Dear Christian Parents,
I saw the movie Courageous over the weekend and thought it was excellent. I would recommend it to anyone from about age twelve and above. (It is rated PG-13 only because of some tense scenes involving police officers and drug-selling gang members.) The message of this movie is vitally important, and I am very pleased to know that it is reaching a wide audience. Quite simply, the movie demonstrates how the involvement of fathers is essential for the upbringing of children and illustrates the passive failures of fathers that are so common in our nation.
I included a letter to fathers in my book Dear Christian Parents: An Appeal for Homeschooling, and I would like to offer another letter to reinforce this message here. The Bible’s message regarding fathers is that they should take the lead role in the lives of their children, which includes leadership in the matter of education. Unfortunately, many fathers have not accepted their God-given roles, and generations of children have suffered because of these fatherhood failures.
(The remainder of this letter is derived from a sermon I gave some years ago. Some of the statistics may be slightly out of date, but the message is still very relevant. It is rather long, but this topic deserves some substantive discussion and thought. Stay with me!)
At some point in the last century, fatherhood went out of style in the United States. Child psychologists determined that a father’s importance in a child’s development was a distant second to a mother’s. Feminists, who vilify everything connected to men, denounced a father’s influence on a child as unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Many men were happy to go along with this new disregard for fatherhood and to abdicate their responsibilities for raising their children.
Now America has become a fatherless country. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI):
- 24 million children live absent of their biological fathers. That represents 34 percent of all children.
- 20 million children live in single parent homes, representing 27 percent of all children. This proportion has risen from 9 percent (7 million children) in 1960.
- 40 percent (9.6 million) of children in father-absent homes have not seen their fathers in the last year.
- 50 percent of children living absent of their fathers have never entered their fathers’ homes.
As a result, we now have a disaster in our society. The effects are seen throughout our nation, although many may not see the connection to the decline of fatherhood. According to the NFI:
Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
As if the problem of absent fathers is not enough, many of the fathers who are in the home with their children do not raise their children properly. Some have the wrong perception that a father’s role is solely financial. Many are confused and do not know what the role of a father is supposed to be.
The popular image of the modern father is not one to inspire responsibility. The popular portrayal of a father in television and movies is that of a bumbling fool who can do nothing for his child and is little more than a child himself. There is nothing wrong with comic personalities, but there is no balance for them that portrays the necessity of a good father. “Father Knows Best” is a distant memory.
Worst of all are the spiritual effects that are evident in our society as a result of fatherhood failures. Individuals are profoundly affected in their relationships with God because of their fathers’ failures. Individuals are also affected in their relationships with others because of their fathers’ failures. Even the church suffers from a lack of qualified leadership because of fathers’ failures.
How did this happen? The two major reasons that so many children are living without their fathers in the United States are easily discernible. The first reason is that divorce rates doubled from 1965 to 1980 so that now 40-50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, affecting one million children each year. Moreover, 43 percent of first marriages last fifteen years or less. To our shame, the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. The second reason is the increased rate of unwed childbearing. This rate of increased by more than 600 percent from 1960 to 2000, from under 5 percent to 33 percent. A staggering 1.35 million children (33 percent) were born out of wedlock in 2000.
The deeper question is: Why have the rates of divorce and unwed childbearing increased so sharply? The reasons are many. There are social reasons, such as the so-called “sexual revolution” (more like devolution), humanism, popular psychology, and feminism. There are also legal reasons such as the “no fault” divorce laws and welfare policies that discourage marriage. There are even economic reasons, such as women in the workplace and the increased cost of living. Most importantly, there are spiritual reasons. Many have little or no knowledge of the basics of God’s word and much less understanding regarding God’s design for marriage and children. The “me-first”, humanistic philosophy has led many away from God. This philosophy has spread like wildfire thanks to the humanist public school system.
