I was asked recently how family can be an idol. Below is my response.
Let me take a run at a response here.
First of all, I can’t say definitively what Tim Keller meant when he made his point. You can email him and ask him!
From my perspective, here are some ways “family” becomes an idol:
I must have a family
Half of the American population is single. Some high percentage of them wrestles with discontent and depression that they live alone, have no wife or husband, or have no children. Having a marriage and family becomes an idol when the lack of one steals joy and contentment in Christ. I am obviously familiar with this struggle. Think of single men and women you have counseled whose life is obsessed with finding a mate and think they are less human without one. Identity in Christ is devalued and marital or familial status is idolized. Cue 1 Cor. 7 as a response.
I must not have a family
When someone’s family situation rises to a level of importance where its dysfunction leads to abandonment, the family has become an idol. This is an ironic twist. The very thing that they run from reveals its importance. If it wasn’t so important they could tolerate pretty much anything. A man who runs from the weighty responsibility of fathering, husbandry, etc. reveals a twisted idolatry and a desperation to be free from something so important.
I must have a perfect family
Keller talks about this in his book. When my family is an idol, the idealic picture of what it should be keeps a man or woman from enjoying an imperfect spouse or child. The idol of a perfect family steals away happiness in a good one.
I must have a successful family
This is one I see everywhere. Parents run their kids all over the country for their sports team or some hobby thing. They spend enormous amounts of money on every possible educational advantage. They don’t have time to serve Jesus or have their children in spiritually profitable ministries because they are too busy playing hockey, gymnastics, free throws, clarinet, after school programs, travelling on the weekends. I have great sadness for these families when this gets out of balance. Their son may graduate with a sports capability or good GPA but my observation is they often have little regard for the church or the Kingdom because Mom and Dad have modeled that God is not more important than sports or spelling bees.
My self-identity is my family
We clearly have important identity in our family. However, it is not ultimate. As Jesus said, Who are my father and mother and brothers and sisters but those who do the will of my father. He went so far as to say that unless we hate our family we cannot be his disciple. By this I believe him to be making a comparative statement. Our love for God must outstrip even the most important human relationships. Talk to the Selladurais about the judgment they had to make to leave their Hindu family for their Christian faith. Millions have had to do so. If family is too important, then I cannot consider following Christ if I have to leave my family. Interestingly, I just read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress this past week. The main character, Christian, had to leave his family in the city of Destruction as they were unwilling to travel with him to the Cross and the Celestial City.
There may be more and better examples than these. But I offer these for your consideration.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
© 2010 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.