In a symposium published by The Guardian, novelist Richard Ford was asked to deliver his best advice to aspiring writers. Forgive me for quibbling with the wisdom of a celebrated muse, but I was offended by his first two pieces of advice: First, marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer is a good idea; and second, don’t have children.
In Ford’s view, marriage is only useful insomuch as it furthers personal aims, while children are optional nuisances to be avoided, if possible. Marriage is merely instrumental instead of aspirational. I’m not sure if Ford’s advice was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but it reflects the utilitarian and the flaccid attitude toward the family in our time. As if the rigors of family life are an impediment to selfish career aims.
It would be easy to dismiss this kind of logic as the liberal worldview of the elite. In some measure it does reflect the sort of utopian, family planning ideology of many academic precincts—but the seeds are part of a larger conflict that dates back to the Garden of Eden.
After all, it was the wily serpent who convinced Eve that living out her existence as God’s image-bearer would lead a less fulfilled and less noble life. It became all about her aims to know more, to be more and to carve out a self-directed life apart from God.
This lie leads to death and is at the heart of Satan’s war against God. To consider children and family life a nuisance to be avoided rather than a gift to be stewarded is the seed that leads to modern evils like abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking and other violations of human decency. We take the inherent worth of the imago dei and subject it to material gain or personal fulfillment. We become individualists, viewing each other not as a unique soul created in God’s image, but a product to be consumed at our leisure. Darwinian convenience is a direct assault on God’s ordered creation and therefore an assault on God himself.
But lest followers of Christ think this kind of utilitarianism is restricted to the airy halls of Berkley or the Ivy Leagues, we must be careful to resist imbibing the idea that family life is somehow a lesser accomplishment than career.
I’ve had more than one conversation with a Christian parent whose greatest fear was not that their son would leave the faith while in college, but would find a girl and get married, thwarting his viability for graduate school and beyond. I’ve heard the drip of condescension of some who view with pity the stay at home mom, as if she’s given up the best of her life to do the lesser task of raising her children. And I’ve battled the temptation to consider my role as father less important than the title on my business card.
To be sure, family life is a sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and treasure. There are many parts of parenthood that are less than glamorous. Homework assignments, late-night bouts of the flu, consistent discipline—these are not warm and fuzzy moments that make the photo album. And yet if we were to be honest, our lives would be less fulfilled and lack a certain, unquantifiable richness without the deep well of family life. I can’t imagine my life and my career without the steadying influence of my wife and the gradual sanctification God has allowed in me through fatherhood.
Frankly, my writing and speaking career ascended only after I got married and started having kids. You might say that this was just coincidental or a maturity that comes with age. But those who know me best would strenuously disagree. Marriage and fatherhood settles men by forcing their concentration toward their most immediate context: their family. Where the wellspring of manhood bends outward instead of inward toward his family, we produce a society that reaps what it sows—immature men whose sexual appetites are as untrained and unfocused.
When we diminish marriage and family life, whether with Richard Ford’s intentional swipes or by our subtle lifestyle choices, we err in two ways. First, we acquiesce to the enemy’s ruthless attack on God. To diminish human dignity, in any form, is to snuff out the image of God. Marriage is an illustration of the intimacy between Christ and his church and a window into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity.
And secondly, we, like Eve, accept the lie that what God has designed is inferior to what we could design on our own. We would do well to repeatedly remind ourselves that Jesus came to restore us to the fruitful joy stolen by the enemy in the Garden (John 10:10).