What's in a Father?
- O. Palmer Robertson
- Read Time: 5 mins
All ‘round the world people celebrate one day as Father’s Day. But what is a father?
Jesus embodies the ideal human being by his life, death and resurrection. So God the Father embodies everything inherent in the idea of fatherhood.
First, the father is the “generator of life” for the family. God the Father created and shaped all aspects of human life. He declared and determined, “Let us make man in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). In addition, God the Father forms each individual in the womb. As the psalmist proclaims, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psa. 139:13).
All human beings, since the first couple, have had a father who “fathered” them. Apart from a father, no human being has ever come into existence. Your human father was your earthly generator. As such, he contributed to your brain capacity, your physical strength, your emotional constitution. Not by accident are you what you are. God the everlasting Father designated a specific human father for you.
Don’t blame your earthly father for any deficiencies you find in yourself. Instead, give God thanks for exactly who you are, when you are, and where you are. Your existence, including the identity of your earthly father, derives directly from God. No matter how weak and frail, or how strong and wise your earthly father may be, all the circumstances of his fatherhood come from the hand of the heavenly Father. He has appointed your earthly generator.
Secondly, the father is the appointed provider of life. He may be a good provider or he may be a bad provider. He may be an always-present provider or he may be an always-nonpresent non-provider. He is not the only provider of the family. The wife, the uncle, the older brother or sister may also provide as need arises.
Don’t take it for granted if you are blessed to have a father who provides for you. Reckon it to be one of God’s great blessings if your father provides food, clothing, shelter and education. But if not, don’t curse God. Accept the challenge that many other people in the world have had before you. You may actually mature into a stronger person if you must provide for your own necessities in life. Even Jesus, growing up with a number of brothers and sisters, practiced the family carpenter’s trade until he was about thirty years of age (Mark 6:3; Luke 3:23).
But in any case, the father is the appointed provider for the family. God has ordered it, and you may be thankful for it.
Thirdly, the father is the covenantal head of the house. Eli the priest of Israel had two very wicked sons. He never restrained them, and so they grew up expecting to get whatever their lustful hearts desired. They took women for themselves when they came to worship. They feasted on the choicest corn-fed beef (1 Sam. 2: 12-16; 22). They died an unpleasant death at the hands of Israel’s enemies.
The earthly father bears the responsibility of setting the spiritual tone of the home. No father will be perfect. But if your father prays with you, teaches you from the Bible, and sets before you an example of godly living, give glory and thanks to your gracious Father in heaven. In any case, the earthly father is the covenantal head of the house.
In a distinctive phrase, the intimacy of the Lord’s relation to his people is regularly called a “Covenant of Love.” Moses described the LORD’s intimate relation to his people as a “Covenant of Love” (Deut. 7:9, 12). Four hundred years later, Solomon designated the LORD’s bond with his people as a “Covenant of Love” (1 Kings 8:23). Then an additional five hundred years later, Nehemiah depicted the ongoing relationship of the LORD to his people as a “Covenant of Love” (Neh.1:5; 9:32; Dan. 9:4). And five hundred years later, the Apostle John, known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” declared: “How great is the 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). As the covenantal head of the family, every earthly father is called to reflect this same covenantal love, to be a “love machine,” forever manufacturing love that embraces the whole of the family.
Fatherhood has its ultimate origin in the covenantal love of God the Father. How gracious he is to allow sinful men to reflect his loving fatherhood in the covenantal bonds of an earthly family.