Our culture seems to keep moving in a direction that diminishes a father’s significance or necessity. I don’t want to get too deep into topics like “toxic masculinity” or traditional gender roles. My focus here is more on the specific impact that fatherhood has on people, and how we as Christians can shift our evangelism accordingly. There are ways that our experiences and views on dads can impact the way we see God and the world. Despite how much they may like to tell them, dads are no joke. What is the importance of fatherhood?
Fatherhood Impacts How We See the World
This is a concept that should not be controversial. Year after year, study after study, the point gets driven deeper. There is simply no substitute for a good father. That’s in no way meant to downplay the importance or efforts of mothers. It’s more to say that fatherhood is so important that we can hardly even quantify it. Both are necessary, but there is a long list of parenting essentials that can only be typically fulfilled by a father. Maybe it’s not your biological father, but a similar figure taking on that role. Either way, we can’t downplay the importance of fatherhood.
Fatherhood Impacts How We See God
This is an issue that has always fascinated me. The idea is that, intentionally or not, our fathers shape the way that we see God. In some cases, a negative experience with a human father, even something less dramatic than being absent or abusive, can be a major barrier to coming to Christ. It’s been theorized that absent or poor fathers was is a contributing factor in the beliefs of some of histories most staunch atheists like Voltaire and Nietzsche. Some have disputed the correlation, and we shouldn’t presume that every atheist had a terrible father regardless, but there does seem to be a pattern here. At first glance it seems like a strange correlation, but it makes sense with how the Bible characterizes God. So much of the language found in scripture describes God as our father.
The Bible shows us both sides of the fatherhood spectrum. On the one hand, it gives us many examples and instructions on what a good father should look like. Verses like Proverbs 3:12 or Matthew 7:9-11 make comparisons between God and a loving father. Unfortunately, many people have had fathers who weren’t loving in their discipline. Perhaps you have had a father who would give his son a snake when he asks for a fish. The Bible gives uglier examples of dads too, even among some of the heroes of the Bible. The extreme favoritism of Isaac and Rebekkah led to conflict and similar practices among their son Jacob. Jacob’s father in law Laban was such a scoundrel that he used his daughters as tools of extortion for Jacob’s labor. Later, kings in Jerusalem like Manassah and Ahaz literally sacrificed their children to idols. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
The Changing Landscape
I was recently involved in a college evangelism group where we would go around the campus and engage people in conversations. Many of us were reflecting on how we can no longer assume that people’s experiences with the church or other Christians have been positive. You don’t want to go in expecting that everyone has been burned and abused by horrible Christians, but you also can’t assume that people will have a positive association with you just because you invoke the word Christian.
Our world is much the same way with fathers. Not everyone had an abusive monster for a father. But we have reached a point where we can no longer assume that people have had a wonderful loving father. A 2016 census showed that 23% of U.S. households include children living with a single mother. Only around 69% of children were in families with two parents. With so many living without dads, it’s no surprise we are having to rethink and relearn the importance of fatherhood.
Changing our Evangelism Accordingly
If roughly one out of every three people we meet is coming from a household with no father, not even accounting for bad fathers, it’s time we adjust out language accordingly. I’m not saying we should compromise theology and start calling him God the mother or try to emphasize his motherly qualities. Instead, we need to go to the extra effort to describe what a good father looks like. Saying that God is a “Good good father, it’s who you are,” is not going to resonate with a multitude of people. If we tell people that their father in heaven loves them, and their reaction is, “I’ve already got a father, and he’s terrible. I don’t need another one,” it means we need to teach them what that means.
This can be a wonderful opportunity for us. It will take some work to learn those passages and qualities of God. As we equip ourselves to better engage our culture, we are also forced to better know our heavenly father. As we know God better, we can both understand the importance of fatherhood and experience it for ourselves.
Discuss your thoughts for this post on our Facebook Group here.