Summary: God is not called Father because he reminds us of dear old Dad. Exactly the opposite is true. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its name.
On the way here, as we were traveling across America last week, I saw the film _The War of the Worlds._ If you haven’t yet seen it, I heartily recommend the monsters, and the film contains great scenes carnage and destruction. It also has very satisfying scenes of the evil aliens getting their come-uppance. And, for us literary purists, the overall outline of the screenplay follows H. G. Wells’ tale pretty closely.
Running through the film, however, was a sub-plot about families, and particularly about fathers. The protagonist is a man named Ray Farrier, who turns out to be a really bummer of a father. He is divorced from the wife of his two children. His two children harbor intense resentments of him, and watching Dad Farrier relate to these two children we get to see a great many ways in which his fatherhood is deficient. And all this weaves together with the story of the invading aliens in this way – in many places, where Ray Farrier desires more than anything else to play the part of the father toward his son and daughter, he is crippled by the fact that he has not been a father.
After the film someone asked my wife if she thought the film was pro-family or anti-family. She replied that she thought the film was very pro-family, but in a negative sort of way. If you want to paint a picture of a triangle, you can do it two ways. You can present a triangle positively by painting a three-sided figure in some bold color and contrasts sharply with the background. Or you can do this negatively, by painting everything else in the background, leaving the triangle completely engendered, so that you finally see the triangle in terms of its absence. That’s how the film War of the World portrays fatherhood – it doesn’t give you a picture of a genuine father. Instead, it shows you what happens when there is no bona fide father. And, by looking at all the mistakes, the deficiencies, the tragedies, and the problems of missing fatherhood, you begin to sense how wonderful real fatherhood actually is when it’s present.
Watching a film like War of the Worlds easily prompts the question, “What, then, is a father?” If we ask ourselves that question, we can seek an answer in two ways. The most common way to get an answer to that question is to go to the Christian Bookstore, or look at an online Christian book distributor and search for titles with the word “Father” in them. If you do this, you will come up with a myriad number of books about fathers and fatherhood. And, most of them will be recipe books. Fathers do this and that, fathers avoid doing this and that. A far fewer number of books will present us case studies or small biographies of men who are deemed by the author to be good fathers. The idea is that we shall read these small biographies and attempt to mimic the lives of these model fathers.
The recipe approach is the least satisfactory, for so much of the recipe is modeled on current fashions in fatherhood. The case-study approach is somewhat better, for at the very least it is showing us some hard data about the manners and lives of men who have a reputation for authentic fatherhood.
There is an even better way to get at the meaning and essence of fatherhood, and we saw an example of this way this morning when we looked into Ephesians chapter 5. There we discovered what the Apostle Paul calls a Great Mystery. What we learned there is that human marriage – even marriage among unbelievers – is designed by God with an ultimate marriage in mind, the consummation of the age in the marriage Supper of the Lamb, when Christ the Bridegroom is united with his Bride the Church. Said another way, the meaning of your marriage and my marriage, the meaning of any marriage is not to be found in parts that make it up. Rather, individual human marriages take their shape, meaning, and destiny from a cosmic marriage at the end of the age. That marriage is the ultimate reality, our marriages, even the very first marriage in Eden – all of them are the shadows cast by that final marriage at the end of time.
There is a similar way to get at the notion of fatherhood, and we can also find it in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the third chapter of this letter, Paul writes these words,
“For this reason, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth takes its name, that he would grant to you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man …”