Think very carefully and then, honestly and truthfully, count how many couples you know who are truly happily married. I don't mean families who are "sticking it out" for the sake of the children; I don't mean people who are putting their best foot forward for the sake of appearances; I don't mean marriages that are hanging together because divorce would mean a big cut in their standard of living. I mean husbands and wives who are concerned, tender, kind and empathetic in their feelings and actions toward one another. I mean husbands and wives who not only love one another, but who genuinely like one another as well! Two people who talk to each other; who enjoy the company of each other! If you know of any such couples, you know of some rare marriages! If you are such a couple, then congratulations — you have achieved what the vast majority of married folks only yearn for!
Not so long ago a study in London, England, revealed that the vast percentage of supposedly "happily married people" would very readily swap partners, and they openly admitted that they would not marry their present mates again. That is tantamount to conceding utter failure in the ultimate human relationship: marriage. Wanting to begin marriage all over again is just one of many symptoms signaling the disintegration of the family unit, the basic building block of any stable society or civilization. The number of divorces has finally reached the million mark annually in the United States. There are now over 100,000 divorces per year in the British Isles. Even in Russia the divorce rate is ten times higher than it was in 1950. Divorce is shattering the foundation of modem civilization, leaving armies of emotionally ravaged children in its wake.
The Era of the Innocent Victim
About three-quarters of all divorces involve couples with young children. That is an inescapable fact. It is these little ones who are continually subjected to the worst kind of emotional upheavals at a time in their lives when they are least able to cope with them, to the shame of unthinking, ignorant, selfish adults! Not that a bad marriage which somehow hangs precariously together produces good children either. Flip a coin and take your choice. Which is worse: Kids with no resident father or mother, or children who are forced to witness a drunken father beating their mother or a screaming shrew tongue-lashing their dad? More than half of all serious crimes in the United States are committed by youths aged ten to seventeen. At least 5,000 U.S. teachers are physically attacked each month by their students. Three hundred thousand schoolchildren are violently confronted every month by other schoolchildren. And child crime has increased 40 percent in Britain over the last five years. Marriage is a two-way street. Father and mother must share the blame for our aimless, alienated youth. Traditionally it has been the errant husband who deserted the wife and kids. But now mothers in their middle forties are running away, leaving hubby standing with a dishrag in his hands wondering what to do with the children. Desertions are up for both sexes. Faithfulness and commitment are down. There are many, many reasons for the fall of the American family. Poor family communication is a chief factor; sexual difficulties are in the forefront. Add to these problems a permissive society, antifamily TV serials, the gay rights movement, women's lib, our mobile way of
God made the man and the woman to be perfectly compatible with one another the perfect team — mentally, physically and spiritually.
life — the list could go on and on. It's a matter of how much blame to assign each category — to what degree is this or that phenomenon responsible for the problem? Sociologists sometimes disagree on percentages.
A New Scapegoat
But now some elements in society have found a brand-new scapegoat. The Bible! Members of the gay liberation movement discount the Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah along with those particular epistles of Paul that denounce homosexuality. Modem gays insist that these biblical passages should be interpreted so as to separate "the real religious message" from the cultural bias of bygone days. Others take the approach that the Bible must not be the sole guide to sexual morality. New books promoting this liberalized outlook are hitting the market. They advocate that each person decide for himself whether or not a particular course of action is right or wrong and that he shun absolute bans on immoral practices. These authors assert that any act can be right if it is "self-liberating, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving and joyous." Today the Bible is also charged with being a symbol of male chauvinism and hopelessly locked into an outdated patriarchal system. It is ridiculed for its emphasis on the woman's role in the home. Revelation is looked upon as a treatise on ancient history with little relevance to the monumental problems of modem society. Perhaps many people are looking at the Bible with a bad case of tunnel vision. Maybe they can only see the surfeit of bloodshed chronicled in the Old Testament accounts. For them the Bible may be too hard on its heroes. Remember, it exposes the sins and mistakes of its most vaunted heroes. Few are excepted. The personal flaws of the leading members of the patriarchal family are laid bare; likewise the deficiencies of famous kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible even discloses the faults of Christ's leading apostles.
The Bible and the Family
The Bible covers marriage and family life more comprehensively than any other ancient book that has survived to our day. The first chapter describes the first family — the crowning achievement of God's creation. "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27, New American Standard Bible). It was God who ordained marriage. He made the man and the woman to be perfectly" compatible with one another — the perfect team — mentally, physically and spiritually. Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23). Four thousand years later Jesus Christ of Nazareth reaffirmed the divine origin of marriage. "But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mark 10:6-9, NASB).
