My mother was eighteen when she married my father; nineteen when I was born and twenty when they divorced. For a brief time, I had a step-father – he left my mother with three more children. Though very poor (I didn’t know it at the time), I had a wonderful childhood – yet all the time I longed in some respects to know my father, to have a father. Boy Scouts, sports, and Church provided some marvelous male examples and relationships for me. I would meet my father for the first time when I was eighteen, I took him to the ASU-UA football game.
Russell Moore, author and commentator speaks much about moving against the culture. I was greatly impressed by a recent work of his regarding Joseph, the image of God and the how fathers help push against the curse:
Joseph’s fatherhood is significant for us precisely because of the way the Gospel anchors it to the fatherhood of God himself. Joseph is unique in one sense. He is called to provide for and protect the Christ of God. But in other ways Joseph is not unique at all. All of us, as followers of Christ, are called to protect children. And protecting children doesn’t simply mean saving their lives – although it certainly means that – or providing for their material needs – although, again, it does mean that. Governments are called to protect the innocent and to punish evildoers (Ro.13.1-5), which is why we should work to outlaw abortion, infanticide, child abuse, and other threats to children. Governments and private agencies can play a role in providing economic relief to the impoverished, which is why Christians weigh in on issues such as divorce policy, labor laws, and welfare reform.
The fatherhood of God is personal, familial. Protecting children means rolling back the curse of fatherlessness, inasmuch as it lies within our power to do so. When parents care for a child – their child – they’re picturing something bigger than themselves. They are an icon of a cosmic reality – the reality of the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ep.3.15).
David sings about God as “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” who “settles the solitary in a home,” tying this reality to God marching before His people through the wilderness toward Canaan (Ps.68.5-6). God shows this is the kind of God He is. He’s the kind of God, the prophet Hosea tells us, of whom we cry out, “In you the orphan finds mercy” (Ho.14.3).
God everywhere tells us He is seeking to reclaim the marred image of Himself in humanity by conforming us to the image of Christ who is the image of the invisible God. As we become Christlike, we become godly. As we become godly, we grow in holiness – different-ness from the age around us. This God-imaging holiness means an imaging of God’s affections. After delivering Israel from Egypt and speaking to them from the mountain of Sinai, God tells His people to be like Him. “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing,” God says through Moses. “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Dt.10.18-19).
You might hear some criticize the Bible as “patriarchal.” If by this they mean the Bible is about propping up male privilege or self-interest, they’re wrong. If they mean the Bible sanctions the abuse of women or denies the dignity and equality of women, they’re wrong. But depending on how one defines patriarchy, they’re correct that the Bible is patriarchal.
The ancient world’s concept of patriarchy wasn’t so much about who was “in charge,” in the way we tend to think of it, although the father of a family was clearly the head of that family. In the biblical picture, though, the father is responsible to bear the burden of providing for and protecting his family.
When God creates the first human beings, He commands them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Ge.1.28) and builds into them unique characteristics to carry out this task. The Creator designs the woman to bring forth and nurture offspring. Her name, Eve, means, “the mother of all living” (Ge.3.20). The cosmic curse that comes upon the creation shows up, for the woman, in the pain through which she carries out this calling – birth pangs (Ge.3.16). The man, as the first human father, is “to work the ground from which he was taken” (Ge.3.23). Adam, made of earth, is to bring forth bread from the earth, a calling that is also frustrated by the curse (Ge.3.17–19). In this, Adam images a Father who protects and provides for his children.
Thus, Jesus teaches us to pray to a Father who grants us “daily bread” (Mt.6.11). He points to the natural inclination of a father to give to his son a piece of bread or a fish as an icon of the patriarchy of God: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Mt.7.11).
Indeed, the apostle Paul charges any father who refuses to provide for his family with being “worse than an unbeliever” (I Ti.5.8). In fact, Paul says that such a man has already “denied the faith.” Why? It is precisely because being in Christ means recognition of the fatherhood of God. The abandoning or neglectful father blasphemes against such divine fatherhood with a counter-portrayal that is not true to the blessed reality.