Norman Rockwell's Nightmare: The Screwed Up Biblical Family

Take my hand and let’s go for a brief stroll through the rose gardens of that sweetest and most touching of personal histories: the biblical family. Take a look at Lot’s family. They called home the town with the name that afterward became inextricably linked to anal sex.  Before they hightailed it out of Sodom, a mob amassed to sexually assault two newcomers whom Lot was housing for the night.  But this gracious host, in paternal love, offered up his two daughters for gang rape instead.  A true candidate for father of the year, this dad.   Later, as they hid in a cave, nostalgic mom having become a salt pillar, the girls got father wasted, had sex with him, and nine months later Lot cradled two incestuous (grand)sons in his arms.

But that’s only the beginning.  There is Abraham, husband of gorgeous Sarah, who cons all Egypt into thinking she’s his sister, lest they slit his throat and bed her. And sweet Sarah, so at her wits’ end with infertility, arranges a hook-up between Abe and her servant, then winds up despising both the mother and child, and ditching them to die in the desert for all she cares.  Old Abe again, obviously no candidate for Viagra, fathers yet more kids with a second wife and the concubining co-wives he kept on the side.

There is Mr. Honesty himself, Jacob, who marries two jealous sisters, both of whom spend the rest of their lives attempting to out-pregnant each another. So zealous are they that they send in pinch hitters, their servant girls, to score some home-run babies for the team.  Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, rolled in the hay with one of these baby-makers, thus having sex with his half-brothers’ mom.  And speaking of these brothers, so deep was their disgust and envy of the younger brother, Joseph, that they came nigh to murdering him outright.  Instead, in brotherly compassion, they only tossed him into a well and sold him into slavery to the first travelers who happened by.

And then there is David’s family. Oy vey!  This peeping Tom, ogling the beloved wife of one of his soldiers, summons her to the royal bedroom so he can have his way with her.  She winds up pregnant, so David, all sweetness and light, gives the husband a vacation from the war to make it all appear legit.  But the husband, semper fi to his brothers still deployed, keeps it zipped; he won’t enjoy the pleasures of which his comrades are deprived.  So David, flexing his regal muscles, arranges a murderous “accident” on the battlefield.  Then being the gracious and compassionate king he is, makes the grieving widow one of his crowd of wives. Despite David’s subsequent repentance, his family is royally screwed ever after. The baby conceived in adultery dies.  A brother rapes his half-sister, and is slain in revenge by her brother, Absalom. Later Absalom stages a coup against his father, has triumphant coitus with all his dad’s concubines, and is subsequently defeated and executed.

Shall I take the time to mention the prophet whom the Lord told to marry a whore? The Levite who gave over his concubine to such a violent gang rape that she died on his doorstep, and whom he afterwards dismembered? How Judah’s daughter-in-law tricked him into thinking she was a prostitute, they had their tryst, and she became pregnant?  It’s all there in the Holy Bible.

I’m sure—indeed, I know—that these darker, nastier stories don’t tell the whole biblical truth. No doubt there were countless families who could have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting: loving, monogamous spouses; obedient children; siblings who got along. Thank God there were such families. And thank God that there still are.

But thank God also for these tales of horror, where men and women do the unspeakable to those whom they are called to love.  In these stories, lust and hatred and selfishness and revenge and spite and apathy and every other vile emotion of man pits husband against wife, child against parent, brother against brother. There is no whitewashing of evil within the biblical family. The sheer fact that it is recorded, that of all the events in these people’s lives, these were chosen to be chiseled into the stone of the church’s remembrance, tells us something.

It tell us—it tells me, anyway—that even though I’m dragging around the skeletons of two failed marriages; that even though I have screwed up in ways of biblical proportions; that even though I have acted out of lust and hatred and selfishness and revenge and spite and apathy and every other vile emotion of man, I know a God who takes pity on such men. Amazingly, he has been known to forgive them, to use them in his kingdom, why, even to publish their writings. How like God to have Israel and the church sing so many songs by one whom most remember as an infamous adulterer and murderer, but whom God remembers as a son and heir of heaven.

Are you from, part of, or the cause of a screwed up family? Take heart. God paints his own family portraits. And he’s quite willing to include you in the picture.