Pastoral Perspectives

Learning from our Father through the Son

As Christians, many of us are so familiar with Jesus teaching us to address God as ‘Our Father’ in our prayers that we may not have realised what this divine name really means and how important it is for our understanding of God. Thus it may surprise us to learn that Jesus caused quite a reaction amongst the Jews when he first talked about God as his Father (John 5:18).

The “controversy” occurred in the context of Jesus claiming that it was proper for him to perform healings on the Sabbath because he asserted that “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). What Jesus meant was that while God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, God’s work of preservation and redemption was still ongoing. In addition, Jesus associated his own ministry with that continuing work of the Father, raising the question of their unique relationship with each other.

Even before the incident recorded by Apostle John, we know that God had revealed himself to be the Father of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that “a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Considering that the very first words that God spoke to Jesus is about God’s fatherhood in relation to Jesus’ sonship, this is certainly something of great significance. Thus, some biblical scholars believe that the “opening words” by the Father of Jesus Christ tell us a great deal about what this archetypal fatherhood is like.

For example, in his book “Father Hunger”, pastor-writer Doug Wilson observed that when Jesus was baptised, His Father was there. Secondly, God made his presence felt by sending His Spirit to descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus. Third, God made His presence known by speaking. And finally, he expressed His love and pleasure for his Son. According to Wilson, in human history, there will never be a more perfect father-son moment than this moment between God the Father and God the Son. Wilson then goes on to suggest that this is the pitch that a father/son relationship needs to match – “well-pleased”. Whenever we don’t match that pitch, many things start going wrong.

If you think about it, there is much truth in what Wilson is trying to say. This is because when we look at society today, we know that there is much brokenness and suffering as a result of dysfunctional father/child relationships. While all men are the son of some man and all women are the daughter of some man, far too many of them have never heard their earthly father say anything like what the Father said to His Son. For those of us who are fathers and reading this, consider when was the last time you lovingly affirmed your child and expressed pleasure over him/her as one who belongs in your family instead of for what he/she has managed to accomplish?

Coupled with the tragic reality that there are many absentee and/or abusive fathers, it is no wonder that sometimes we find articles being dismissive of fathers such as the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic entitled – “Are Fathers Necessary?”. In that opinion piece, the writer came to the conclusion that “despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution”. What is perhaps more disturbing is that this writer claimed that a particular research has shown that two women (ie. in a lesbian relationship) parent better on average than a woman and a man. Based on that, the writer argued that the real issue is not the gender of the parents but one’s ability to parent.

While Christians can certainly agree that some single mothers have done an excellent job in raising up sons, this does not mean we should therefore downplay the necessity and importance of fathers. More importantly, we need to understand from the Bible what does God intend families and society to be like.

When we look at the statistics, what has been the cost to society and impact on those who grew up without a father or with one who is largely absent or detached from their lives? Is it really true that the presence and roles of a father are inconsequential, a matter of indifference that can be easily replaced by the opposite gender? There is much more we can discuss about the roles of a father. But at this juncture, it is suffice to say that just as a man cannot model for their daughters what a woman should be like (and we shouldn’t expect him to), there are some things that a woman is unable to do for their sons.

Undoubtedly, sound theology should undergird everything. For the Christian, God the Father provides the ultimate definition of what a father should in fact be like, while mindful that God’s fatherhood is unique and transcendent. For starters, we need to look at Jesus since He is the One who brings us to the Father (John 14:6-7, 1 John 2:23). Furthermore, we learn that the Father “sets the example” for the Son for Jesus said, “For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20).

If there is one thing that Christians must know about both God the Father and God the Son, it is that God is a gracious and generous giver (Matthew 7:9-11, John 3:16;34, John 10:27-30). Since God has not held back anything good, how should we whom God has given the privilege to be earthly fathers be like? Which aspect of our being before God do we need to commit under God’s grace such that we are not being driven by “daddy-guilt” or seduced by worldly temptations? How should we be training up our boys now, such that they will aspire to be godly fathers, doing everything wholeheartedly as unto God rather than become those who eschew marriage or choose to shirk away from parenthood like many today?

While we should never confuse a father with a mother or a male with a female, no one is suggesting that someone who is not a father need not imitate God in his character. After all, Apostle Paul exhorted Christians to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

As Christians who desire many more to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and become children of God (John 1:12), let us take heart and encourage each other to lovingly live out the different and equally important roles that God has assigned us. A nut and a bolt have different functions and it would be rather foolish and potentially harmful to handle them the same way in the name of equality. More so than ever before, the world needs to taste and see how good and life-giving it is when husbands and wives enjoy working humbly together in carrying out their different “assignments” under God. After all, life started falling apart only after Adam & Eve decided otherwise.

Rev Edwin Wong

June 20, 2021