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Volume 15, Issue 2: Childer

Trinitarian Family Life

Douglas Wilson

Individualism is not just a bad idea; it is a self-destructive philosophy. Whenever we worship idols, we lose the thing we idolize. Drunkards lose their capacity to enjoy a glass of wine, prowlers of porn sites lose their ability to enjoy the marriage bed with their wives, and so on. The same is true of individualism. One of the reasons we have so few genuine characters today is because we have idolized the individual. The more we idolize individuality, the more alike we become. The more we emphasize love for others, and the necessity of sacrifice for them, the more we grow into what God designed for us.

God created us for social settings. The Godhead is Himself a society, and He expects us to live the same way. Strong individual children, therefore, are children who have grown up in a vibrant social environment.
Children who are pampered in their individuality are actually having that individuality sprayed with industrial strength pesticides. Their "individuality" is flattered, non-stop, and so they wind up preening themselves over their very own earring, tattoo, or spiked hair—an "individual" statement shared by about three million other solitary and misunderstood souls. But children who are nurtured in loving others, and who learn to live sacrificially, are children who will be memorable in their true individuality.
The Bible teaches this in countless ways. The one who exalts himself is humbled. The one who humbles himself is exalted. My argument here is that these phrases are actually true; they are not just religious inspirational quotes, but are true in the family. Children who are taught by parental example and expectations to exalt themselves—in their use of time, in their opinions, in their clothes, and so on—are being taught to invite the humbling hand of God. Children who are taught by parental example and expectations to live and rejoice in a complex web of relationships that require self-giving are being taught to invite the blessing of God on their lives.
Now each child arrives in his home with a given nature. Genetics may not do everything that materialists assume they do, but they still do a lot. The nature/nurture debate promises to go on for a long time because both sides have quite a point. Parents with both biological and adopted children can tell you that loving them all equally will not prevent basic differences from manifesting themselves. Biology is not destiny, but it is certainly a factor.
At the same time, the Scriptures teach there is no such thing as personal identity apart from relationships. Relationships are an aspect of ultimate reality—we see this in the relations between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time, the Father is the Father—there is someone there who is able to have a relationship with the Son. The same goes for the Son and the Holy Spirit. In theological terms, all is not being and all is not becoming. The Father is the Father, and the Father begets the Son. The Father and Son are the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from them. We have neither an everlasting static reality nor an eternal state of flux. Ultimately, we worship the triune God.
This theological truth is important for family life. Each family member must learn to respect the others, knowing what this respect is bringing about. Parents ought not to respect a son as a "loner," for example. That is respecting what they believe he is, but it disrespects what God summons him to become. Neither should parents act like everything is relationship and that each child is just a blank screen on which they should project their ideals for becoming. Parents who start training their three-year-old for the Olympic gold in figure skating come to mind.
Each child is what he is in relation. Without such relationships, his identity is something else entirely. Without his relation to his father and mother, he is nothing at all. Without his relation to his brothers and sisters, he still is, but he is someone else. This business of relationship is potent and should be cultivated. When it is not cultivated, the relationships still exist and things still happen, but whenever God's way of doing things is observed, His blessing rests upon it.
Parents should look around at the family as they have gathered around the dinner table. As all the members of the family speak, listen, and pass the potatoes, they become what they are, and they are what they become. God knows what the raw material is, but His intention goes far beyond that raw material. We become ourselves in others, and our children grow up into themselves in their relationships with others.
And how are these relationships cultivated? The answer is the gospel: death and resurrection. The answer is the gospel: humbling and exaltation. The answer is the gospel: losing one's self and, son of a gun, finding oneself.

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