive family and the Household of God has for us today. Let's refresh our memories concerning the interpretative role that fictive family and the Household of God played in the life of God’s people.
Concerning God’s mission in the world I wrote:
Upon completion of creation there is perfect shalom between the triune God, humanity, and creation. Humankind rebels. Shalom is deeply marred. Human beings are separated from God and from each other. They find themselves in a life and death struggle with nature. Human beings are alienated from themselves.
The early chapters of Genesis present us with a picture of humanity where power and domination have become the modus operandi. Through religion, myth, custom, and political power, humanity forms cultures that create their own versions of the “eternal present” (ala Brueggemann) where “what is” is cast as that which always has been and always will be. Competing cultures battle it out on the pages of human history to make their eternal present prevail and to keep back the chaos that threatens to destroy their systems of meaning and survival.
God’s mission in the world is to reunite humanity and all creation in him. His strategy is atonement, or as some would have it, “at-one-ment;” nothing less than the restoration of shalom. The strategy begins when God sets apart a people for himself, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through this people, God will redeem the world. Christopher Wright captures this simply but powerfully in a diagram.
(Source: Christopher Wright, “Mission of God,” IVP. 2006. 395.)
The small triangle represents Israel and the Promised land. I it is within the broader context of all humanity and of all the earth. The mission of God is to expand the smaller triangle until “Israel” expands to encompass “humanity” and “the land” becomes equivalent to the “the earth.” (Household: Reviewing the Big Picture (Part 1)Then I went on to identify five themes I found in the way the fictive family metaphor was employed.
Identity – The family was the source of identity for the Greco-Roman and the Near East worlds. Honor was due one’s parents and ancestors. Protecting the family honor was paramount. By extension, this allegiance went out to tribe and race. The way a son most honored his father was to sire sons to perpetuate the family. A woman’s worth was tied up with the sons she bore for her husband.
Jesus demanded we make stark choices between earthly family and the fictive family of the new creation. It was not a call to abandon earthly families but rather to place family in its proper context with regard to the new creation that God was ushering in. Jesus demanded that we find our identity in God. Similarly, Paul gives instructions in 1 Corinthians 7 that suggest that singleness may actually be a preferred option for some in service of God’s work. Just as family members of an earthly household would find their identity in the paterfamilias, we are instructed to give our allegiance to God as our paterfamilias, and not be preoccupied with perpetuating earthly family identity.
Unity – Siblings were the most intimate of human relationships within Greco-Roman and Near Eastern society. They were the one place were patronage and status competition were supposed to be absent. Siblings were equal in status and bound by love for each other. It is significant that the first murder in the Bible is between two brothers (Cain and Able) and the myth of Rome’s founding involves a struggle between two brothers (Romulus and Remus). Brothers at odds was disturbing imagery.
Jesus’ parable of the Compassionate Father in Luke 15, which became known by the Church as “the gospel within the gospel,” features a father reconciling a law-breaking son and a law-keeping son to himself through acts of costly grace. But the story is also about an attempt by the father to reconcile the two brothers to each other and to unite a household. As we saw in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3, Paul casts Jew and Gentile as children of Abraham, uniting them as siblings of one family. In Galatians 3:25-4:7, Paul declares that “Jew or Greek …. slave or free …. male and female” are no longer relevant categories for determining our identity and status, as we’ve all been made children of God. Writing to the fractious church at Corinth, Paul employs the “concord” genre to bring unity. The Roman concord discourse implored people to honor the social order and the respective strata within it for the sake of the Republic or Empire. Yet Paul writes:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. (1 Cor. 1:10)
The unity is based on the affection of siblings harmoniously working together, having the same heart and mind as they engage in the business of the paterfamilias. It is not a submission to hierarchies and status structures for the good of society. Paul also writes in Ephesians 2 of the demolition of the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, the two being united in the “household of God.”
Fictive family is a key basis for unity and it metaphorically teaches the type of respect, care, and love that disciples are to have for one another: brotherly and sisterly love.
Mission – One of the issues we visited early in this series is that the archetypal households referred to in Greco-Roman oratories were also businesses, usually large plantations. The children and members of the household were united in a common mission, the economic enterprise of the household. We do not see this concept explicitly articulated in connection with the household metaphors very often but it is never far from the surface. Explicit connection is not needed. Sons and daughters are in the business of the paterfamilias and go about the household business imitating the very heart and mind of the paterfamilias. While there certainly is companionship and caring, the household is a missional entity. Koinonia is what emerges as brothers and sisters work alongside each other in mission.
Inheritance – As children of God, and as brothers and sisters of Christ (Romans 8), we are heirs of the new creation that is to come. We have a share of ownership, an investment, in the coming new order. We are brothers and sisters but we are siblings in a royal and priestly household. We exercise royal and priestly duties (1 Peter 2:9), along with our elder brother Christ, in interceding for the world and one day we will be re-established as co-regents over creation under God in the new creation. Just as a son would expect to gain an inheritance within a household, so are we as sons and daughters guaranteed an inheritance in the new creation.
Affection – Paul and New Testament writers frequently used fictive family to express affection and fondness for fellow workers. Fictive family was also used to convey the affection and nearness of God. The Compassionate Father of Jesus’ Luke 15 parable certainly communicated this. Jesus repeatedly casts the Father as one who is intimately involved in our lives. Paul twice tells us (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6) that God is one who we can cry out to saying “Abba! Father!” Hebrews 12 tells us that God cares so much for us that, like a father, he disciplines us so we may come to maturity. And, of course, the central character of the New Testament is a God who is a father who sacrifices his son to restore relationship with us. (John 3:16, among many other passages.) (Household: Reviewing the Big Picture (Part 2)
What does all this mean for us today? What obstacles stand in our way for being the Household of God?