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Father HungerWhy God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families
By Douglas Wilson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Douglas James Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFirst Words
I once heard a conference speaker make a profound point in passing, a point that has stayed with me in the years since. He said that the first recorded words spoken by a human being were the words spoken by Adam when the Lord presented his wife to him. When Adam first spoke, it was in response to a woman, and the words he spoke were poetry. We really need to learn how to take more careful notice of those "opening words."
We should pay special attention also to the first words spoken by the Father of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the New Testament. We know from all of Scripture that God is the Father of Jesus Christ—He is God the Father, after all—but these opening words tell us a great deal about what this archetypal fatherhood is like.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:16–17)
There is a world of information about fatherhood in these two brief verses. First, when Jesus was baptized, His Father was there. Second, He made His presence felt by sending His Spirit to descend like a dove in order to rest upon Jesus. Third, He made His presence known by speaking. And so what did He say? His statement corresponded with the giving of the Spirit in that the Father identified with His Son. He said, "This is my Son." Fourth, He expressed His love for His Son—"This is my beloved Son." And last, He expressed His pleasure in His Son. The first thing we are told about the relationship of the Father to the Son is that the Father thought His Son was doing a great job.
So this is what fatherhood is like. This is where fatherhood reaches its ultimate expression. In human history, there will never be a more perfect father-and-son moment than this moment between Father and Son. This is the keynote—pleasure. This is the pitch that a father/son relationship needs to match—"well pleased."
When we don't match that pitch, a lot of things start going wrong. In fact, so many things start going wrong that we sometimes miss the source of all the trouble. In our generation we are confronted with many social dislocations that all go back to a foundational father hunger. All men are the son of some man, and all women are the daughter of some man, but far too many of them have never heard their father say anything like what the Father said to His Son.
Well pleased is an alien concept to many of us, and because it is so unknown, we have a great deal of cultural debris to work through. That being the case, we should perhaps get started.
As we look around, we know that we are broken, but we somehow assume that our notions of fatherhood are intact. But perhaps it goes the other way. Perhaps our world is as broken as it is because our understanding of fatherhood was shattered first. Mike Wilkerson puts it this way:
Tragically, for many of us the Father-child relationship is fraught with fear, shame, dread, disappointment, or absence. For some of us ... the word father has been darkened by the worst evils. Can you ever hope to know God as your Father if your view of father is so broken?
But this problem can be turned around, and should be turned around. Our understanding of fathers, and our subsequent understanding of everything else, cannot be put right until we rediscover the Father. This is not written for unbelievers alone. There are many professing Christians who are emotional atheists. "We may hold onto orthodox ideas about [the Father], but our hearts disconnect," says Wilkerson; "our affection cools; we just don't trust him." We assume too readily that it is impossible for us to turn back to the face of the Father, but there actually is good news for people just like us.
Like the father in the story that Jesus told about the prodigal son, He is looking down the road for us.
Chapter TwoWhat Fathers are For
After being introduced to the principles that undergird this book, one young father once exclaimed, "Now I know what I am for!" Fatherhood is not some optional add-on extra, but rather is something central, not just to a well-adjusted suburban family with all the white picket fence trimmings, but to all things in heaven and on earth. Fathers really do matter.
Much of what will be argued throughout the course of this book will not seem very enlightened or progressive to today's average reader, and so we must begin by addressing the problems created by something called egalitarianism. We shouldn't be put off by this elongated word—we all know plenty of other big words that don't bother us, like delicatessen or basketball. Egalitarianism simply means "equalism," and like a number of other similar words, the poison in that word is found in the ism.
Now of course we know and agree that there is an important sense in which we are all supposed to be treated as equals. In a court of law, for example, we know that the rules governing admissible evidence should not vary in accordance with the income bracket of the defendant. And this kind of equality in our human courts is, at its best, a reflection of the equality we can expect to find before the throne of God on the final Day of Judgment. Blondes will not get favored treatment there, and neither will men who graduated from an Ivy League school. That boyish grin that got you through so many scrapes as a young man will have lost a good deal of its persuasive charm.