The Erosion of the First Family
Today violence in the family rears its ugly head in every nation on the face of this earth. Richard C. Levy, author of Wife Beating — The Silent Crisis, estimates that nearly 30 million wives in America alone suffer physical abuse at the hands of their husbands. Killings within the family make up about one-fourth of all U.S. homicides. The Southern California city of San Marino went without a murder for the first seventy-five years of its history. The first homicide occurred there just a few years ago. You guessed it — it occurred within a family unit. But did you know that the very first murder also occurred within a family unit? Cain was the world's first juvenile delinquent — a hardened, selfish brute of a youngster who grew up to kill his own brother. When confronted with his crime, he had the unmitigated gall to ask God: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9.) Cain scorned his family responsibilities and let his hatred for his brother flare into open violence. From there Cain and his family went from bad to worse. Finally one of his descendants introduced polygamy to the ancient world. It hasn't died out since. There are now over 30,000 polygamous unions in the United States today. Homosexuality in Sodom; incest in Lot's family; prostitution; hatred and deceit between brothers — all of these family aberrations can be found in the pages of the book of Genesis. Other parts of the Bible also tell how men and women have trampled all over the family unit. But does that mean that the Bible is invalid and outmoded, and therefore has no authority over our lives?
Good and Bad Examples
Just because some of our ancestors heaped upon themselves a mountain of agony and anguish, does it follow that" we should also? There are living laws that regulate — marriage. When those laws are dashed to the ground, crime, loneliness, divorce, desertion, rape, and incest soon follow in their wake. The apostle Paul forcefully reminded the Corinthian brethren of the hideous crimes committed by the fathers in the days of Moses. "Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play. Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell [died] in one day.... Now
The greatest microcosm of the Kingdom of God is the family unit. God is our Father. Jesus calls us brethren — His own brothers.
these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (I Cor. 10:5-8, 11, NASB). The only reason for committing one word of history to writing is so we can avoid the mistakes and sins of our progenitors. Some examples in the Bible shouldn't be followed. Others should. Paul commented on the same theme in his letter to the Romans: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4, NASB). Here Paul focuses on the other side of the coin. There are many good examples of family relations in the Bible that are often overlooked. Yes, Cain did kill Abel. But Seth was soon born and it was in his day that "men began to call upon [or worship in some manner] the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26, NASB). Yes, Abraham entered into a polygamous union at Sarah's insistence, but he was a good father and a good husband. Spiritually speaking, he is called "the father of the faithful." Yes, Ham and Canaan dishonored Noah. But what about the good example of Shem and Japheth who covered their father's nakedness? What about Boaz and Ruth? What about Esther? People point to David's obvious family difficulties, two or three of his notable childrearing failures, and forget about all the good examples of family life in the Bible. Few examples in the Bible can equal that of Elkanah who used patience, tolerance and understanding in dealing with Hannah's difficult situation (see I Samuel 1). Elkanah and Hannah later became the parents of the prophet Samuel. Turn now to the greatest example in the New Testament.
Jesus Was a Family Man
Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn't simply materialize at age 30? The great God who made Adam could have chosen simply to change Himself into a mature human man and suddenly begin walking the streets of Jerusalem. But He chose to change Himself into a tiny germ of human life through the Father's begettal of an ovum in the womb of a virgin. Then He developed through all the fetal stages and was born as a helpless little baby destined to grow up in a family atmosphere. God chose to come down among us human beings as a tiny germ of life, then as a fetus, as a baby, as a young boy, as a teenager, as a young man and, finally, from age 30 to 33 1/2, as a mature man in the ministry. Why? Why is our Savior a person who had to know the meaning of family ties; who had to be a part of a large family unit; who had to undergo seeing His father die even before His ministry began and who had to take over the reins of leadership of that family and be responsible for it economically, as well as be its spiritual head and leader as the elder and firstborn son? Does all this not show the importance of the family unit to God? It is by our life in a family environment that we gain invaluable experience and have innumerable opportunities to grow in godly character that will fit and prepare us for eternal life in the family of God. The greatest microcosm of the Kingdom of God is the family unit. God is our Father. Jesus calls us brethren — His own brothers (Heb. 2:12). We are God's children (I John 3:1-2). God is concerned with the family unit. He is using it in His great plan to bring human beings into the family of God. But, tragically, too many are neglecting their families today. Too many are failing to grow in character and use their experiences in the human family to prepare them for eternity, with immortality and glory, sharing the activities of God forever. Today society has made such inroads against the family that not only is divorce a rampant curse, but many never even bother with marriage in the first place. Living in sin is in style today. "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 1.3 million American adults share 660,000 two-person households with an unrelated adult of the opposite sex — double the number in 1970" (The National Observer, May 30, 1977). One million runaways in the United States is a story all by itself. Apparently their family environment was so absolutely intolerable that they couldn't stand it a moment longer. The second highest cause of death for 18-year-olds is suicide. Many young and middle-aged parents have abandoned important moral values. They teach their children virtually nothing, letting them fend for themselves. So why blame the Bible for the disintegration of the family unit? If the Western world had followed its teaching, civilization wouldn't be witnessing the collapse of the family on such a grand scale.
