My father was not abusive. He was not perfect, and there were times in my life where I had to deal with myself, with God and with him about his imperfections and my own imperfections besides, with the love of Christ and asking and offering forgiveness. I’ve never shared anything about this, simply because it isn’t something that I would disclose simply for the morbid curiosity or malicious intrusiveness of another person, and I think that it is normal for anyone who goes through any kind of Biblically based spiritual inventory to spend some time forgiving and seeking forgiveness with one’s own family. But I write this to say that what will follow is more from my understanding of the Word of God and time of ministry than my own experience.
Billy Graham dealt with this well in his newspaper column once. I would agree with and echo every word that he wrote there. Nevertheless, I would add some more thoughts of my own of the relevance of understanding the Biblical revelation of God the Father for ministry today.
The Bible describes God as “ . . . a father to the fatherless . . .” (Psalm 68:5). Why hasn’t there been more emphasis that God is more than able to fill that void of human fatherlessness in a persons’ life, since he alone is the perfect Father? Back in 2001 George W. Bush named fatherlessness as a major problem: “Over the past four decades fatherlessness has emerged as one of our greater social problems. We know that children who grow up with absent fathers can suffer lasting damage. They are more likely to end up in poverty or drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock or end up in prison. Fatherlessness is not the only cause of these things, but our nation must recognize it as an important factor.” And many in the church were very ready to agree, but the recognition of that void in the lives of so many doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on our preaching and teaching. Moreover, the diminishing emphasis on the Trinity in contemporary worship songs, where God the Father is rarely mentioned by name anymore, seems to feed a void of understanding of God as the perfect Father in our lives as Christ.
There are two effects that I’ve noticed in the lives of those who have been marred by fatherlessness in some form. The first is a deep and persistent sense of neglect, abandonment and rejection. The second is a sense of deprivation of family, physical, spiritual and emotional guidance and provision, and often a deep and sometimes extraordinarily vindictive rage and envy toward family and even towards those whom they feel have received what they did not receive. I again must honestly say that I’ve heard very little in the preaching and teaching of the church over the years that has addressed these problems. I’ve heard it said that much of the preaching of our churches now reflects the concerns and experiences of a fairly happily married middle aged man with children who probably grew up in a Christian home, and this may well be part of the reason why these tendencies are so rarely addressed.
So then, there is a tremendous opportunity for the preaching and teaching of the church here, to serve a true need in the lives of so many. We cannot nod our heads any more about fatherlessness being a problem and then do little to nothing about addressing it. The men, women and children who have suffered from its effects stand in our pews, sing our songs, attend our Sunday School classes, and in some cases in our pulpits and in other places of leadership, and yet they may leave spiritual stymied through no one taking the time to dress their wounds lovingly. Rather, we need to emphasize that Biblical salvation means not coming into relationship with a cold disciplinarian or a distant someone who writes a check to provide for our needs. “For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:26). “For you have not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of being established as sons and daughters, by which we cry out, ‘Dad! Father!’ For the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and you believe that I have come from God” (John 16:27).