And in the same way, but on the flip side, the salvation that is offered in Christ knows no rank or station. God saves kings and Pharisees, women and laboring men, white men and black women, slaves and aristocrats. In Christ, as Paul famously says, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free (Gal. 3:28). There is obviously an important kind of "equality" here as well, and no truehearted Christian should ever be suspicious of it.
So in what sense can "equality" ever be bad? In what sense, then, is egalitarianism a "poison"? A moment's reflection should show how a mistake here could be very easy to make. From hearing that someone from group X and someone else from group Y should be treated the same in a court of law, someone might easily buy into the notion that members of these two groups must actually be the same. But they are manifestly different. A child is different from a woman, who differs from a man.
When two things are the same we tend to treat them the same. But if we treat two things the same, it does not follow that they are the same. If we found two hammers on the workbench, we wouldn't have any trouble picking up either one of them to do the job—because we intend to treat them exactly the same. But it does not follow from this that if we should treat something the same (in a legal setting) they must, therefore, be the same. A man might be called up to take care of all his tools, treating them all with the same kind of respect. But treating a hammer with respect and a screwdriver with respect means treating them differently—you don't twist screws with a hammer, and you don't try to drive nails with the handle of a screwdriver.
If people are different, in order to get them all into the same good equality zone, you must treat them differently. Moreover, in different sorts of situations, you must do this differently. When people are different, and you treat them just the same in every circumstance, then you will get some very different, and very inequitable, results.
Now, what does this have to do with fathers? In order for a man and a woman to enjoy the same good marriage, they must each fulfill very different roles. The same good marriage requires one man and one woman, who are, let us admit, two very different ingredients. In order to get the same result of "a good tight fit," I must treat the nut and the bolt differently. Both nut and bolt enjoy being part of the same function, but in order for this to happen, they must also enjoy performing completely different functions. They cannot enjoy doing the same thing together unless they enjoy doing completely different things ... together.
So in order for a father to be a father, it is necessary for him to embrace (as a good thing) the reality that God has appointed us all to very different roles, and that He has configured us—body, soul, and spirit—in line with those appointments. A man is called to be a father all the way down. His fatherhood taps into something much deeper and much more profound than some of his accidental features—the fact that he was born in St. Louis, or has blue eyes or sandy brown hair.
If a man were to lose a finger, he is still the same man, minus the finger. If he were to go bald, the same thing is true. But we cannot "unfather" him without removing him from every relationship he has, and this has the effect of annihilating him. Our personal identity is established by our relationships, and this involves far more than our geographical relationships (e.g., "to the left of"). I am not just standing north of my daughter; I am a father to my daughter. That cannot be undone without undoing both of us. It actually cannot be done at all, fortunately, but a lot of damage has been caused because people have come to think that it can be done. They think that fatherhood is an accidental feature, separable from what the man is deep down. Just as birth control has radically altered the modern understanding of a man's responsibility for his progeny, so also has it altered our understanding of a man's identity being wrapped up in his progeny. We have come to believe that this identity of fatherhood is susceptible to a few redefinitions, or to a few more progressive court cases.
This is all done in the name of diversity. But when we don't accept God's creation design, we have no reason to respect diversity, or anything else, for that matter. Fatherhood is one of the disrespected rejects.
I recall reading a sample of this kind of feminist reductionism several decades ago, and the author was arguing how silly and arbitrary it all seemed to her. Her example was about when a man and woman are in bed together, and they hear an odd noise outside the house. Why, she asked, do we say that "the one with the penis" has to be the one to go and check on the noise? But is that all we are talking about? A "rock, paper, scissors" way of making decisions? Is it really that simplistic?
The role of a father as a provider and protector is not an arbitrary assignment given to an arbitrarily selected group, regardless of any other consideration. Here is the mandate given to Adam (Gen. 2:15)—God wants men both to work and to protect. Work has to do with nurture and cultivation, while protection refers to a man's duty to be a fortress for his family. We find a working definition of masculinity in the first few pages of the Bible.
When men take up their responsibilities to nurture and cultivate, and to protect and guard the fruit of that nurture and cultivation, they are doing something that resonates with their foundational, creational nature. When they walk away from these responsibilities, in a very real sense they are—don't miss this—walking away from their assigned masculine identity.