The True Biblical Message
Three of the Ten Commandments were given for the protection of the family unit. Half of the last six commandments, which embody the principle of the golden rule, are family oriented. The spirit of the fifth commandment is expounded in the New Testament: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:1-4, NASB). A very vital part of that instruction ought to be teaching about family roots. Children should know something about their immediate ancestors and their present extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, etc. Nearly two full chapters in the New Testament are taken up with the lineage of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. No small portion of the Old Testament is comprised of family genealogies. Early patriarchal" marriages were contracted in order to maintain and preserve the roots of a specific family. Noted marriage counselor David R. Mace, in his book about Jewish family life, said: "The family unit itself withstood the shock, and the ideal itself was preserved. It survived the upheavals of monarchy. It survived the disruption of the exile. It survived the final disintegration of the Jewish race as a national community. And it has made possible the preservation of the separate identity of the Jew throughout all the vicissitudes of his tempestuous experience, which is one of the miracles of history" (Hebrew Marriage, p. 75). The Jewish people have always been conscious of the necessity of maintaining a strong family bond! They generally still marry other Jews. They are very attentive to preserving knowledge about great-grandparents, grandparents, and the whole extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Even in the family of Jesus Christ, at least two of His half brothers were converted and later inducted into the ministry. Throughout history God has often worked through families. Among Christ's twelve leading disciples, James and John, Peter and Andrew were brothers.
The Restitution of Family Life
Civilization is waiting for the restoration of our homes and families. One major accomplishment of that Work which is to pave the way for the second coming of Jesus Christ will be to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:6). One of the most important aspects of the message of this magazine, The Plain Truth, must be to announce the restoration of the family structure to this earth. Our Work must be in the forefront of turning parents back to their children and children to their parents; of seeing that the very strongest of family ties are maintained, or, where broken, are healed. As my father has said to me and written so many times, we (he and I) must be as close together as are Jesus and His own Father in heaven. We have human examples in the biblical record of close, affectionate bonds in Abraham and his son, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, and others. And all of us in Christ's family (of whom He is the older brother) should as brothers and sisters with a common Father in heaven draw closer and closer together! Arnold Toynbee, one of the most famous of our modern historians, knew that humankind must learn to live together as one family if we are to survive. He wrote: "I believe that, if mankind cannot now bring itself at last to live as one family, the penalty, in our new situation, must be genocide sooner or later. And I wish, with all of my heart, that the human race may survive, because I believe that man has been given the capacity to see God, and I believe that this is the summum bonum [the chief good] toward which all creation groans and travails" (A Study of History, vol. 12, p. 620). What did the people of God do when they saw that the very survival of civilization itself was threatened by the breakdown of the family and the onslaught of a host of other terrible evils? "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him" (Mal. 3:16-17, KJV). Jesus preached the good news about His coming family government — the ruling, governing family of God (God is called the Father; Christ, the Son and the "firstborn among many brethren"). He likened the true Church to a "mother," speaking of "Jerusalem above, the mother of us all...." He inspired Paul to write about the close, loving, deep relationship between Christ and the Church as the pattern for love and tender concern between husband and wife. When Jesus said: "Repent ye, and believe my good news," He meant, "Be sorry you have messed up your lives; be sorry you have acted like selfish, petulant, spiteful, carnal-minded children; be sorry you have failed in your marriages, failed your children, failed yourselves!" The wages of sin (and failing in marriage is a sin) is death (Rom. 6:23). Today, society reaps the whirlwind, for it has sown the wind of immorality, separations, desertions, divorce, wife and child beating, pornography, homosexuality, transvestism, and every assorted form of attack against the family, which is the very picture of God's own Kingdom! We reap the whirlwind of senseless killings, rapes, muggings, robbery, arson, burglary-violence of every sort — and it can all be traced directly to the home. Is your family in a mess? Then it's your mess — not someone else's! God Almighty is calling on you to clean it up! If you don't, then you will suffer the hideous consequences now, and for years to come. Your parents will suffer — if they're still living — your wife or husband will suffer, your children, and all the other more distant members of the whole family will suffer, too! Your community, and by extension, your nation, will also suffer! But if you repent of the mass of collective mistakes, faults, misunderstandings, lack of communication — all of it — that has caused the mess in your family, then God can and will heal your family for you! God can straighten out the mess for you, even if you think you can't do it alone! All you have to do is ask!
ADDITIONAL READING Dr. James Dobson, What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1975. Howard J. Clinebell, The Intimate Marriage, Harper & Row, 1970. Alex Haley, Roots, Dell Publishing Company, 1976. J. Dominian, Marital Breakdown, Penguin Books, 1968. Dr. James Dobson, Dare to Discipline, Regal, 1972. Dr. James Dobson, Hide or Seek?, Revell,1974. Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training, Wyden, Inc., 1974.