Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father of the Year

The Arkansas Baptist News, a bi-monthly paper with all the news that's fit to print and some that's not, holds a contest every year around Fathers Day. The paper invites readers to write a brief essay and enter their good old dad in the "Father of the Year" contest.

So I was thinking that if the Bible had a "Father of the Year" contest, who would win the prize? You know, really good fathers, as we Americans romanticize them to be, are pretty hard to find in the Bible.

Adam could have won the award for several years in a row, I guess, but the man had no competition. And was he really all that great of a dad. Didn't one of his boys murder the other?

Noah did all right for the most part. He was a blameless man, most righteous man on earth at the time, so Noah and his family were the only ones God saw fit to save from the great flood. But after the flood, there was this strange episode about Noah getting drunk and falling asleep buck naked in his tent. His son Ham found him that way and went and told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Those two found a blanket, backed into the tent, and covered their father. When Noah slept off his drunk and learned what happened, he cursed his son Ham for looking on his nakedness. Ham became the father of the Canaanites, not exactly a very high class breed of people back in the day.

Abraham was pretty good, I think—at least with Isaac. Except for that little episode where Abraham almost slit Isaac's throat and burned him in sacrifice to God (a test at God's bidding, mind you), Abraham was probably a bit over-protective with this child of promise.

Isaac didn't do so well with his boys, Jacob and Esau. He played favorites with Esau and got played for chump by his other son Jacob.

And Jacob, a chip off the old block, wound up with twelve sons, playing favorites with two of them, Joseph and Benjamin, and sort of alienating the others in the process. Jacob did offer individual blessings for each of his boys though. A lot of us dads could sure do a better job of blessing our children, don't you think?

Moses is one of the three dominant figures in the Old Testament but we know virtually nothing of his kids or his fathering.

And while David was a great king, he didn't do so well at fatherhood. One of his sons raped one of his daughters. Another son killed the brother who raped their sister, and that same son later orchestrated a coup against his father—a coup he came within an inch of pulling off. And when that no good son was killed in the battle, David grieved and grieved and grieved.

Job was probably a pretty good dad. He provided well for his children and they apparently got along well with one another because they were eating together when a tornado crushed the house in which they were gathered and killed them all.

And we've got to at least tip our hats to Hosea. God told him to marry a whore as a stark example of God's opinion of His people Israel who were whoring after other gods. Hosea did what he was told. His wife Gomer bore him three children then left the family in a lurch and went right back to her whoring ways. I guess Hosea had to raise those kids on his on. And when God told Hosea to take Gomer back a few years later, he did so, setting quite an example of forgiving love for his kids.

Jump from the Old to the New Testament, and there's not many dads in there to enter in the contest. There was Joseph who more or less adopted Jesus and, except for the time he accidentally left 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem, apparently did well with him. But honestly, who couldn't do well with Jesus?

There's also Zebedee. He was the father of James and John. He taught them the fishing business and apparently let them go without much of a fight when Jesus called his sons to follow Him. But then again, James and John were known as "the sons of thunder." Was this a nickname about the boys or about their dad? Did their dad, perhaps, have a little temper problem he passed on to the boys? Who knows?

And there was also a dad here and there in the Gospels who brought sick children to Jesus, in hopes that Jesus would make them well. But we know so little about them it's hard to make a judgment as to the quality of their fathering.

Oh, and in Acts there was the Philippian jailer. No sooner did God save him than he invited Paul and Silas to his house in the hopes that his whole family would be saved. The Bible says they were. And really, that's about it for fathers in the New Testament.

I've got to tell you, the Bible doesn't appear to be all that interested in parading excellent fathers before our eyes. You'll not find many father role models in the pages of the Scripture. You'll find some fatherly counsel there: like, how dads are supposed to teach their kids day in and day out to love God, and like Paul's counsel for fathers not to breed rebellion in their kids but to raise them in the nurture and admonition of Christ. And, of course, Proverbs dishes out a little fatherly wisdom about disciplining the kids—"spare the rod, spoil the child" and all of that. Actually, when it comes to fathers, the Bible has more advice than role models. Most of the dads we see in the Scripture aren't all that different from most dads I know today: they are a mixture of the holy and the profane, they have their good moments and their bad moments, but mostly they just try to do the best they can with what they've got to work with in themselves and what they've got to work with in their children. So if you had a bad childhood and a father that wasn't so hot, why don't you cut him some slack and even forgive him if that's needed. And if you are a father who feels like you just haven't done enough, why don't you cut yourself some slack and just try to do a little better. I wish I could hold up a couple of fatherly models from the Bible and say, "Do it like these guys did it," but I really can't. Like or not, there just aren't many great father-figures in the Bible.

So is there no "Father of the Year" in the Bible? Well, there is one. In fact, I'm ready to make my nominee for "Father of the Year." I nominate … our Father God. He is the Father who made us, knitting us together in our mother's womb. He is the Father who saves us from our sin and keeps saving us a little more every single day, forgiving and restoring us as we have need. He's the Father who provides for our needs. He is the Father who loves us enough to discipline us when we go astray and get us back on the path that leads to life. And He's the Father who wants to be with His children so much that one day He will take us home to live with Him forever. What a great Father! He is, says the Bible, a Father to the fatherless, and He is a Father who can sympathize with any parent who ever gave up a child to death. If you want a model father to follow in the Bible look no further than to the Lord God himself. You will never live up to His standard, but at least He shows us the way. So praise be to God: the Father of the Year, the Father of All History, and the only perfect Father you'll ever know.


  1. Thanks John! We sometimes have almost an idolatry of a certain vision of "the perfect family". I'm glad our Father loves all us imperfect fathers.

  2. I feel honoured to have had such a wonderful, loving earthly father. It just makes me that much more excited about my heavenly Father!!!
    Thanks for the thoughts!