By Rich Gant
My little toddler Betsy has been prompting me lately, by her increasing devotion to me, to take a more careful examination of my attitudes toward the responsibility of fatherhood. Already my stamp of personality is imprinting on her, as it cannot help but do in our baby son, as well. Betsy eats peanut butter because Daddy likes it. She “shaves” her face with her blocks, and wants to “preach” and “lead singing” because Daddy does. She wants to work with her tools, drive her car, and wear glasses because Daddy does. So I find myself looking for guidance from God’s word for help with the important role I have happily accepted, knowing I’m being watched with scrutiny by little brown eyes.
One of the best models we have for fathers is seen in the interaction of the Father with the Son of God. We realize, of course, that there are certain limitations to this model. Namely, that Christ existed eternally with the Father, and that, unlike us, Christ is the perfect son. So, we’ll not learn anything about dealing with “the trouble-some two’s” or “the tyranny of teens” or any topics similar to that. But I do believe there are some vital concepts that we can learn about the proper role of fathers from God’s relationship with his beloved Son.
When we consider the biblical teaching on this subject, the main point is that they had a uniquely intimate relation-ship. We remember 2 Samuel 7:14, when God declared concerning the descendant of David, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me.” The lasting quality of this relationship was announced with power by the resurrection (Rom. 1:3-4). Jesus was ever aware of his special place as the Son. Christ’s use of “Abba, Father” as he communed with God in the garden would have seemed sacrilegious to the Jews of his day (Mark 14:36). Yet Jesus is so confident of his unique relationship with God that he regularly speaks of him as my Father!
Just as the relationship between our heavenly Father and his dear Son is uniquely intimate, so also is the relation-ship between a father and his children. It cannot be fulfilled by some other person, nor is it a relationship that can be handled by “One Minute Managers.” Sometime ago a friend of mine related a problem that had surfaced because his wife was caring for other people’s children in their home. (They were strapped for money and this seemed the only viable answer to their financial woes.) Several of the kids lacked dads in their own homes, so my friend became the closest substitute they could find. They loved him and he genuinely loved them, but the problem was that occasionally he felt the need to demonstrate his special relationship to his own children by taking them with him for some special outing. The other children would usually object and cry out in disappointment. He would try to explain to them the best that he could that, while he loved them, he wasn’t their real daddy. He knew it was necessary to communicate to his own children that their relationship was special! If it meant some momentarily hurt feelings by those who were not his own family, well then so be it. I think he made the right choice. As Christians, we’re often faced with so many opportunities to do good for “all men” that we lack the vision to realize the needs of those closest to us. Indeed, we cannot fail to let our children know daily how special they are to us. If we do fail, we fail to be as God would have us to be.
Another way we fathers can model God’s example in fatherhood is to recognize that the relationship between Christ and his Father is founded upon love (John 3:35; 5:20). If the Father did not love the Son, the cross would be a barbaric bribe to buy off a ruthless god. But it is precisely because the Father loves the Son that they become joint-participants in the price that is paid to God’s sense of justice (Rom. 3:21-31). As they make their way to Mt. Calvary, it is with the same sense of dread that Abraham and Isaac faced Mt. Moriah. For John 3:16 to have any true significance, the love of the Father for the Son must be unmatched by any other relationship! Christ’s death was a sacrifice that the Father made and felt equally a heartache and anguish born form their deep mutual love.
While I am certain that any father who is reading this article loves his children, let me ask you, how good are you at letting them know it? We men often seem to have been poured into a hard plastic mold of stoicism that keeps us from being as demonstrative with our feelings as we should be, perhaps as a result of our upbringing or our own pride. Sometimes we get tired of trite bumper sticker slogans, but let me ask you sincerely, “Have you hugged your child today?” An older brother helped alleviate a lot of my fears in being a father when he told me, “Whatever you do in correcting your children, make sure that they know it is born out of love for them, and then even your mistakes will be acceptable to them” (cf. 1 Pet. 4:8). Love is more than a word to be spoken it is an action to be lived.
The reason Jesus can say “yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt” in Mark 14:36 is that he never doubts for a moment his Father’s love for him. The heavenly father did not just dump Jesus here on Planet Earth, but provided for him in every way. He gave him the best of earthly parents in Joseph and Mary, and he provided Jesus with everything necessary both physically and spiritually to live each day as he should. God made sure his beloved Son grew up in an atmosphere of nurturing, surrounded by love, exposure to the Scriptures, the increasing rewards and demands of physical labor and responsibility, and daily bread adequate for his growth. Since such love and provision had been made for Christ throughout his stay upon our planet, He never doubted that what the Father was requesting was indeed necessary. Fathers, if we love our children and provide for them in a similar manner, they will never doubt that our admonitions and instructions are ultimately for their own good.
Finally, we note that Jesus knows his Father in a way that is direct, innate and unmediated. He has a complete knowledge of his Father. None of us this side of heaven can know the Father as well as Jesus knows him (Matt. 11:27; John 3:35; 10:15; 16:15). He knows his Father intimately well and that is why he is so like him (John 1:18, 8:26-29; 12:49-ff). In fact, if we desire to truly know the Father, we must first come to know the Son (John 14:7-ff). In every way possible Jesus is a mirror image of his Father (Heb. 1:3).
Someday your child may be looking into a “mirror” and see your reflection staring back at him. Will he frown and shake his head in disgust or smile and rejoice, thanking God for the earthly father he sent to care for him? Fathers, we must recognize how well our children know us. We need to be genuine and consistent in all that we say and do. God the Father asks nothing of Christ that he himself would be unwilling to do. Jesus can look to his Father and never doubt how he is going to respond in any circumstance. Jesus responds accordingly. Fathers, how are we living? What kind of example are we setting for our children? The brown-eyed child with peanut butter lips will turn out to be a loving, obedient, faithful servant of God or sadly otherwise based in large extent upon how closely I model God the Father to her. This may require some sacrifice on my part, some extra effort, some increased self-discipline. But my Betsy is well worth all this and more.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 12 p. 13-14
June 19, 1997