Fathers’ Day is every bit as important as Mothers’ Day, even though it receives much less attention and has traditionally attracted much less significance. In fact, I think it’s even more important.
Don’t mistake me: I think it is incredibly important to cherish and honour our mothers, to whom we owe so much. But when you look round at society, what do you see in shorter supply? Mothers, or fathers? How often do you hear of broken relationships between mothers and children, of children abandoned by mothers, of boys and girls desperate for mother-figures? The sad truth is that fathers find it all too easy to leave their children, more easy than mothers, which is why there are far more children out there lacking fathers than mothers. Society is desperately short of good fathers, to the point of starvation. The results in society are plain to see: generations growing up with a negative impression of fathers; boys who’ve never been show what being a man really looks like, a severe shortage of stable relationships because the precedent of single-parent families is so pervasive.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to see this as part of a wider crisis of identity among men. As traditional Bible-based masculinity has been watered down and come under increasing fire, men find themselves unsure of whom they are supposed to be. Often the result of this is a lurching to the extremes of either excessively macho or absurdly emasculated. Fewer and fewer seem to be in the correct and healthy middle ground, where strength is needed, yet sensitivity esteemed. Where does this elusive blend come from? It’s the Biblical portrait of fatherhood, a portrait modelled by God for His children.
The essence of God’s heart is fatherhood. Before the universe was created, He was father to Jesus, and that fatherhood He later also expressed towards the human beings He created. He created Adam, and all the men that followed him, with an in-built capacity for imitating this fatherhood, however imperfectly. Israelites in the Old Testament were aware of God being their father (Isaiah 63:16), but consciousness of God’s fatherhood reached a whole new level in the New Testament.
Jesus is keenly aware of God’s fatherhood, consistently referring to Him as ‘Father’ throughout John’s gospel and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). And it was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that removed the barrier between ourselves and God and allowed us to appreciate God’s fatherhood on a deeper level (1 John 4:10).
Paul made a point of focusing on this concept. His favourite way to start a letter was to say ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father’ (a formula with which he started the letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, the Thessalonians and Philemon). He expands more fully on this in both Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:14-17), explaining that we are no longer strangers to God, but sons and daughters, children and heirs. This is not a privilege extended to everyone (see John 8:31-47), but to those who do have it, it is an astonishing privilege, allowing us not just to call God ‘Father’, but also ‘Abba’, or ‘Daddy’. This is not a distant or formal relationship, but one of great intimacy and affection.
When echoing Paul’s theme, John marvels when he writes: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1).
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
To this love and intimacy the Bible adds discipline as an essential ingredient of fatherhood: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:4-12). If this were a full study of Biblical fathership, then a lot more could be said, but from these few passages we see that true fathership needs both strength and discipline, and love and tenderness. That is exactly what this society is crying out for. It is the kind of fathering I received from my Dad, who showed me how to be strong, how to love others, and how to follow God’s example. These things he passed on to me from his Father, God; and these things I hope one day to pass on to my children.
So you see, this should be both Fathers’ Day and Father’s Day. A day when we honour and thank our earthly fathers. When we re-emphasise the true elements of being a father, and publicly celebrate the good role models. But also a day when we recognise and remember God as the original and the ultimate father. And I hope that this true picture of fatherhood is one that can be appreciated by more and more people in the world, driving out the negative experiences and associations. Let no one complain about commercialisation or sentimentality. This is a time to be thankful for the good we have received, and a time to be mindful of what we pass on to others.