Fatherhood is under fire in Hollywood, in the courts and in the test tube. The most noted fathers in America's entertainment subculture are an ignorant slob (Al Bundy), a shallow klutz (Tim Taylor) and a slovenly clod (Homer Simpson). Concurrently, some courts are granting adoption rights to lesbians, tossing the role of fatherhood onto a post-modem trash heap. And, with the advent of cloning, some have even declared the father obsolete. It looks like an all out effort to strip fatherhood of any purpose and value.
This, of course, contradicts God's design. He has assigned responsibilities to the father — responsibilities which make the role noble, valid, and valuable beyond our culture's comprehension. He calls the father to raise his children "… in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4, NIV). This responsibility ascribes immense value to the currently maligned paternal function, for a father's actions shape not only the child, but through the child, the surrounding culture.
The mature Christian father readily recognizes and embraces this assignment. However, there is one crucial fatherly responsibility that some of us may overlook. While we recognize the duty to verbalize God's truth to our children, we may miss the corresponding duty to reflect God's fatherhood through our actions.
The author of Hebrews referred to the earthly father's reflection of God in 12:8, 9. He illustrated our Heavenly Father's loving discipline with the example of an earthly father's loving discipline. The abstract nature of God's loving discipline was "fleshed out" through the earthly father's example. Thus, children can learn lessons of God from an earthly father's godly behavior.
The use of abba in the New Testament in reference to God also reflects the crucial link between the image of an earthly father and the Heavenly Father. When Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, "Our Father … ," He revealed the intimate relationship God desires with His children (See D.A. Carson's comments on Matt.6: 9 in Expositor's Bible Commentary). When Paul employed the term Abba Father (Romans 8:15, 16; Gal. 4:6, 7), he drew on the imagery of a small child's intimate and endearing term for his father. Thus, a wholesome, intimate relationship between father and child pictures, in part, the relationship God desires with His children. By it, a child learns tangible lessons of God's love.
However, the reverse may also be true. In Knowing God, J.I. Packer suggests that a cruel or absent earthly father presents a contrast of God which must be overcome for a person to have a healthy view of God (page 184). Christian counselors and social workers see this regularly. When one has been abused by his father, it becomes much more difficult to relate to God as a loving Father. When a father is seldom home, or if he abandons his children, they may have difficulty trusting a Heavenly Father who says He will never leave or forsake them.
Thus, a father has an awesome responsibility to teach his children about the Heavenly Father not only in word, but also by his own example.
• When a father controls his tongue and temper, his child can better grasp the truth of God's patience.
• When a father keeps his promises, even the small ones, his child can better grasp God's faithfulness.
• When a father moderates his response to disobedience, his child can better grasp God's mercy.
• When a father chooses not to remind a repentant child of past moral failures, his child can better grasp God's forgiveness.
• When a father loves fully, regardless of his child's performance, his child can better grasp God's unconditional love.
Tragically when a Christian father's actions inaccurately reflect God, his children may easily draw inaccurate conclusions about God — conclusions which may not be easily overcome. Perhaps this is why so many who have grown up in the church are no longer active Christians.
If this is true of Christian fathers in general, how much more is it true of pastors? A pastor who is also a father has an acute responsibility to model the Heavenly Father. If his children observe the communicable attributes of God in his daily life, they are better prepared to relate to God as a good Father. The resulting testimony of their lives can have a far reaching impact on their world. However, if they fail to see God's presence, patience, faithfulness, mercy, forgiveness, and love fleshed out in their own father, the negative stereotype of the "preacher's kids" will likely flourish.
Of course, the pastor's impact as father reaches beyond his own home, for others also monitor his example. Church members (adults and children alike) who have had ungodly fathers watch the pastor's relationship with his children. This, in turn, can shape their understanding of God as Father. The pastor's unsaved neighbor will also see how he treats his children and will draw conclusions, not only about Christianity, but about the God he represents. The pastor's role as father is indeed critical in the lives of his children, his church and his community.
Regardless of society's view of fatherhood, God has given fathers an awesome responsibility, privilege and opportunity to impact their world — not only through their words, but also through their example in fathering. While secular forces may challenge the role, God's design for fathering assigns immeasurable purpose and value to the father's function. And challenges to this role are legitimized only when fathers ignore their God-given responsibilities.
"Essentially, this is sort of the final nail in men's coffins. Men are now totally irrelevant, if this [cloning] is in fact true and possible and becomes routine. Men are going to have a very hard time justifying their existence on the planet, I think."
Lesbian columnist Ann Northrop, who writes for LGNY, a gay publication in New York as recorded in World, April 19, 1997.