Today is Father’s Day and I guess it is only right that this perspective should be about fatherhood. But my best experience in this field is probably irrelevant to most of the fathers, except for those who also keep dogs as beloved pets. Well, I remembered preaching a sermon on Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and their faith in the face of death. So allow me to share three lessons on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
When we think of Abraham as a father, I suppose most of us would know how he had actually tried to sacrifice his own son. Surely that’s not the kind of model we need. However we know also that God was testing his obedience. So for our purpose here, I would like us to put aside God’s specific call to sacrifice Isaac and approach it from a different angle. I want us to instead imagine in our mind a religious Abraham going on a pilgrimage to the mountain to offer sacrifice and his son having to follow him without fuss. Freeze that image! Now what can we learn about fatherhood from it?
The lesson I have may sound strange to you initially. That is, do not to allow faith to blind you in your role as fathers. So what do I mean? Most religious parents and more so for Christian parents, would desire their children to embrace the same faith as they do. But they can be overly zealous with that desire such that they fail to exercise their God-given responsibilities as fathers to love, care and meet the needs of their children. So some may become very authoritarian and expect their children to follow them to church without fuss. Some may devote whatever free and precious time the families have on kingdom business. So it is always about going on a religious pilgrimage to church to worship and serve God. But if that is all the children get from their fathers, my fear is that they may grow to despise the things they have to go through or do for God’s sake. And if that is the case, then faith has blinded the fathers. So fathers, the best way to help your children love God is not to burden them with your religious zeal but to show God’s love to them in the home by being the fathers they need. Let us not use God as an excuse for not fulfilling responsibilities as fathers.
What about Isaac? The image I have is of his two sons bringing their delicious food to please him. If the lesson on Abraham is about placing too much emphasis on God and neglecting the children’s needs, then the lesson here on Isaac is about placing too much on ourselves and disregarding the children’s feelings. Yes, it is true that God had planned for the younger brother to receive the blessings but the way Isaac went about with it was really his own idea. Because of his desire to satisfy his gastronomic craving before he dies, he gave Esau false hope. As a result, Esau hated his brother and married a Canaanite woman just to spite his father. Jacob on the other hand feared his brother and had to flee. Yes, God’s will was still done but it came at a cost to the children.
So do you also use your children to fulfill whatever desires that you may have? Some fathers see their children as who they want them to be than who they really are. So some insist that their children should follow them and be lawyers. Others want their children to become the doctors that they have failed to be. Some fathers may also measure the value of their children by what they can do for the family than what they can become for themselves. So they show favours to the ones who can satisfy their desires or serve their needs. Such environment cannot create the right atmosphere for the children to love and respect each other. It would only cause sibling rivalry and stir up hatred. So fathers, if you want your children to love themselves and their siblings, then you need to love them more than yourselves and to love them for who they are, not how useful they can be.
Now what about Jacob as a father to many sons? Why did he have so many sons in the first place? From a biblical perspective, they were born to him so that Israel would have twelve tribes of descendants. From a human perspective, his children came about because of the tensions played out by his two wives, Rachel and Leah. They had used children as a mean to get their husband’s attention. So the final lesson here on fatherhood is about the father’s relationship with his wife. If tension should exist between the parents, we shouldn’t be surprised that children are affected in some ways, even if they are still loved and cared for. Fathers need to be careful not to burden children with baggage from their relationship with their mothers. Children’s lives are not the stage for parents to play out whatever tensions they may have in their marriages such that children are made to feel that they were the cause of it. So fathers, if you want your children to have a healthy environment to grow up, then it is important that you remember and keep the marriage vows you have made before God.
So here are the three lessons on fatherhood from the patriarchs for this Father’s Day. To put it simply, being a good father involves more than how you love, nurture, teach and provide for your children. It also includes how you relate to God, view yourself and treat your wife in the context of family. It is about holistic living that is spiritual and pleasing before God. And one final observation about the patriarchs before I sign off, i.e. they were not perfect or exemplary fathers but were still counted as faithful men. God can use their shortcomings to fulfill his work. So do not despair when you feel lacking as a father. His grace is sufficient if you would trust and obey him. Finally, I wish all fathers reading this a happy and blessed Father’s Day.
Pastor Ronnie Ang
June 17, 2012