The Family Sized Hole

The article took over two hours to read. Not because I’m that slow of a reader, but our house stays pretty busy between dinner time and the children’s bed time. I made the mistake of starting to skim a story in The Atlantic during our family prime time, and though it drew me in, I had to wait until after 8 p.m. to finish it.

I am glad I picked it up later that evening, though the writer took a very unexpected turn in this chilling report of a serial murderer. The story is about Jack, a divorced man, who was active in his local church in Ohio, mentored Brogan, a teenager in the church, and led a ministry based out of his home. At first description, he sounds like the ideal Sunday School teacher, the type of story that would receive little attention in a secular publication.

Of course, things aren’t as they seem. Jack used his home based ministry to exploit the very people he pretended to help, and when that well dried up, he turned to a fiendishly clever online strategy. Using Craig’s List, he targeted divorced, middle-aged, unemployed men by offering them a dream job watching over acres of land teeming with wildlife while living in a rent free trailer. When men showed up for the interview he and Brogan would take them in the woods, murder them, and sell the belongings in their U Haul for quick cash.

Like most crime stories, it leaves the reader with a sickly feeling and a grim reminder of the reality of evil. But what I didn’t expect was for the author, Hanna Rosin, to offer pointed and insightful observations about the necessity of the family:

But what I discovered in the course of my reporting was something quite different. As traditional family structures are falling apart for working-class men, many of them are forging new kinds of relationships: two old high-school friends who chat so many times a day that they need to buy themselves walkie-talkies; a father who texts his almost-grown sons as he goes to bed at night and as he wakes up in the morning.

Christians often talk about a “God-shaped hole,” a need inside us that can be filled only by faith. But perhaps we share a “family-shaped hole.” When the old structures recede for men, they find ways to replace them with alternative attachments, bonds with one or two people that offer the warmth and intimacy typically provided by a wife or significant other. If anything, these improvised families can prove more intense because they are formed under duress and, lacking a conventional domestic routine or a recognized status, they must be constantly tended and reinforced.

Rosin’s surprising discovery should not surprise Christians. She unwittingly stumbled onto God’s design for men, and his priority of the institution of the family.

The Greek word telos aptly describes the human experience. We are created for purpose. Perhaps that’s why Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life set the record for the most consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

The book of Genesis informs this reality with the depiction of Adam’s responsibilities and roles. He was created to serve God, to live in unity with his wife, and to subdue the garden. His identity was intrinsically connected to his relationship to God, spouse, and vocation. His roles and responsibilities were deeply scarred from his disobedience, what Christians call the fall, so that today we see only hints or traces of this original design, sometimes stumbling over it unintentionally, as in the case of journalist Hanna Rosin.

Rosin seems taken aback that when spouse and vocation are stripped away that a man’s identity is in jeopardy. While I don’t disagree with her observations, I don’t believe a man’s ultimate purpose is the family, albeit directly related. His chief end, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

While Rosin is partially right in her assessment, her remedy is entirely misdirected. Men can only find complete fulfillment in a relationship with the Creator of marriage and vocation; A reminder I received while trying to read a magazine article in our living room with three young boys wrestling at my feet and my wife caring for our newborn daughter. I can best serve them by seeking to glorify God and enjoy him. That’s what I was made for. And as Rosin seems to get so close to, it is this telos that permeates the cosmos.