I’ve written about the positive influence parents can have on their children, giving them a spiritual “leg up” by raising them to think about the things of God. This is God’s intention for parenting, and it is both commanded and exemplified in Scripture (e.g., Deut 6:7; Ps 44:1). But while it is God’s intended order for the family, it is not our society’s norm. In fact, a certain degree of familial dysfunction is expected, and when it’s not apparent in your family, people assume you’re hiding something.
This dysfunction can have terrible consequences on the children living in it. Parents do, after all, have a foundational role to play in their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual development. We are biological beings, created in the image of God through the invisible, biological union of our parents’ gametes. We are the product of an elaborate genetic process through which our ancestors exhert incredible influence over the color of our hair and skin, the shape of our eyes and face, and our predisposition to certain health risks. Once we enter into the world, our parents’ influence isn’t over; they begin training us to find our place in the world. They teach us to communicate, to stay clean, to do chores, and, hopefully, to be kind and loving.
But what happens if your parents are dysfunctional? Are you destined to be ruled by your “nature and nurture”? Will you one day wake up to realize you are your controlling mother or aloof father?
That’s what John Mayer wonders in his song, “In the Blood.” He asks painful questions like, “How much of my father am I destined to become?/Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone?”, and, “Does a broken home become another broken family?/Or will we be there for each other, like nobody ever could?”
What hope do you have when you begin to see yourself doing the things you watched your parents do, but swore you would never do yourself? Do you resign yourself to the cruel determinism of your biology, or can you claw your way out of your circumstances through hard work? Mayer gets to that point and asks a startling pair of questions:
“Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood?/ Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?”
His questions hold out hope for some kind of salvation: an ark to carry him on the flood that can cleanse him. Perhaps he’s grasping for something that he doesn’t consciously know he wants, or maybe Mayer is exploring Christianity. We don’t know. But what we can say is, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
That’s because the prophet Jeremiah looked to the day when God would make a new covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31). Under the terms of this new covenant each person would be responsible for his own sin:
“In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ “But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29–30, NASB)
If we want to break the cycle of sin in our dysfunctional families, there’s really only one way to do it. We need a clean break and fresh start. We need a new identity molded and shaped after the image of Jesus. The good news is that the covenant Jeremiah looked toward has been established through the death of Jesus. By faith in him, we come to claim a share in that covenant and experience all its benefits, including the forgiveness of our sins and the presence of his Spirit who enables us to live humbly before him. We’re no longer slaves to our flesh or the sin that claims a foothold there. It does, in a sense, “wash out in the water” (1 Peter 3:18–22; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Come on in, John, the water’s fine.