A very important day is coming up this Sunday. As a pastor, I have an obligation to talk about it. 🙂 Sunday is Father’s Day. It has a very interesting history, if you haven’t read it. This is the day we set aside to celebrate, in a special way, the importance of Fathers in our lives. I’ll get to the “devotional” aspect of this post in a moment, but, to set the stage, let me tell you a little bit about my dad.
I won’t go into where or when he was born (although I’ve been to a tiny cabin he shared in South Carolina with my Grandfather, Grandmother, and five other siblings) or what he did for a living… this isn’t a post about what a great guy he was or is. It’s about the relationship that he and I shared while I was growing up, and what’s happened to it since.
My mom and dad divorced when I was about seven. I didn’t see my dad a lot, because he worked himself near to death in an effort to provide (and, yes, this is a quote) “everything you and your mother might have ever had if we had never gotten a divorce.” I talked to my dad a lot… every day, really. There was a hardly a night that I didn’t get a phone call before bed. He was there on every birthday, every Christmas, Easter, official and unofficial holiday, every school and extra-curricular event. Still, I felt distant from him. I was never able to feel close to him.
There were a lot of reasons for that distance, but there’s only one that’s important: I believe with all of my heart that the reason I felt distant from my father is found in a prophecy in the book of Malachi.
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. – Malachi 4:5-6
I have often wondered what this prophecy meant. I know, of course, that it is a prophecy of John the Baptist and his ministry, but there is something underneath the surface in this prophecy. If the prophet Elijah will have, as part of his ministry, the job of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, then it stands to reason that their hearts have been, for some reason, turned away from each other.
Some people call this the “generation gap” and it’s dismissed as something that just happens and is supposed to be completely normal. But God doesn’t see it that way. More importantly, God knows the important role that fathers have in the lives of their children. This is especially evident when God talks about Himself as “Father.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son ; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ – Psalms 2:7-8
Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD– and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. – Psalms 68:4-5
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. – Psalms 103:13
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. – Proverbs 3:11-12
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8
They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. – Jeremiah 31:9
Have we not all one Father ? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? – Malachi 2:10
For a long time, I couldn’t relate to God, but I have only begun to understand in the last decade or so that the reason for that is that I was relating to my heavenly father the same way that I was relating to my earthly father; which is, of course, to say “not that well at all.” But then, a miracle happened.
I have seen in the past ten years a gradual but profound change working in my earthly father. In many ways he is not the same man I knew growing up. He is kinder, gentler, more loving, more giving, more understanding, easier to relate to… I’m closer to him now than I have ever been. I tell my wife often that a miracle has happened in my dad’s life. I don’t know how or why outside of God’s influence. Then, I have to stop and think… Has my dad changed? Or have I? I think that the truth is that we both have. And that is the miracle of the fulfilled prophecy of Malachi 4:6.
The word translated as “father” אב in the Bible is a wonderful thing. In the New Testament, it’s almost always the word πατήρ (pater) which is a high Greek/Latin term that means, you guessed it, “father.” But the word in Hebrew is more beautiful by far. In the Old Testament, the word usually translated as father is אב (ab). Here’s what you need to know about this word. It’s a baby word. I don’t mean that it’s small. I mean it’s one of the first words that a baby says. “Can you say daddy? Daddy? Daddy? Daaaaaddy?” (This illustration works a thousand times better if you imagine it being said in that silly way adults talk to newborns.) Now, imagine that same thing said to a young Jewish child. The word would be repeated not as אב but as אבא (Abba or Ἀββᾶ in Greek), and it is this word that is used EVERY TIME the word father is uses in reference to God as Father in the Old Testament.
What’s the point? My heart melts when I walk in the front door, and my daughters, on seeing that I have returned form a speaking engagement or a rehearsal or wherever or whatever has taken me away from them, faces light up and yell: “Daddyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” This is how God wants us to interact with him. Not as some high and distant far away monarch, but an up close and personal, right now available ready-to-wrap-you-up-in-His-arms DADDY! This is how I have finally come to interact with Him (I’m not finished yet, but I’m getting there), and, by His grace and because of that promise in Malachi, it’s also how I am coming to interact with my earthly daddy. It has been an amazing thing, getting to know him all over again these past tent years. I still fail, sometimes miserably, as a son (at least from my perspective) and he still frustrates me, but my daddy is amazing all over again to me. I thank God that the heart of this child has been turned toward his father, and I am yet even more thankful that the my Heavenly father, my אבא, my Ἀββᾶ loves me so much.
In closing, Happy Father’s Day to my earthly father (I love you so much, and I am so proud to be your son) and my Heavenly father (I am unworthy to be in your family, and I am amazed by your love for me), but, more importantly, for anyone who might read this and is for whatever reason distant from your earthly father, know this, when you accept Christ’s salvation and make Him Lord of your life, then you have this amazing promise to hold on to:
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Romans 8:14-17
Just as an endnote: I don’t want to be misunderstood. My dad was and is a great father. He is now a great grandfather. This is not so much about the “change” that I’ve seen in him (though it’s there) as it is about the miraculous work God has done in our relationship with each other. Happy Father’s Day, Poppa!