In a discussion today in my commute to work the question came up about what should be a priority: the marriage or the children.
I feel strongly about both sides of this issue! No surprises here.
One tack is to say that marriage was instituted by God before the Fall and thus is the original blessing. Children, in this approach, come second. Actually third, since God comes first (though worshiping God was not the original mandate – procreation and stewardship was).
The whole “original blessings” thing, is so Mathew Foxy, and I do not really buy into it. But I was curious as to what the Bible actually says. In Genesis 1 there is nothing about marriage since man and woman are created together in the image of God. Genesis 2-3 brings out the idea of “helpmeet.”
These two chapters are not contradictory, of course. What they both are saying is that man-and-woman working together is the most complete reflection of the image of God. Not one alone. And working together to do what? Well Gen 1 says to be fruitful and multiply. Which leads me to think that the Fall maybe came from Adam and Eve not “getting busy” and getting on with having some children? Too much time in their hands just doing what pleased them, and see what happens? (Complete speculation of course!)
At any rate, children do not get to enter the equation until after the Fall, though. And that is a significant point.
My biggest complaint against the original blessings hypothesis (or exegesis) is that we clearly are not in Eden. Anything which happened there is useful simply to answer the question of whether God is malevolent or benevolent. This is, of course, not a trivial question, as the Gnostics and the Manichean heresy (as outlined by Augustine) shows what can happen when we posit a malevolent God. Philosophically this is actually a valid question, which needs answering. That is what the pre-Fall account gives us.
But we are post-Fall people. No matter what, this is where we are. So children are a fact of life, rather like having to work for a living!
So what are “children”? They are a “blessing from the LORD” (Psalm 127: 3-5). This equation of children and blessing is a constant in the Biblical account. A marriage with children is a blessed marriage. Even a marriage with adopted children is a blessed marriage, since we ourselves are adopted children of God (Eph. 1:5).
How are we, as creatures, to fulfill the original commandment of being fruitful (Genesis 1:28), which is demanded of all living creatures on Earth from plants to humankind, without, well, procreating?
So, it seems to me that marriage is the VEHICLE through which the blessing outlined in Psalm 127 (and many other places) can occur. Before we were fallen, blessings were not really that important. I mean Adam walked with God and chatted with him, and did some gardening. Pretty much a full life. And there was no curse to require an equal-and-opposite blessing.
Once we were kicked out (for our own good) God bends over backwards to keep finding ways to bless us, to bring us a little more of that goodly (and godly!) Edenic air. Finally giving us His Son, as the ultimate blessing.
To raise godly children has a profound and powerful significance in the economy of salvation. Being given a good helpmeet and then together raising godly (and helpful!) children is a lifetime practice of faithfulness to God.
I say lifetime because, even though we leave father and mother to be united to our spouses, we are never given an option to stop being their children. So the commandments to respect father and mother remain, and so do the parent’s responsibility to not drive their children NUTZ (Ephesians 6:4).
The mutual love which is evident in godly families is to be the cornerstone of a godly society: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21).
In fact Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 cover the family dynamic of a Christ-centered, voluntary mutual submission life. This will sometimes require that one member or another of a household be given more importance. And I guess that is my (long-winded) point: there is no set-in-stone formula, except that Christ is the center. Love demands that sometimes, for a minute, hour, day, or season, one person in the family be the principal recipient of everyone’s care. And then the tides change.
Where we go wrong, and where we always go wrong, is to try to take a snapshot of a moment in time, and hold it up, like an idol, as the one-and-only-way. We did this with apples, we did this with golden calves, Asherah poles, and Peter did it on Mt. Tabor. Over and over we take the “Kodak moment” and make it into the one and only reality.
Some husbands have gotten away with the “head of household” thing for a long time, without every really earning it (by loving their wives). Some wives have done the same.
Children, in this day and age especially, are told they are the centers of the universe. This needs to be corrected. They are a blessing, and a fundamental part of a godly family. But a part, not the center. They are also helpmeets, and the work never ends.