Because we’re family

Children and chores: it’s a perennial source of frustration and conflict for many families.  Parents who want their reluctant children to help keep the house in order often feel taken for granted–Look at all I’ve done for you; can’t you do this one small thing?  Sometimes, they resort to paying the kids for housework, a strategy which backfires when each new parental request is met with, “How much will you pay me?”

Parenting experts generally agree that there needs to be a mutual understanding between parents and children as to how responsibilities in the household should be shared (which may already be a bone of contention between the spouses).  Children should only be paid for chores that are outside the usual expectations–if then.  But the fundamental issue is that no one should be paid to be a responsible member of the family; it’s not simply about the work that needs to be done, but loyalty and shared identity.

In the last post, I made the point that we swim (drown?) in a cultural sea of contractual agreements that are ultimately defensive in nature: I’ll scratch your back if and only if I have a guarantee that you’ll scratch mine.  But we know almost instinctively that family cannot be like this.  A helpless infant is given birth and must be given loving care and attention, though she cannot reciprocate in kind.  And when parents have been trustworthy in this way, there is the hope that children will eventually respond with loyalty, doing what the parents wish (within reason!) not simply because they are repaying a debt of gratitude, but out of loving sense of shared identity.  Because we’re family is its own explanation.

Isn’t this how it should be in relationship to our heavenly Father, a God of the covenant rather than the contract?

Some Christians, it seems, are uncomfortable with the Old Testament because it seems too “legalistic”; they much prefer the New Testament message of free grace.  But that is to miss the covenant graciousness that is shot through the Old Testament, by which God chooses a people, promises them a glorious future they haven’t earned, and stands by them as they repeatedly spurn him for other gods.

The Ten Commandments, for example, are not given as rules the people must obey if God is to be nice to them.  Rather, the commandments themselves are predicated upon a history of gracious care: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod 20:2, CEB).  I ask you to do this, because you are my people, and that means you are to be different from other people, just as I am not like other gods.  We already have a history: I gave birth to you; I cared for you when you cried out to me. 

I wonder: if at times the Christian life seems to be a chore, is it because, at root and unknowingly, we perceive our relationship to God in contractual terms?  And what would we do to restore (or even establish) a robust sense of covenant loyalty?