I think I’ve started this post 3 or 4 times. To say that I’ve wrestled with it is inadequate, tiger taming comes to mind. Sometimes words flow like a river, other times they trickle, stumble, even die away. As one who loves the river times this other flow is giving me fits. But as Henry the V says (Hal for Shakespeare addicts) “Once more into the breech” so here I go.My wrestling is with the idea of God as a good father, it’s a recurring theme this year. A friend of mine brought it to my attention as she navigated her way through a difficult season of life. Her season had a theme song,”Good Good Father” by Chris Tomlin, you can Google it if you don’t know it. I have a love hate relationship with this song, it’s catchy, it’s true but it’s musically boring. I want more words, more variation in the music more content…anyway, not the point. This idea of God as Good Father is running through my person and I can’t shake it.
I had a decent father growing up. He was a hard worker and consistent provider, funny, terrible tease, loved his family and adored my mom. They’ve been married for 58 years, many accompanied by illness, even tragedy. I was born in 1959 and those years culturally, in both the secular world and the brick and mortar church were, from all appearances vastly different than the ones we live in today. I say from all appearances because if you scratch the surface, not much has truly changed in the condition of mankind individually. Culturally we were on the cusp of an enormous secular transformation and life, as it had always been, would never be the same.
In the 70’s we had an influx of family oriented teaching, Dr. Dobson being a major spearhead in the arena of American Christian Family training. His book “The Strong Willed Child” (which is pretty much every child) changed the landscape of family dynamics eternally. The Focus on the Family radio, publishing and speaking empire was launched and the world of the American Christian was forever linked with their name. If you needed help with your family, likely your pastor was recommending a book, conference, seminar or counselor associated with or influenced by this organization. An entire generation grew up with Dr. Dobson’s parenting advice, similar to my generation’s shaping by Dr.Spock. Para-Church Ministry became an acceptably coined title for organizations outside of the brick and mortar church.
Looking back, I think church culture was starving for something to model their families on and it inhaled this ministry and it’s offspring. While youth in the 60’s and 70’s were rebelling against traditional families (of which there were few and most, highly dysfunctional) the church wanted something representative of a “healthy” Christian family. Scripture was exegesed, examples of Godly fathers and mothers, obedient children, morality tales and heroes of the faith were unearthed and promoted. A variety of excellent ministries and resources surfaced over the next 3 decades and the American church benefited greatly. But after 30+ years of this instruction families continue to suffer. Abuse, violence, abandonment, unfaithfulness, selfishness, greed, substance abuse–are hallmarks of every generation, Christian and non Christian alike. Just when I think I’ve heard it all a new story crosses my path and I’m grieved again over someone’s broken example of family.
Especially (and now we get to the point) their fathers. Moms are always blamed in the counselor’s office but when it comes to eternity, I suspect that fathers are going to feel the heat of God’s displeasure for their familial abuses. You see, God deals with fathers first. He himself made them household heads, He created man before woman and He called men to lead his nation. He created Eve to be a “helpmeet” fit for Adam. That word has been distorted, even weaponized, through the centuries but it doesn’t diminish it’s Biblical precedent. The patriarchs, Kings, priests and apostles were all men and all accountable for their actions before a holy God. Women weren’t exempt but it was men God came to first.
Leading me to this question, where is the Biblical example of a current definition of a Christian/Godly Father? I searched among the above mentioned men and I couldn’t find one that fully embodies our church culture definition. Ironically, the man who wrote the most about fatherhood in the NT was a bachelor. The Apostles presumably, had families but after Jesus called them to his fishing enterprise we rarely hear of them. Joseph, Mary’s husband, wasn’t at the foot of the cross, nor were her other sons. I have this mental image of Joseph saying to her, “Enough! I raised this boy and all he does is say ‘My Father’ and it isn’t me he’s talking about. I wash my hands of him, he’s on his own!” There are Godly men, but their fathering efforts?! Every example of a Godly leader included instances of some pretty unacceptable husbandly or fatherly behavior by today’s definition, leaving God with a big example gap to fill!
Have you ever noticed that we give a pass to terrible fathers? We make excuses, forgive too easily, allow them to be present in our lives without limitation? Our memories are soft on fathers, even idolizing them. (Mothers on the other hand…!) It simply reinforces the idea that we are starving for a father relationship. That deep hunger will tolerate any behavior even if it minimally feeds our “father longing”. Maybe it’s because of my BSF study of John and Jesus’ continual claim that “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen my Father”. Maybe it’s due to the incredibly painful family stories I’ve listened to this year, or maybe it’s just merely the season, but I’m deeply burdened with this message of God as the Good Father.
So what example do we have of a Biblical father? Who will show us what a Father should be like, look like and act like?
That little baby, born humbly at a time in history that was ripe for his person. Known to a small portion of the inhabited world and intimately, by only a small group of men and women. Yet his coming and life changed the entire course of human history. Teacher, healer, deliverer, sin forgiver, temple cleaner, apolitical, lover of the unlovable, carer for the marginalized, elevator of women, promoter of childish trust and innocence. Though he was never an earthly husband or father he was intimately acquainted with the heavenly one. His miracles challenged the very religion he was born to. His teaching endangered his life. His claim of divine status made him the ultimate human sacrifice.
And yet, he came.
We can know the Good Father because of Jesus. A Father that longs to be known by us. His longing for us is as great, if not greater than our longing for him! All of our broken family life experiences can be redefined by the one who created us to know him intimately. And all because of his son, willing to come here and show us what the Father was like. I don’t know where I’d be in this life without the intimacy of my Good Father.
I hope that at this Christmas season, fatherhood is redefined for all of us. God is not only a Good Father, he’s the Best Father.