Our concepts of fatherhood are gained by observation. As we pass from infancy through childhood to maturity, we form our opinions as to what a father is and what a father does, as well as what he does not do, by watching our own fathers. In my childhood, an incident involving my father made a deep and lasting impression upon my mind.
A Father Protects
When I was about ten years old, our family was living on a farm in Oregon, and there were cows to milk each morning and evening. One evening, my sister and I were in the barn milking the cows, somewhat nervously and apprehensively. This was because my older brother was raising a hunting dog, and the dog had been acting strangely for several days. Because this type of dog was known to go mad at times, we were worried.
Then it happened. From the hill behind the barn there came a frenzy of strange, unnatural barking, and it was clearly moving in our direction. We quickly put our milk pails on the floor and scrambled to the top of the stanchions, which held the cows’ heads. These were only six feet high, but it was the best that we could do. There was no place else to go.
We had little more than climbed to our unsteady perches than the dog appeared, wild-eyed and slobbering. He clawed his way through the slightly open door, came to where we were, and started leaping up at us. We could do nothing but call desperately for our father, who had gone to the house on an errand.
Fortunately, our father had heard the frenzied barking, noted where it was coming from, and was already running toward the barn. As he came through the door, without decreasing his speed, he picked up some small object from the floor, and armed with this altogether inadequate weapon, he went straight for the dog. I believe he was ready to grapple with that mad dog with his bare hands, if necessary, in order to protect his children. The dog saw him coming and fled through the back door.
This, to me, was an unforgettable lesson—a father protects his children.
A Father Listens
Now Christ had no earthly father, yet He had some very clear concepts of fatherhood. He must have gained them by watching his stepfather, Joseph. We have very little direct information about Joseph in the Bible, beyond the simple statement that he was a just man (Matthew 1:19). Who was this man, to whom the Creator of the universe entrusted the care of His only-begotten Son? We would like to know more about him. What kind of a father was he? Actually, there is no mystery. As we look at the various statements that Christ made about fathers and fatherhood, we are really looking at Joseph, and we can see that God did well to choose him as a stepfather for His Son.
The gospel of John records over 100 instances where Christ applied the term Father to God. This was far and away His favorite usage. Why? Having grown up in a Hebrew home, He could have used the Hebrew Elohim or Adonay. Since He and most of His listeners spoke Greek, He could have used the Greek, Theos (God) or Kurios (Lord). Apparently these terms did not adequately convey the meaning that He wanted His hearer to understand, so He made the greatest usage of the endearing term, Father. According to Jesus, a father listens.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He instructed them to begin their prayers with the words, “Our Father.” This would be chancy at best, if it were not that the Father is always listening. Jesus knew that if His instruction was followed, there would be prayers ascending to the Father at all hours of the day and night, so His words were equal to a declaration that the Father is always listening.
Jesus also inspired Ellen White to write: “You need not fear an improper hour. His eye never slumbers nor sleeps. He always hears the prayer of the humble suppliant and grants His blessing. He never turns away unblessed those who seek Him with the whole heart.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, 319. [Emphasis supplied.]
In addition to that she wrote: “The Father hears every prayer of His contrite children. The voice of supplication from the earth unites with the voice of our Intercessor, who pleads in heaven, whose voice the Father always hears. Let our prayers therefore continually ascend to God. Let them not come up in the name of any human being, but in the name of Him who is our Substitute and Surety.” In Heavenly Places, 79. [Emphasis supplied.]
A Father Provides
Jesus said it like this: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Matthew 6:31, 32.
“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” Luke 11:11–13.
“Christ made an appeal to us concerning the willingness of God to help, arguing from the natural love of the parent to his offspring. What father could turn from his son who asks bread? Should anyone dishonor God by imagining that He will not respond to the call of His children?” Selected Messages, Book 1, 329.
A Father is Merciful
“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” Luke 6:36.
“Mercy is an attribute that the human agent may share with God. As did Christ, so man may lay hold on the divine arm and be in communication with divine power. To us has been given a service of mercy to perform for our fellow-man. In performing this service, we are laboring together with God. We do well, then, to be merciful, even as our Father in heaven is merciful.” Signs of the Times, May 21, 1902.
A Father Loves
“For the Father himself loveth you . . . .” John 16:27.
“There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ, and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes; but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No, Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John, ‘These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ And do not forget the words of Christ, ‘The Father Himself loveth you.’ John 16:27. He desires to restore you to Himself, to see His own purity and holiness reflected in you. And if you will but yield yourself to Him, He that hath begun a good work in you will carry it forward to the day of Jesus Christ.” The Faith I Live By, 118.
A Father Transmits His Likeness
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father . . . .” John 14:9.
“In the Bible the will of God is revealed. The truths of the Word of God are the utterances of the Most High. He who makes these truths a part of his life becomes in every sense a new creature. He is not given new mental powers, but the darkness that through ignorance and sin has clouded the understanding is removed. The words, ‘A new heart also will I give you,’ mean, ‘A new mind will I give you.’ A change of heart is always attended by a clear conviction of Christian duty, an understanding of truth. He who gives the Scriptures close, prayerful attention will gain clear comprehension and sound judgment, as if in turning to God he had reached a higher plane of intelligence.” My Life Today, 24.
A Father Draws
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him . . . .” John 6:44.
In our time, unfortunately, there are fathers who are not worthy of the name. Children who grow up in their homes have a very poor concept of fatherhood and have difficulty applying the term “Father” to God. To them, the word has no richness of meaning, no drawing power, because of the poor example of fatherhood they have had.
It is clear that Jesus had no such problem. He grew up in a home where luxuries may have been lacking, but where the excellent fatherhood qualities of His stepfather, Joseph, were constantly before Him. His childhood experiences gave Him a rich treasury of resources on which to draw in setting before us the attributes of the heavenly Father.
A Father Forgives and Restores
Clearly, the climax to all of the teachings of Jesus about the fatherhood of God is in the immortal parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32. No one ever misunderstands this parable. I need only to refer to it and the picture will be formed in your own mind. I do not need to quote it.
I have heard Adlai Esteb, a missionary to China, tell about a trip that he made into Tibet, during which time he had occasion to speak to a group of primitive Tibetan herdsmen. Not knowing what better thing he could do, he read to them, through a translator, the story of the prodigal son as given by Jesus. When he had finished the story, he said he saw tears trickling down the cheeks of these rough Tibetan tribesmen. They understood!
Everybody understands the story of the prodigal son. Jesus planned it that way, and Jesus planned that His representation of the nature and character of God would cause every one of us to say, with the prodigal, I will arise, and go to my Father.