Unless you live in complete isolation, you have seen a broken home. Maybe it’s the family of a friend or a relative; maybe it’s your own home. Families fall apart in ways that are short-lived and lifelong, hidden from view and out there for everyone to see. Whatever the case, hardly anything perplexes and discourages us more than broken homes.
Why Are So Many Homes Broken?
The Scriptures teach us that the pandemic of damaged families we see today is nothing new. Many of us attribute the problem to recent cultural shifts — the decline of religion and morality — but the Scriptures point in a different direction. Broken homes actually appear very early in the Bible. They come into view when God pronounced judgment against our first parents, Adam and Eve.
When God made humanity, He blessed us with the privilege of being His royal and priestly images. God first ordained that we should “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” to prepare the earth for the fullness of His glory and eternal praise. God also established the family as the main social unit by which this multi-generational mission would be fulfilled (2:19–24). This is why, in most circumstances when family works well, we move forward in the purposes for which God created us. When it does not, we are severely hindered in our service to Him.
Of course, it was not long before Adam and Eve sinned and fell under the judgment of God. When most of us think about the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin, our minds turn toward the physical and spiritual death that came to our first parents and to all of their descendants (Rom. 5:12). We also recall God’s curse on nature and how it makes human life difficult until Christ returns in glory (8:18–25). As important as these features of our fallen condition may be, the opening chapters of Genesis emphasize something else. The Scriptures stress how God’s judgment against our first parents was directed toward the family. God indicated as much when He said to Eve: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing” (Gen. 3:16). Eve’s reaction to Abel’s death indicated that her maternal pain not only included physical childbirth but also the emotional grief caused by the waywardness of her children (4:25). The familial focus of God’s judgment also becomes evident in the disharmony that grew between Adam and Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16). Moreover, God warned Adam “in pain you shall eat” (v. 17), indicating that providing for the physical needs of his family would be riddled with hardship. The early chapters of Genesis explain that the brokenness of nearly every facet of family life stems from God’s judgment against our first parents.
Unfortunately, very few people acknowledge how long and how deeply the human family has been broken. When troubles come to our homes, we almost always pin the blame on someone’s personal failures. “My family was fine,” one mother told me, “until my son became a teenager.” “We were without problems,” a husband once commented, “and suddenly my wife was unfaithful to me.” “We were a great family,” a child confided in me, “but then Dad just got up and left.” Of course, we all have personal failures, and there is plenty of blame to go around for the problems our families suffer. But statements like these reveal how much we need to look more carefully at the root of our problems. No family is “fine,” “without problems,” or “great” until someone destroys it. Every home is broken from the day it begins.
If you and I were to believe what the Bible says about the origins of our family problems, our attitudes and actions would be very different. We would be more sympathetic with others going through hard times, more vigilant about keeping our own families on track, and more devoted to pursuing help from God rather than simply assigning blame. Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
But Hasn’t God Promised?
But hasn’t God promised that Christian families can overcome their brokenness? It is true that followers of Christ will receive full relief in the future. The New Testament teaches that at Christ’s return, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20–21). Although “in the resurrection [we] neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30), when Christ appears He will reverse every harm sin has caused, including the breakdown of our families. But what about now? Can we overcome the brokenness of our homes in the present age?
In recent decades, Christian television has spread what many call the “prosperity gospel” — the misguided belief that if we have enough faith, God will heal our diseases and provide us with great financial blessings. Of course, most people reading this article scoff at the thought that faith can yield such benefits. But don’t laugh too hard. We have our own prosperity gospel for our families. We simply replace having enough faith with having enough obedience. We believe that we can lift our families out of their brokenness if we conform to God’s commands.
You’ve probably encountered this outlook at one time or another. Teachers and pastors tell wives that they will enjoy wonderful relationships with their husbands and children if they will become “an excellent wife” (Prov. 31:10). After all, Proverbs 31:28 says: “Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her.” At men’s conferences, fathers recommit themselves for the sake of their children because “the righteous who walks in his integrity — blessed are his children after him!” (Prov. 20:7). In much the same way, young parents are led to believe that the eternal destinies of their children depend on strict and consistent training. You know the verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Passages like these have been taken as indicating that Christian families experience blessings and loss from God, quid pro quo. We believe that God promises a wonderful family life to those who obey His commands.
Now, we need to be clear here. The proverbs commend certain paths to family members because they reflect the ways God ordinarily distributes His blessings. But ordinarily does not mean necessarily. Excellent wives have good reason to expect honor from their husbands and children. Fathers with integrity often enjoy seeing God’s blessings on their children. Parents who train their children in the fear of the Lord follow the path that frequently brings children to saving faith. But excellent wives, faithful husbands, and conscientious parents often endure terrible hardship in their homes because proverbs are not promises. They are adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter. As the books of Job and Ecclesiastes illustrate so vividly, we misconstrue the Word of God when we treat proverbs as if they were divine promises.
