Theological Paradigms for how to do “Family”
The older I’ve become, the more my interests have changed. Actually, let’s use a better word than changed. I’ll be a little audacious and say “matured.”
Gone are the days where my thoughts and day-dreams were occupied pondering how to beat the boss of the Goron Mountain Dungeon in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.” And so are the afternoons when I ran around imagining myself in an F-22 Fighter jet, pulverizing global evil in the name of justice (a frequent plot in my elementary school “imagination” days). Instead these interests have been replaced with contemplations about my career, and how I can prepare myself for the next promotion, or my academics, and what subject will aptly captivate my curiosity for the next research paper.
And speaking of maturing thoughts, the older one becomes, the more one finds him or herself thinking about one of the most central relationships and entities in their lives- family.
Although I’m not at that stage of “starting one myself,” the older I get, the more intrigued I become when I think back upon my upbringing, my parental and sibling relationships, and meditate on how these relationships have formed who I am today.
These thoughts also bring me to this question- what is the primary Scriptural paradigm for “family” relationships? And, without falling into eisogesis, how comprehensive is the biblica teaching and paradigm?
I’ve thought for years that there must be more than the token NT texts in on “honoring your father and mother” and “wives, submit to your husbands”(Eph 5:22-6:9, Col 3:18-4:1, Titus 2:1-10, and 1 Pet 2:18-3:7). Although these texts are helpful- doesn’t the Bible offer me more? Aren’t family relationships so much more complex than just “submit, love, and obey?”
Fortunately, yes. And believe it or not, even the OT gets involved in what I feel is a comprehensive, biblical paradigm for understanding family relationships.
What is this model? Covenant.
Whether it’s seeing God as the Father entering into Covenant with Israel His son, Christ as the groom given in covenantal union to His bride the Church, or the New Covenant proclaiming power of the Spirit who is our mark and guarantee of adoption as sons (and consequently our seal as brothers and sisters in the family of God), covenant is the precedent setting paradigm for family. 
Growing up, I remember being taught repeatedly that family and marriage were means and experiences by which God teaches us how we relate to Him (i.e. as Sons to Father or as a wife to a husband). I was taught to understand that these institutions existed to help me understand my positional relationship to God. What I fell short of ever considering was how studying God’s acts and behaviors in these relationships actually provide a concrete “how-to” model for how we as members of families should behave towards one another.
For example, in the OT Pentateuch and Historical Writings, we see God as a Father whose love for His Child Israel is self-initiated and unconditional (it begins with God and endures regardless of the child’s responsive obedience). This love manifests itself concretely and repeatedly in powerful ways. For now, let’s just look at two: longsuffering, and just discipline.
The OT has not shortage of instances detailing Israel’s failures and disobedience. Whether it’s continual grumbling in the wilderness, and even repeated episodes of idolatry and disobedience (golden calf, rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea, wilderness grumblings, Achan and Ai, the cycle of the judges, centuries of idolatry following the leadership of kings during the Divided Kingdom, the killing and persecution of God’s own prophets to His people, etc), the record is clear- Israel, the son, messed up. Yet, if we audaciously try to put ourselves in “God’s shoes,” and think of the heartache He endured in remaining faithful to His people despite the sting of deliberate act of disobedience… if we really think of how much sooner we would have lost patience in dealing with people who spit on our charity and tear through our grace without any regard… we get a sense of the depth and the power of the longsuffering that God demonstrated towards His children.
Yet, God as Father also practiced discipline. We see that discipline was administered within a covenantal context- God constantly spoke through Moses, Joshua, judges, and prophets to clearly inform His children which elements of their covenant they had broken. And the punishment was always in right accord with the punishment described in the covenant itself. The Promised Land was taken from Israel, just as promised should the nation fail to properly worship and live in fidelity to her Father and Husband.
So, what does that mean for a father seeking to be a “biblical father” today?
Well for starters, let’s draw some specifics from what we mentioned above: It means that his love for his children is likewise to be unconditional and to have existed even before his child is born. It also means that this love must not be corrupted by angry harbored by his child’s sin- especially when this love is not reciprocated.
A father is also patient- you are not to stop loving your toddler when you say “NO. Don’t touch that. That is Mommy’s vase…” and with an almost devilish grin, he stretches for it… and sends your spouse’s family heirloom into splinters as he nudges it over the table onto the floor below. Like God, let your wrath be pure in that you seek to discipline your toddler for his disobedience to your previously given instruction. Yet, internally you control your heart and temper, to ensure that your wrath remain “righteous” in avenging the wrong-doing, by not letting it become “corrosive,” and to sour your soul and to eat at your heart, storing up hatred or scorn for your son that year’s of immaculate obedience could not soften or erase.
In this example, the character of God as expressed and recorded in His covenant relationships thus provides verses, chapters, books… an entire canon, of specific examples and evidence of how a Father is to act in relationship to His son. And in studying each specific historical manifestation of God’s action in Covenant, we can develop a list of many specific behaviors for living in biblical relationships with one another.
As helpful as NT imperatives of obedience are-think of how our understanding of family relationships can mature when the full council of Scripture and the overarching portrait of Covenant is explored. And think of how our own hearts and the depth of our motivation for loving our families will mature when our reason for love and sacrifice becomes not “because the Bible says so,” but “because God did so.”
Not only does every page of Scripture then speak vividly to the subject of “how-to” live as a family- every work of God becomes the reason and anchor for it. Through Covenant, we can begin to better understand God’s ideal for family relationships. And by watching and imitating him, we find the best and perfect example in helping us live our God’s ideal for family relationships.
 I don’t mean to say that this is the only model. When evaluating human relationships, as vessels created “in our image,” there is much to be gleaned by analogy of humans to the trinity, and also from analyzing the shape and color of community that the law or NT instruction seeks to build, etc. But, covenant is BIG. Hence is discussion here.
 For a great quick read on such an argument, read chapter one of The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, Balswick and Balswick (2007). This chapter has been the foundational introduction to my own paradigm shift in this thinking.
 i.e. commands like “do not provoke your children” (Col 3:21).
 Which because of its authority, I might add, is definitely not a bad argument ontologically.