The Duty of Natural Affection

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. . . The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this and every country but his own.

W.S. Gilbert, The Mikado
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As I have watched the Twitters over the months gone by, just going on as they do, one of the things I have witnessed is Stephen Wolfe being outrageous. He has said things like “birds of a feather flock together,” and this is obviously not to be tolerated.

As we observe what sets people off these days, things like “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” and if we combine that with what doesn’t set people off, a good example being the medical establishment throwing their support behind the grotesqueries of child mutilation, I thought it might be time for a refresher course on what Scripture calls natural affection.

Two Places in Paul

There are two places in Paul where the KJV translators render the word astorgos as “without natural affection.” They both occur in a cluster of named and specified sins, and the context helps fill out the meaning. Astorgos simply means implacable, cruel, hardhearted, unfeeling. That seems straightforward enough.

“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful”

Romans 1:30–31 (KJV)

“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good”

2 Timothy 3:2–3 (KJV)

Now these people are obviously bad all around, but I do find it interesting that things like ingratitude, covenant-breaking, and disobedience to parents live right in the same neighborhood. Without natural affection seems to me to sum everything up quite well.

In recent years, it has become customary for evangelical preachers, speakers, and writers to warn us about the potential idolatry that is resident in every typical description of the traditional family. We are regularly warned to be on our guard against natural affection. Three kids, suburban home, evangelical church, well-mowed lawn, two SUVs . . . you might as well go off and burn some incense to Chemosh right now. Why halt between two opinions?

But rather, the traditional biblical home should have been considered the kindergarten of virtue. Instead we have been instructed by our leaders to treat it as the primal temptation to idolatry. Now these guardians against “idolatry of the traditional family” might try to defend themselves by saying that the discipleship demands of the Lord Jesus really do seem to indicate that there really is a temptation to idolize the family. Right?

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:26 (KJV)

Ah, but the solution here is Augustine’s approach to rightly ordered loves, and not simple rejection. We can see this at a glance if we took the time to look at the parallel passage in Matthew. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me . . .” (Matt. 10:37). What we are talking about is a hierarchy of layered loyalties. So Jesus Christ comes first. Who is next? Who comes after that?

Two Kinds of Idols

The Bible teaches us that there are two kinds of idols. The one is the idol proper, which we should treat the way King Josiah did. Topple the idols. Grind them to powder. We see Gideon with his father’s Baal. We see Moses with the Golden Calf. The false object of false worship must be overthrown.

But the second kind of idol must not be destroyed, but rather demoted. The object is an idol because it is in the wrong place in your hierarchy of values, not because it has a place in your life at all. If you have idolized your mother, the solution is not to treat her as Josiah treated Molech. The solution is not to shoot her. If you have idolized your mother, then you should repent, and reorganize the organizational flow chart of your heart.

The Scriptures teach that covetousness is idolatry, but after repentance a man must still handle money.

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Colossians 3:5 (KJV)

One kind of idol must be destroyed. The other kind of idol must be reassigned. But those who teach against the idolatry of the traditional family are interested in that family being dismantled, deconstructed, destroyed. And this is because they are in the service of those who are without natural affection.

And this collides with the explicit teaching of the New Testament.

Preferential Treatment

Hey, does anybody remember that place where the apostle Paul tells us to make sure we take care of our own kinfolk first? The family should rally around in order to meet the basic needs that a widow has, and then after that, if necessary, the church should help out.

“Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God . . . But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

1 Timothy 5:3–4, 8 (NKJV)

Now what this passage teaches, plain as anything, is that I have duties and responsibilities to kin, and that those duties have a higher priority than my duties to strangers. But because we live in a generation that does not know how to think—whether biblically, logically, or carefully, in that order—any statement that says “my kids or grandkids should have a higher priority for me” is heard as me maintaining that the stranger in the gates can go to blazes.

But no. The Bible really does teach that charity starts at home. It cannot end there, but it must start there. My responsibility is to love Christ above all. I then move on to immediate family. After that comes extended family. And after that we come to the stranger in the gates. Hospitality is baked into the framework of biblical values, but it is not in first place. When you gather your family together and go down to Jerusalem in order to worship the Lord, and you have spent your “party tithe,” you need to make sure you include the outsiders. Bring them into the circle, but this is something you cannot do if you have spent a lot of time worrying about whether you have been guilty of circle-idolatry.

“And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.”

Deuteronomy 14:29 (KJV)

Finitude Must Start Somewhere

We are finite creatures, which means that we cannot provide for everybody. We cannot write a check for everybody. We cannot meet all the needs. This means that we must arrange all the needs in an appropriate order, scripturally defined. Christ > wife > children > parents > grandparents > Levites > strangers in the gates > Chinese orphans.

But the tendency is to say that if we think someone should be at the end of that line, then we must despise that person because they are at the end of the line. But we are finite, which means there must be a line. And if there is a line, then someone has to be at the end of it.

The Bible says that we are to love all men, especially those who are near and dear to us. This new metric says that if we love those who are near and dear to us, then we must hate and despise the others. But this is radically false.

Say somebody is concerned about the chaos on the southern border. How does Russell Moore categorize this?

“An evangelical Christian who despises immigrants is an evangelical Christian who is self-defeating and self-loathing because most of the Body of Christ on earth right now not to mention heaven is not white, is not middle class, is not American, doesn’t speak English.”

Russell Moore

This is like saying that the parents of four kids, who also have taken in two foster kids, but who don’t believe they should take in 28 additional foster kids, are somehow despising those 28. No, actually. If they took them in, they would actually be despising 34.

Let the reader understand.