We Labor In Vain and Yet The House Get Built
MICHAEL THOMAS JONES
Name one man in the Bible who had a normal monogamous relationship and a healthy family.
Adam – Son murdered the other son
Noah – Son saw his father’s nakedness, cursed
Abraham – Pharaoh situation, Hagar & Ishmael Situation
Isaac – Tricked by rivalrous sons
Jacob – And behold! It was Leah (also, his sons sell one of their brothers into slavery)
Moses – Maybe is polygamous?
Samson – Ha!
Samuel – Evil sons
David – Many wives, many kids, much rebellion
Elijah – Maybe no family?
Esther – Chosen by her husband in a beauty contest (bring me the hottest babes in the kingdom, the king declared, and it was so) to replace the old sour one
The Prophets – all the performative marriages (Ezekiel loved his wife apparently, but then God took her in a sort of performative death)
Paul – Celibate
Christ – Celibate; symbolically and mystically wed to his Bride the Church (a woman generally to be regarded as a crazed harlot apart from his influence)
So maybe it’s just that the men and women who did have healthy relationships and functional families didn’t do anything crazy enough to end up in Scripture. Anyway, you get my point.
With this history, the words of Malachi bear a lot more weight: truly what we need more than anything else is for the hearts of the fathers turned to the children, and the children turned to their fathers. If you look about in the world, there’s a lot of unturned hearts. But Christ, as the Bridegroom: what is his goal if not to build his people into a holy household for God? We are all one family, of course, but we are also a lot of little families.
Is it too late in history to start a new tribe? (re: The Michaelites)
Eschatology and economics seem a lot more entwined than people let on. If economics is the ordering of one’s household, well, how is Christ going to order his household? In a postmillenial or an amillenial sense, or neither? How are we going to order our families and our societies in accordance with this?
So many Christians that I know advise investment and interest as a means of securing one’s household. And certainly that has worked well for many. But is this kind of capitalism a double-edged sword? Undoubtedly Christ is using it as a tool to extend his reign, as he uses all things. But when will it be discarded, if ever? Perhaps interest and capital are just slavery in another form, weakened and reshuffled and distributed more efficiently. Maybe slavery can never be abolished but only shared more evenly across the nations.
Riches are good. Riches allow for leisure, and leisure allows for education. Education is necessary for wise civic action in this world. Education is necessary for good craft and liberty. Good craft and liberty bring riches, and so on. The question is: how does Christ want us to educate the household? On the smallest level, we have our families, but on the largest, the nations. Does a capitalist social structure educate us in all the wrong ways? It has certainly given us much leisure. But how are we taught to use that leisure? To what end are we being educated towards? If we give power to those with capital, power can be distributed much more evenly. I think that is helpful for peace, as a bulwark against tyranny. But happiness and virtue are greater kinds of wealth than cryptocurrencies and stocks.
So are we really wealthy? Are we encouraged in this system towards natural happiness and virtue, or are we encouraged to do whatever we want? I don’t think we can have the former with the latter. So we need someone to guide us away from our weird desires and towards that which is universally good – or, at the very least, clearly good for all in a specific geographical and historical context.
Would we be a more happy and virtuous people if we had a monarch, a father of our nation who could bring us up in the way we should go and educate us? Of course we would, but maybe such a man cannot be found. And no doubt however well he educated us, his own heirs would betray him in the end, as we have seen in all the patriarchs. Why are the good kings such bad dads?
Let us say that, by securing your household by investment and modern financial practices and overall participation in the current system, the numbers in the bank computers allow you and your family to be safe and strong and well educated. Good citizens and generous to all. That is without doubt a good thing as far as we can see. But beyond what we can see: are you absolutely sure that you are participating in a healthy system? What if, by trying to secure your own wealth this way, you have made it much harder for others to build good homes — either directly through material exploitation or, more nebulously, through the promotion of a world system that educates us to be foolish? Where does the profit come from? How do you know that all those companies and projects are virtuous, building good things for all the world, helping everyone become truly wealthy?
I would want to build my household in such a way that does not hinder others from building their households. And building a good household is not just a material concern but also an educational concern. Even if capitalism provided mongo wealth for everyone, it wouldn’t be wealth if we had been taught by the structure to act foolishly and sinfully. Our hopes would be weak and frail, our labor alienated from our hands, our faces hidden from others, our bodies hidden from the sun and the wind and the woods, our spirits only supported by mass produced pharmakeia: sorcerous pills that chemically induce a facsimile of eudaimonia. Can you encapsulate good spirits, or only unclean ones? How many in this system (in any earthly system?) are able to have strong marriages and abundant households? Without a strong marriage and good kids, what is a household for? How much will we see in this life of a father’s heart turning to his child and a child’s heart to his father? If I could make it so with a word, I would have a good wife and good kids, whose descendents would be wealthy and Christian forever. Forever virtuous and blessed on this earth.
Perhaps it is not possible to judge wisely a global process that consists of billions of different people and their desires, actions, decisions, circumstances, abilities. Nor can you cleverly arrange through infant baptism and parenting techniques that all of your descendents be both wealthy and Christian. The ways our social and economic structures are built and then build us in turn are mysterious. The nature of this planet-sized trellis on which we grow and bear our fruit – maybe it is all too complicated for us to ever make a reasonable decision, to declare reasonable visions. So in this respect, or at a certain scale, we must surrender our intentions to God and trust that he will build our houses as his own.