Quite often, there are correlations between obedience and blessings, as well as between disobedience and loss. But never be fooled into thinking you are able to figure out what God will do next in someone’s family. The Scriptures acknowledge a great deal of mystery in the ways God deals with us. Throughout the Bible, God withholds and pours out both temporal and eternal blessings and losses on families in inscrutable ways. Who would have expected God to protect Cain and bless his family with sophisticated cultural development (Gen. 4:17)? Why did God reject Saul’s family from kingship because of Saul’s sin but maintain David’s family on Israel’s throne despite David’s sin (2 Sam. 19:11–43)? The same kinds of things happen in the modern world. Why does one family lose a child and another doesn’t? Why does one unfaithful spouse repent and seek restoration and another unfaithful spouse disappears? To tell the truth, we often simply do not know. God’s ways are not arbitrary or capricious; we trust that all He does is wise and good. Yet, His ways are often unfathomable.
What Hope Is There?
If all of this is true, what hope is there? To understand the hope that the Scriptures offer us, we have to come to grips with some good news and bad news. The good news is that you cannot be bad enough to ensure God’s condemnation of your family. You might have been the most unfaithful spouse and the worst parent in human history, but you cannot be wicked enough to put your family beyond the possibility of redemption. The bad news, however, is that you cannot be good enough to ensure God’s blessings on your family. You might be the best spouse and parent that has ever walked on the planet, but you cannot be righteous enough to protect your family from terrible trials and suffering. The future of your family, for good or ill, is in the hands of God.
Without a doubt, we should look to Scripture for guidance in our homes. It addresses the familial responsibilities of men (Eph. 5:25–33; 6:4; Col. 3:19, 21; 1 Peter 3:1–6), women (Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; 1 Peter 3:7), and children (Eph. 6:1–3; Col. 3:20). It also offers family stories that provide rather obvious guidance. For instance, the relationship of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2–4) is as positive an example as David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) is negative. We should do our very best to follow all the teachings of Scripture. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the future depends on us.
I recently heard a pastor preach on Christian fatherhood in this way. He noted how both of the brothers Jacob and Esau lacked integrity (Gen. 25–36). With strained biblical evidence, he then explained how their lack of integrity resulted from the ways their parents split their love between the two brothers. Next, he blamed the waywardness of Joseph and his brothers on Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph (Gen. 37). Abimelech rebelled against God because Gideon spent too much time in public service and neglected his son (Judg. 8:33–9:57). Rehoboam’s brash behavior (1 Kings 12) was caused by Solomon’s failure to spend enough time with him. Then the pastor concluded, “If we follow these bad examples, we are condemning our homes to destruction. But if we reject these examples, we will ensure God’s blessings for our homes.”
But the Scriptures make it clear that it just doesn’t work that way. Jacob and Esau were scoundrels, but God displayed His glory by transforming Jacob into the patriarch after whom the nation of Israel was named (Gen. 32). Jacob gave his sons opportunity for jealousy by favoring Joseph, but God also favored Joseph and used these family dynamics to establish order among the tribes of Israel in later generations (Gen. 49). The generation of the Exodus from Egypt failed miserably, but God mercifully enabled the second generation to overcome their parents’ infidelity (Josh. 1). David fell into serious sin with Bathsheba, but in God’s kindness Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon (2 Sam. 12:24–25).
The same is true in modern life. We all know parents who raise their children to be followers of Christ, but their children reject the Christian faith. At the same time, many of us know parents who came to faith late in life. Despite the fact that they had trained their children to mock everything holy, their adult children soon trusted Christ as well. We all know innocent victims of divorce who suffer their entire lives with the pain of loneliness and guilty parties who repent and find peace with God and happiness in another marriage. These scenarios may not make much sense to us, but they demonstrate one thing very clearly: the future of our families depends on God, not on you and me.
What’s the bottom line? Do your best to be the kind of spouse, parent, or child God wants you to be, but never take your eyes off of the One who actually holds your family’s future. If things are going well in your home right now, don’t be fooled into thinking that somehow you have made it that way. Look again; your home is broken beneath the surface and able to disintegrate in a moment. So, give God the thanks He deserves and earnestly pray for His continuing mercy in the future. But if things are not going well in your home, don’t give up on the hope of redemption. God delights in showing His amazing saving power through people who have nothing left. Whatever the condition of your family may be, turn to the One who holds the future in His hands and ask Him to honor Himself through your broken home.
The Bible talks a lot about broken homes and we should, too. Rejoice when your family enjoys God’s blessing. Be sympathetic when you become aware of brokenness in other families. There will be times when you will face brokenness in your own family. But you have a God who is also your heavenly Father, and He loves you as a member of His family. God promises no easy fixes or simple solutions. There are no steps to follow that will guarantee healing and restoration. But your heavenly Father can and does heal families. He can turn mourning into dancing; He can create praise out of despair. He can bind the wounds of the brokenhearted and set free those imprisoned in darkness. God can restore families and use the tragedies that so deeply hurt us now to move us forward in the purposes for which He created us. So call out to Him as your Father, and pray for His mercy on you and your home. Trust in His love for you and never give up. Our Father sent His only Son to die and rise again to forgive our sins and heal our shame. He is our hope in all the brokenness we face in our lives.