Fatherlessness is the most urgent social problem affecting our society today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department for Health and Human Services, 40 percent of all children in America will go to bed tonight without a father in the home. The effects of this are staggering, considering that 85 percent of all children with behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. In fact, fatherless children are at a greater risk of suicide, mental illness, poverty and substance abuse, and are 20 times more likely to end up in prison. However, despite these bleak statistics and the pessimism that can follow, there is hope for change and promise for our children’s future. But to see this issue overcome, we need to: 1) confront the real problem, 2) raise children up and 3) know the true Father.
To clean up a river that’s continually being polluted, you don’t keep pulling out the trash; you go upstream and seek to effect change there. The statistics reveal that many of the issues facing society can be traced upstream to the absence of fathers. That’s the real problem. But the absence of fathers means more than just dads who aren’t around; it means the dads who are around but not being fathers. Just because there’s a dad living under the roof, doesn’t mean the children have a father.
That distinction may seem strange at first, but think about it; it’s one thing to be a dad and help bring a child into the world, but it’s another thing to be a father and raise that child up to face the world. That’s why Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4). The Bible’s solution to the destructive behavior flowing from the anger that you see in kids is not to just make sure the dads are around (although that’s a start). The solution is for dads to fulfill their fatherly roles. But what is that fatherly role?
“Father knows best,” right? Hardly. Fatherhood used to evoke images of wisdom, goodness and strength, but look at virtually any popular sitcom today (like the Simpsons or Family Guy) and you’ll find the fatherly role is being completely distorted. Today, father doesn’t know best… father barely knows anything at all, and certainly nothing that spiritually benefits their family’s life and future. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not out to pick on secular sitcoms, but we need to understand the powerful images that are shaping what our culture thinks a father is. Then we need to continue to counteract those images with godly men fulfilling their true fatherly roles. So what is a father’s main role?
Raise Children Up
Put simply, a father’s primary role is to raise his children up to be followers of Jesus. That’s why Paul tells fathers to “… bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4). This means to raise them up to a place where they can move out into the world with the wisdom of God.
Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby’s fatherly character on the Cosby Show, had it halfway right. Cliff desired, more than anything, for his kids to grow up and get out of the house. Part of the humor of the show was that they always kept coming back, but Cliff was on to something. It should be the goal of every father to raise his kids to stand on their own two feet. But how is that done? Through “… the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Discipline in this verse means nourishing correction – it’s coming alongside your child and confronting his or her behavior with the truth of God. And the word for instruction means to counsel the heart. A father’s role is to raise his children up through both correction and counsel. A father must address his children’s behavior but also their heart, to speak to them and spend time with them, to teach them both the “what” and the “why” of godly living. But many people have never experienced anything close to biblical fatherhood. Some dads desire to be a biblical father to their own children or a biblical mentor to others but have never seen it modeled. Where can we turn? The hope for all of us is found in knowing the true Father.
Knowing the True Father
It’s interesting that Jesus came not to answer the question “Is there a God?” That was assumed. Jesus came to answer the question, “What is God really like?” And to that question, Jesus gave one reoccurring answer – “Father.” One of the dominant themes in Jesus’ teaching is that anyone, no matter what they’ve done or where they’ve come from, can know the Father that all of our hearts long for. By receiving the life and death of Jesus in our place and for our sins, we “receive the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). This means we can intimately know the true Father who is always ready to forgive our failures and graciously provide correction. In God we can know the Father who will never abandon us, is always ready to listen and will give the wisdom and guidance needed to navigate life. There is no such thing as a perfect father here on earth, but there is one in heaven who we can know and model our lives after.
If your dad has been a good father to you, make sure you thank him. If you’ve never experienced this type of fatherhood or seen it modeled, know that it’s available through Jesus Christ. And remember, we can all help our society flourish and be part of the solution; we do this by getting upstream and being biblical fathers and/or biblical mentors to fatherless children. Because when people know and model the one true Father, there is hope for the fatherless in any age.