These same factors have also contributed to the failures of fathers who are present in the home with their children. Many do not know what a father is supposed to do. They have never been taught nor have they ever seen fatherhood exemplified. On one extreme, society has taught men that they are no more than providers of money to the mother and the children. On the other extreme, society has taught many men to act more like mothers than like fathers. Androgyny is the concept that men and women both should have male and female characteristics. As each year passes by, our society makes more attempts to blur the lines between the roles of males and females. At some point, in the name of equality, it seems that somebody decided it would be best for men to become more like women and women to become more like men. Thus, men and women could meet in the middle and be exactly the same. Here is the big problem with trying to achieve androgyny: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Men and women were made different from each other from the beginning, and nothing will ever change that fact. Men are equipped to provide things for a child that are different than what a woman provides. A child needs both a man and a woman to be raised complete as God intended.
The true root cause of these problems is that many have turned away from God and His ways. They have given in to lust and self-indulgence along with the wisdom of man, which aggravate the problems from many angles.
How important is fatherhood? How can it be measured? Well, fatherhood must be extremely important because the figure of fatherhood is used repeatedly in Scripture to describe God Himself. This figure signifies the relationship that God has with His followers. Fatherhood represents love, discipline, instruction, protection, and sustenance. Just as a man provides these things for his children, God the Father provides even more to His children.
To appreciate the role of fatherhood and its representation of God Himself, let’s consider Hebrews 12:5-11.
[Y]ou have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
This passage draws on our understanding of the role of a father to explain how God disciplines us. Because we understand fatherhood, we can also understand discipline from God and revere Him for it. This passage even goes as far as to say that if we are not disciplined by a father, we are “illegitimate children and not sons.” It quotes Proverbs 3:12 (also 13:24), saying, “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” Because God does discipline us, we can take comfort in knowing that God is our Father and that we are considered His own children. What if a person has no understanding of fatherhood? What does this passage mean to him? Can he fully understand the discipline of God if he has not had these experiences with a father?
Anyone who does not understand and respect fatherhood will have difficulty understanding the Bible’s presentation of God as the Father. For one who does not understand a father’s authority, he is unlikely to understand God’s authority. To him, any discipline is abuse, and any instruction is tyranny. Such a person who grows to adulthood will despise any effort made to restrain him or guide him. Such a person is stupid according to the Bible. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1). God’s word calls this person a fool: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). He is incapable of learning the fear (respect) of the Lord because he does not first know respect for a father.
Therefore, we must understand just how important a father is to his child. The child’s first experience with authority is with his parents. In that relationship as God ordained it, the child is brought into the family where marriage is the foundation. In marriage, the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), and therefore the father is the head of the family. A child learns submission to authority and the benefits of it from this family structure. This understanding is then projected onto other relationships in adulthood such as a person’s submission to government and to God. When fathers fail to provide the structure where this understanding is learned, then the child will likely grow to be an adult who struggles to cope with authority.
It is the father who is given the responsibility of disciplining and instructing the child. “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Again, consider Hebrews 12:8, which says that an undisciplined child is an illegitimate child, that is to say, he is the same as a child with no father. (By the way, it is the father who is truly illegitimate.) Fathers must provide discipline and instruction by word and by example. Just as the fathers of Israel were commanded to teach their sons in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, so also fathers of this age must do the same. Fathers must be about the business of caring for the family. In fact, the word family is translated from the Greek word patria, which is derived from pater, which means “father” (see Ephesians 3:14-15). Too often fathers are abdicating their family responsibilities completely to mothers. Such a family is a matria instead of a patria, a mother-guided family instead of a father-guided family.
To emphasize the gravity of this responsibility as already demonstrated, let us state this plainly. The relationship between a father and his child is a model for the child of the child’s future relationship with God. The father represents to his young child a figure of God Himself. What more needs to be said for how important a father is to his child?
Every child who is growing up absent of his or her father is not doomed to failure. Likewise, not every child who has a wonderful, godly father is destined for success. We are all free to choose good or evil, and no childhood environment takes that choice away. However, a child’s potential to make wise choices and to succeed is greatly affected by the impact of his or her father.
Thankfully, fatherhood is on the comeback. Many organizations now exist to promote the idea of fatherhood (NFI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Fatherhood Initiative, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics). These organizations prove that society is recognizing the need for fathers as it has seen the damage caused by fatherhood failures. None of these organizations are really necessary if men would simply take on their God-given responsibility to act as fathers. If men will fulfill their obligations as fathers, the benefits to their children, their families, their churches, their communities, and their nations will be beyond measure.
Regards in the Lord,
© 2011 Dear Christian Parents