Unless the Lord Builds the House (Part 1)

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
 It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127 ESV)

One of the curious things we find in opening the Bible, is that a simple word like the word “house,” might not refer to a house at all, but instead to a group of people who live together in a house – a family.  I am not exactly sure why this is so, but it might be a clue for us that what seems to us to be something as simple, and obvious as a family, is not as easily understood as we might assume. There are things about families that aren’t immediately known.  

When my wife and I decided to get married, we shared the news with family and friends.  There were expressions of welcome and congratulations. A wedding date was set. The church was reserved. An engagement announcement was published in the newspaper.   We met with our pastors for pre-marital counseling and to plan our wedding. We chose wedding rings for each other. We drove to the government center of Delaware County, Pennsylvania to apply for a marriage license with the Register of Wills.  Our families gathered the night before the wedding for the wedding rehearsal and then a rehearsal dinner.

The wedding day was filled with hopes and fears.  I woke up wondering “Is this really the right thing to do?”  But we took the big plunge. We went through with it. In a service of praise and worship to God, in the presence of many witnesses, we said our vows to each other.  We strode out through the center aisle of the church as our family and friends clapped. The photographer’s camera flashed as he snapped photos. We drove off in a limo to the wedding reception.  At the wedding receptions, we smiled so much our jaw muscles hurt. We cut the cake and changed our clothes, walked out through a flurry of rice and confetti, and drove away in a Ford Maverick to celebrate our wedding night in a bed and breakfast.  

Most of this reflects the fact that marriage and family are human bonds which are negotiated and mediated through social custom and legal agreements in a society.  But when we open the Bible a starkly distinct and fresh reality presents itself to us: marriage and family are something more than a social custom-negotiated and mediated by legal agreements.  Marriage and family are a God-project. They are God-initiated, God-designed and God-built realities. The happiness, strength and constancy of marriage and family depend on God.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.

God is the architect and builder who is secretly at work designing and shaping every family.    The new family that comes into being will not be quite the same as any other family. If God is the builder of the house, the people whom God uses as raw building material for the house will not always understand just how or why God is building with them in the way he chooses to build.  But in his mysterious ways, God brings them together to build a house. The family is God’s mission.

Donald Marsden

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