This weekend, the vocation and mission of fathers is celebrated by society. As fathers are honored, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the rich biblical notion of fatherhood.
The love that God has for each of us reaches its fullest expression in the one word: Father. This single word summarizes the fullness of concern, care, acceptance, affection, protection, affirmation, discipline, and selfless service that God generously offers to his children.
God’s entire being is Father. On earth, certain men are blessed with the title “father,” since their calling in life is to reflect these attributes of God in their families.
Any man, therefore, who has been given the vocation of fatherhood is merely imitating the same role that God fulfills over the whole of humanity.
The Sacred Scriptures go to great length to describe a good father. Each of these attributes give us a glimpse into the fatherhood of God. A father’s love, according to divine wisdom, is expressed in how he protects, cares for, feeds, provides for, and teaches his children. In particular, a father’s instruction is focused on truth, virtue, discipline, and hard work.
In particular, the Bible calls on fathers to be motivating, accessible, and always ready to affirm and discipline their children when they succeed or fail, prosper or suffer. A father’s love must be constant and unconditional. He is to be a foundation for his children that never wavers or cracks.
In addition, a father instructs his children on righteous suffering and selfless service. He dies to himself by loving his wife without deference to himself or his desires, as Christ loves the Church. A man’s children witness this generous love to their mother. They also experience this same sacrificial love towards themselves as their father loves and cares for them.
A father also teaches his children about fortitude and charitable service to the widow, orphan, and other vulnerable people. A true father extends his paternity to the common good. He is attentive to any attacks against the innocent or weak.
It is vital for human fathers, therefore, to realize that they have been marked with a special calling and are to serve as witnesses of God our Father. They are summoned to selflessly accept this vocation that God has given them and to labor throughout their lives to fulfill its responsibilities in a loving and virtuous way.
Admittedly, the men who are called to be fathers are found across the spectrum of temperament, personality, abilities, and virtue. Although fallen themselves, most earthly fathers do their best to love and care for their children.
Yes, the gift of fatherhood is given to weak men. They hold this heavenly treasure in “earthen vessels”—namely, in their own brokenness and sinfulness. Even the best of fathers will sometimes get distracted, make mistakes, and forgo the glory that has been entrusted to them. This is why, at every turn, men-turned-fathers are beckoned by God to pay attention, to do their best, and to always seek to be true ambassadors on earth of our Father in heaven.
With these explanations, we can now see fatherhood in a rightly ordered way, from the heavens to the earth. We can realize that the best way we “let God be God” is by accepting his own revelation of himself—namely, to accept the revelation that God is forever Father.
As human beings, we are hardwired for community and need acceptance, love, and belonging. We were made this way since we were created in the image of the living God. And God is not eternal solitude. The living God dwells forever as a divine family: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were created in the image of this divine family. God searches for us, he calls to us, and invites us to be a part of his divine family. Jesus desires to show us the way to the Father.
In our sinfulness, we want to make God a harsh judge or cruel master. We want to see ourselves as slaves, as if God is repressing us or destroying our freedom. The master/slave paradigm, however, is completely dismantled by the teachings of Jesus Christ. He unveils that God is a loving Father and that we are called to be in his family. God wants a Father/child relationship with us. He wants us to flourish, grow, and prosper as his children.
In this way, we can say that the single word “father” is a summary of the entire plan of salvation. And this is the important biblical view that is the substance behind our culture’s honoring of fatherhood this weekend.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby. Parts of today’s column were taken from Father Kirby’s recent book, Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord’s Prayer in Everyday Life.