2014 Lent 18


I Corinthians 7:32-40

“I want you to be free from anxieties.”

This seems to be the core motivation behind Paul’s counsel on marriage.  A man or woman who is unmarried only has to be concerned with how to please the Lord.  A married person is concerned about this too; but with the added concern of how to please a spouse.  And then, one could add, when someone has kids, well, then it’s the Lord, the spouse, and the kids!  And in our day of blended families–quite similar to households in Paul’s day, I might add–there could be stepchildren, adopted children, live-in parents in need of continuous care, etc., etc.  In short, according to Paul, family life sure can be a headache!

I get Paul’s point.  To be as free from anxiety as possible is noble.  Who wouldn’t want to have a stress-free life?

Yesterday I mentioned the Stoic virtue apatheia.  This has to do with how your passions affect you; to remain detached from your emotions, regardless of how big the amplitude becomes, is the goal.  Today, however, what Paul suggests is more active; you actively maintain a mindset that frees you from anxiety ahead of time.  Today falls in line more with an Epicurean virtue, ataraxia.

Google these terms if you like, to find out more.  Heck, Google Stoicism and Epicureanism to learn more about these two competing philosophical schools of thought floating in the empire’s drinking water during Paul’s day.  But that Paul draws from one of these and then another only a few verses later is interesting, a question worthy of study.  Contemporaneous philosophers certainly wouldn’t have done the same.  At the very least, it suggests that Paul was human, that he was like you and I, that he mixed some things up, that (even) he was inconsistent in his letter to the Corinthians.  But this is a bit of a rabbit trail.

The point I want to make here is that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is not very family-friendly, a point that I think has been made well enough over the past few days.

So, what do we do with this point?

Well (gulp!), let me propose, if nothing else, that Paul’s writings here, in the Bible, cause me to rethink some of my own prejudices, biases, and values concerning family.

I prize my family.  Marriage, I am firmly convinced, is the stuff that makes up the building blocks of society.  Children are a blessing of the Lord, a heritage.  Divorce is ugly, as it breaks up a sacramental relationship–a relationship that demonstrates outwardly the inward love of God in us.  And now, in mid-life, I’m starting to find a lot of joy in the likelihood of my never becoming a lonely old man: I’m looking forward to grandkids and great-grandkids, and the more the better.  And so it bugs me to the core when I hear mantras like “Faction before blood” (from Divergent).

But where have all my prejudices, biases, and values come from?  I’d like to say from the Bible.  And there are some, sure, like that psalm I alluded to about children being a blessing from the Lord.  But there are also an awful lot of passages like this one from Paul.  And didn’t Jesus himself say that unless you hate father and mother (and so on) you cannot be my disciple?  On a scale, I don’t know which would outweigh the other: pro-family statements from the Bible or anti-.

More than from the Bible–far more–is what we call the Judeo-Christian ethic.  And this ethic, and thus my biases and values, comes more from tradition, from cultural norms over time, I’m afraid.

So this point more than anything else reminds me that not everyone sees it my way.  Not everyone else values family the way I do.

And that’s okay.

In fact, that’s as it should be.


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