If the Scriptures teach that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, as they most certainly do (Ps. 139:14), there is no reason to believe that this glorious intricacy attends only one-tenth of the project (say in the assembly of the DNA), with everything else being done in a spirit of careless slapdashery. The assigned roles given to fathers are as intricately fitted to the reality of his broader relationships as the intricacy of the mechanics of reproduction itself. To think differently is to believe that the engineer who designed the dashboard so marvelously just decided to throw a jumble of parts together when it came to the engine under the hood, in the hope that it would somehow magically work. There is no reason to think a person would ever do such a thing. No, God is a precision engineer. The work that went into the interior is seen also in the engine block, and then in the drive train, and so on.
I used the phrase "provider and protector" a moment ago. This is not something we came up with ourselves as a pragmatic solution to certain practical problems. It is not a human invention or tradition, or just a holdover from our hunter/gatherer days. This is an essential part of God's creation design. When we look at the beginning of our race, looking carefully at our circumstances when God placed us in the world, we see these roles assigned to the man. Again, men were put into this world in order to work it and to keep it. They were placed here with this twofold mandate in mind. This is what men are for.
All men are called, like Adam our first father, to provide for their families and to protect their families. Christians believe that the universe was created, and further, we believe that it is designed all the way through and all the way down. This created reality encompasses every atom, every hair, every leaf, and every man, woman, and child. The man was fitted for his task, and the task was fitted for the man. If God prepares good works beforehand for all of us to walk in (Eph. 2:10), then doesn't it stand to reason that He prepares tasks that are suited to our sex? Men don't carry things because they happen to have broad shoulders. They have broad shoulders because God created them to carry things.
All this is to say that fatherhood has a point, and that the point goes far beyond the services provided by a stud farm or a fertilization clinic. Fatherhood has a point that extends far beyond the moment of begetting. That point extends into everything, and if we are baffled by what the point might be, wisdom might dictate that we should read the manual—the Scriptures God gave to us. But modernists want to keep that intricate device we call fathers and, when stumped, consult a different manual entirely. This is akin to troubleshooting problems with your Apple laptop by consulting the Chilton manual for a '72 Ford pickup truck. And we wonder why our families are not getting on better.
This might be a good place to add—for it must be added somewhere—that to write a book on why "fathers really matter" is not to imply that mothers don't. Because these issues have become so politicized in our day, it has been easy for those who have a contrary view to rush to attack a caricature of what is actually being said. What is being argued here is that fatherhood has a point, not that motherhood doesn't. My point is that masculinity is crucial, not that femininity is superfluous. To say that Dad is indispensable is not to say that you can drop Mom any old time. As C. S. Lewis might have had Professor Kirke say, were he here, "Logic! Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools?" A person should be able to write a book arguing that Vitamin D is an important component of a person's health without being accused of making a vicious and unwarranted attack on Vitamin E.
This has become more difficult because the feminists have, in their typically humorless way, politicized the green fields of human sexuality, turning everything a light and very dry brown. Where there used to be rich harvests, we now have a famine. Let us call it the "faminine mystique."
Egalitarianism wants to say, when confronted with something that Scripture says a father should take responsibility for, that the arrangement is "not fair." Why shouldn't the mother be the breadwinner? Why shouldn't the man be the one to submit to his spouse? Of course, in one sense, it is not fair. But it is good. Part of that goodness is found in the realization that the Bible teaches that wives are to submit to their own husbands, and not to men generally. Because of this submission in the context of each family, and not in the context of bureaucracies and federal agencies, a textured and complicated relationship between the sexes will develop in society at large. It will not be flat and egalitarian, but it will be good.
We are all of us finite, and this means that we can't be two (or more) creatures at once. And if God determined to create some very different kinds of creatures—as a quick glance at possums and seraphim, pebbles from the driveway and moons around Jupiter, wolf spiders and Vegas fan dancers will confirm that He did—then this means that any one of these creatures can't be another one of them. God said to each of us not only that we should "be," but also that we should "be this." But being a finite this entails not being a whole bunch of other thats. I cannot simultaneously be a plumber in Duluth and a pine tree in Nova Scotia.
Excerpted from Father Hunger by Douglas Wilson Copyright © 2012 by Douglas James Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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