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Straining Definitions

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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Definitions serve the purpose of designating not only what something is but also what it is not. For example, a glass can be defined as a clear receptacle used for drinking that holds liquids that are cold or room temperature. This definition makes a glass different from a plate which is a receptacle that is not designed to hold liquids whether they are hot or cold. Thus, one would use a glass for water, milk, or wine, but use a plate for food. It isn't so much that you can't use one in the other's place, but when you do, you alter its purpose and usefulness.

Recently while at a golf tournament, I walked around with a young man there in support of a girl who was paired with my daughter. I asked how he happened to know Jessica -- was he a brother, a boyfriend, or just a friend? He answered that he was her brother -- her stepbrother. Since a round of golf takes a good 4+ hours, Mark and I had a long chance to talk. I discovered that he was an athlete who competes in the junior Olympics for track and field and that he had just graduated from high school. Midway through the round I asked how long he and Jessica had been stepbrother and stepsister. He answered, "Well, we're not actually brother and sister at all. Our parents have been engaged for nine years, so we sort of call ourselves that. I don't know why they haven't gotten married yet…I guess they want to be sure."

So, how do you define brother and sister? These young people were forced to adopt a relationship that wasn't really theirs. No doubt, they wanted to fit into some recognizable category. When I discussed this with my daughter, she looked at me dumbfounded and said that Jessica had identified Mark as her boyfriend, indicating a dating relationship. When I told her what he had told me, my daughter responded, "That's gross! Dating your brother!"

But think about it. Assuming you have no issue with dating in general, what exactly was "gross" about their relationship? They really aren't brother and sister at all. The fact that they had been thrown together since they were nine and seven years old respectively set up a confusing and non-defined relationship. I let my daughter know that the fault lay with their respective parents who, no doubt, were more interested in gratifying their own desires than caring for the well-being of their children.

Is it any surprise that the definition of marriage is under assault when the definitions of father, mother, brother, and sister have been strained and muddled over the last four decades? The Bible takes great pains to list the lineages of both the righteous and the unrighteous in terms of their biological roots rather than the "blended families" of our era. Moreover, for us to truly understand the idea of the Church being the "family of God," we must understand that, just as the biological family has members who are clearly defined, so too being a member of God's family is not a matter of adorning oneself with a label, but an act of our Sovereign Savior.