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Saturday, May 4, 2013

"Flawed Families of the Bible" (David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland)

TITLE: Flawed Families of the Bible: How God's Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships
AUTHOR: David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007, (236 pages).

If your family is Christian, and if you feel like your family is flawed, imperfect, and even dysfunctional, you will find this book deeply encouraging. Far too often, Christian people have elevated the status of the biblical characters and families to the level of spiritual superstars. Some even think that the biblical families are more perfect than our modern ones. After all, everyone who calls themselves "Christian" likes to be as biblical as possible, right? That include character studies with two differences. Firstly, instead of reverting back to popular characters like Moses, Joseph, Jacob, David, and Elijah in the Old Testament, or Peter, Paul, and Jesus in the New Testament, the authors of this book select those relatively more obscure and unknown. Some of the characters may even be shocking and controversial. Characters like Leah, who seems less prominent than Rachel. Or women such as Tamar, who was raped and discarded, or David's wife, Michal who did not have a good ending in the Bible. Secondly, the characters are linked to the families they come from and how their backgrounds affected both their lives and others. Finally, through it all, there is a common strand: God's grace. The underlying message of the entire book is this: The reality is that within every person or family, even biblical families, there are flaws and dysfunctional relationships. The hope is that within each flaw and seemingly dysfunctional situation, there is God's grace that shines forth to redeem people wherever they are.

  • Sarah and Hagar: We read how the barren Sarai was given grace to conceive. Hagar, when forced out of the home with her child, was given grace to survive, and the promise to flourish. Both stories contain many instances of how hopelessness turns to hope.
  • Leah: How unloved Leah becomes caught in the scheming of both Laban and Jacob, rivalry and deceit, and through it all, bore most of Jacob's children, and becoming a big part of God's plan.
  • Dinah: We read about the horrors of rape, and living through much shame not just for Dinah but the family. We learn of how the family of Dinah chooses to hide the shame and keep the whole matter in secret, only to allow the anger to accumulate toward violence and tragedy. God's grace is available to us through the Church, modern counseling, and many avenues of comfort.
  • Tamar: The story of Tamar is often told about incest and shame. It reminds us that those of us in positions of power and responsibility must exercise care and love to all. The persistence and courage of Tamar against all odds, represents grace unlimited from God.
  • Michal: Readers may think that Michal has been unfortunate to be born under the family of Saul. As a daughter whose father turned away from God, she herself embarrasses her husband David for openly expressing his joy in the LORD. What kind of grace lessons can we learn from Michal? It is hard to read grace into the passage. It is much easier to read about the scenarios that could have happened when Michal herself had been less bitter, more gracious, and more forgiving. God's grace is powerful. Man's freedom to receive God's grace will be most welcome.
  • Bathsheba: Poor woman. She had to suffer the tragic loss of her husband Uriah, marry her husband's murderer, and subsequently lose her first son. In her deep sorrow, she laments to God (2 Sam 11:26). Unlike most happy marriages, Bathsheba and David's marriage began in grief. Grace to them comes in the form of both David and Bathsheba knowing where and Who to turn to.
  • Jephthah and David's Daughters: Jephthah lives through the time of Judges, where immorality ran rampant and idolatry was at its peak. What good news can there be for Jephthah's daughter, whose father is a son of a prostitute, and solicits sexual services from men in the streets? Moreover, Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter because of a silly bet. Unnamed, unable to bear children, and died as a sacrifice, perhaps the story is an example of how much human society depend on God. For if men are to be left completely to their own devices, men will ultimately destroy themselves.
  • Ethiopian Eunuch: Here is the only New Testament character that the authors have highlighted, that symbolizes how God through Jesus brought together Jews and Gentiles under one umbrella of faith.

There is no perfect family. There is no such thing as a 'normal' family. All families are dysfunctional in a certain way. Only in Christ can there be grace and redemption, forgiveness and restoration, faith and hope. Throughout this book, the authors help readers appreciate the fact that the biblical characters are not very much different from our modern people. We are as sinful as they are, albeit in a different way. We are as imperfect as they are. Most importantly, all are recipients of God's grace. The take away for me is this. The more we understand how flawed, how imperfect, and how needy we are, the more we will appreciate and embrace the gentle loving arms of the Perfect God, the Coming Kingdom, and the Eternal Peace. The good news is this. God's grace has worked for the biblical characters in the past. God's grace is working right now in the present through the Church, God's people. God's grace is promised for the future that is to come. This book imaginatively strings together all of these, and becomes a 236 pages of encouragement.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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