If I wanted to examine the Biblical view of fatherhood, and condense it into a popular post along the lines of #10thingseveryfathershouldknow, where would I start? Because there are detailed Biblical instructions to children to obey and honour their parents, I wanted to research a different take on parenting.
Fathers in the Bible
I considered Biblical fathers: Abraham was "the father of nations" and the one son he was willing to devote to the Lord’s plans—even to the point of death. There is something to be said there, for a father’s willingness to have a family completely devoted to God, faith and righteousness—but I was looking for something more specific. We don’t know much about Joseph, the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. We do know that he was instructed to take Mary as his wife, and I suppose you could draw a lesson from this father’s protection and care for his wife as part of a healthy family unit. Again, I was looking for something more direct. Ephesians points out that fathers should not exasperate their children (Eph. 6:1-4), and they should train up their children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). Psalm 103:13 also instructs fathers to have compassion on their children. It is clear that the Bible places massive emphasis on the importance of a father’s responsibility as the head of his household (Eph. 5); for the encouragement of his children so that they never feel hopeless or despairing, and that he is accountable for the education of his children, his child’s spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing, and the care and protection of the child’s family, especially the child’s mother.
Then there is the account which Jesus told, that of the prodigal son. The parable (found in Luke 15:11-32) describes a man of waste and excess, provoking to the utmost. This young man says one day to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” We can only imagine the father’s heartbreak that his son, the younger and not the heir, demands his inheritance—which is declaring his utter indifference to his father’s estate, rejection of living under his father’s roof or according to his plans, and essentially a declaration of impatience for his father’s death and dividing of his wealth.
This father, however, shows grace in the extreme. He divides up his wealth. We don’t need to think hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to face that kind of selfish demand. And yet, once the son has squandered this wealth on all kinds of bad schemes, and reckless living—as the father must have known would happen—he demonstrates unimaginable grace again in welcoming the son back into his home, and with such boundless joy. Verse 20 tells us that “while he [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” It seems to me that the father must have been looking for him, so that while he was still a long way off, he could identify this now ragged, starved beggar as his own. And he ran.
The Calling of Fatherhood
In researching fatherhood, I began to think what lessons fathers might draw from this, lessons in grace, in self-giving, in compassion beyond all deserts and expectations.
And then I remembered that this father is God.
And it would be a really hard thing to tell fathers this Father’s Day: As a father, just go be God.
Yet, this is what fathers are called to do. (And indeed, what is the process of sanctification supposed to enact in all of us? An ever-increasing likeness to Christ and holiness). But fathers especially have a high, and challenging, duty to model Christ to their children. 1 Timothy 3 tells us that anyone in a position of leadership, such as fatherhood, undertakes a “noble task” but also they “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (2-3). 1 Corinthians 13 propounds a model of godly love by which we should be holding all believers accountable, even fathers:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1-3)
This means that a father is in the special position to model God’s most loving, most fatherly characteristics to his family. When the Bible talks about God being our father, it is a dad’s example which first springs to mind. Does it conjure the image of a caring, interested and loving father? This will come across in the way a father encourages, disciplines, prioritizes, protects, and leads his family. It should dictate the way he vents his anger, in whom he confides, what he says, how he interacts with colleagues, and what he shows as being important in his life.
Because far too many people are without. Fatherlessness is a growing social epidemic, and current research is increasingly telling us that the results of poor parenting are felt in socio-economic, academic and behavioural manifestations. And this is to say nothing of bad fathers. The reasons why we are suddenly having to explain the beauty of the words “Our Father” is because, for so many, the positive connotations are not immediately apparent.
Thankfully, we serve a God who works despite and through the evil in the world; even abusive, negligent, cruel, and absent fathers cannot block children from the Father who loves them. No matter what you have suffered at the hands of someone who should be your stability, God’s arms are open, and He will be the Father whose love is greater and stronger, and which never fails (the only one who can perfectly fulfill 1 Corinthians 13:8).
By His reckoning (as set down in 1 John 4:18-19): “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” God’s love was extended at the point where we were our most unloveable selves—the point at the beginning of the prodigal son story, where the son rejects his father and tells him he only wants the money, not the relationship. This is how we know what love is. This is how any father is enabled to love a child at all. This is how any child can love their parent, however good or bad that parent might be. We love because he first loved us. He taught us how.
So I put it to you—fathers , daughters, mothers, sons, myself—do you promote a witness of God’s love in your families? Do you appreciate the models in your life? Are you devoted to promoting godly leadership and love in your communities? Are you noticing those without godly leadership and role-models, and are you mentoring them, caring for them? Are we holding our world accountable for the bad fathers? Are we encouraging, supporting and appreciating our dads in the mammoth task they have? Are we loving and encouraging them enough? How can we show love?
God wants to welcome us into His arms as the father in the story. Godly fathers can harken us back to God, but ungodly fathers can drive us to God. While godly fathers have the unique privilege and responsibility to embody God’s fatherly, loving and embracing traits, bad fathers can also drive us into God’s arms when earthly fathers don’t provide us with love, affirmation and comfort.
So to fathers everywhere, this is your challenge: in loving your families, go be like God. And to children everywhere, go be like God. They are still fairly broad, but sound, principles. Encourage each other, bear with one another in love, and may God in His grace help us to model His love in a world that needs to know it.
the best and daddyest of dads,
without whom this post would be bland and abstract,
but completely unbiased