Finding Family in Christ's Church
“A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
Last week I struggled to read through a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Children of the Opioid Crisis”. The difficulty wasn’t the astronomical statistics of addictions and overdoses--though they are mind boggling--rather, it was the stories of the young boys and girls who, because of the abandonment of their addicted parents, experience life as an orphan. These children, who have already experienced hunger, abuse, and neglect, now face a growing shortage of foster and adoptive parents as the number of orphans skyrockets in direct correlation with America’s opioid crisis.
As a victim of the opioid crisis myself and as a fellow child of a father who threw away his family for his addiction, I know the pain of abandonment; I know the memories that haunt the mind; I know the seemingly never-ending search for a love that will heal a lifelong wound. As a college minister I’ve discovered a reality that is as alarming as the opioid crisis: many of us, not just children of drug addicts, live life as orphans. I’ve seen that the same abandonment, memories, and search for love is experienced by those who have grown up in a divorced family, a family with an absent father, a family of abuse, a family of oppression, or a family of control. What’s missing from all of these are the essential elements of love, affirmation, and defense. Without these elements we grow into adults with lots of pain, anxiety, and depression.
If you fall within one of these categories--if you are a fellow orphan--allow me to say something to you: you were made for a family that loves, affirms, and defends you. The reason you feel so messed up by what has happened to you is because God designed your mind, emotions, and personality to blossom within the nurturing environment of a healthy family.
But if this is true it raises the question of whether or not there is any hope for us orphans. An answer that many over the centuries have clung to is found in Psalm 68. It tells us that the God of the Bible is a “father of the fatherless.” This promise is perhaps the greatest truth in the Bible, and it was this promise that initially brought me to Christianity. However, what I didn’t understand for most of my Christian life was the primary context in which God is a father to the fatherless; namely, “in his holy dwelling.” God’s holy dwelling for us now is the people of the local church. This means that we experience the reality of God as father primarily through relationships with others who look to Him as Father. In other words, we have a new family afforded to us in the people of God in our local church.
God’s promises for His family have never been mere words or feelings; He always expresses them concretely. We tangibly experience the love, affirmation, and defense of God within the family of the local church. It’s with God’s family that we hear the words “I love you” spanning from the pulpit down to the dinner table. It’s with God’s family that we are affirmed in what we were made for as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, workers, students, and disciples, from the oldest lady in the pew to the toddler in the nursery. It’s with God’s family where pastors, elders, and deacons defend us from those who seek to hurt us in any way, physically or spiritually. God tangibly loves us as our Father through our church family.
As I came to the end of the Wall Street Journal article, I read the story of a seven-year-old boy named Ben. He was born to two heroin addicted parents and was himself born addicted to the drug. Ben went through the foster care system for a time and was given back to his biological father and mother. It wasn’t long until his mother abandoned him and his father began using drugs in front of Ben and neglecting even to feed him. Eventually, Ben was adopted by a family who raised him alongside their three biological children. This family is the family that Ben was meant to have. In wisdom that a child can speak, Ben said, “this is my forever family, they give me food and stuff like that, and help me.” So it is with those who find a new family in Christ’s Church.