“Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child” – Traditional Negro Spiritual
I doubt this song is a common musical selection at Mother’s Day celebrations.
However, if there was an accompanying spiritual with the opening lyric, “Sometimes, I feel like a fatherless child”, it would be an echoing musical mantra throughout the days and weeks entering this weekend’s cathartic commemoration. It seems we are unable to celebrate Father’s Day without dealing with the issue of Fatherlessness.
While this is a symptom of our present societal issues, it is not lost on me that this debate centers around whether every father has been worthy of honor. The answer, of course, is no, and rather than draw a comparison with Mother’s Day, and debate whether motherhood is viewed with equal scrutiny, I would rather look at it through the lens of the 5th commandment, which seems to be an oft quoted scripture at this time of year.
The commandment “Honor thy father and mother”, and the accompanying promise of longevity, appears in Exodus 20:12. My premise stems from the fact that God then gave prodigious instructions on how to treat the fatherless. 43 times, in the King James version, the word “fatherless” appears. There does not seem to be any assumption in these verses that the father was only absent because of an early death. So it seems this same God that commanded us to honor our fathers was aware that many of these Israelite children would not have pleasant memories or thoughts about their fathers, especially considering that almost all of them died over the next 40 years in the wilderness due to their lack of obedience. Here is a great irony. The first biblical generation charged with honoring their fathers had quite a lack of honorable behavior to look back upon.
It speaks to God’s wisdom that he did not place an ‘OR’ in the commandment based on whether a father or mother was worthy of honor. He placed a promise of longevity based on their role in creation, in which we acknowledge that we cannot receive God’s promise of life without parents to give us life. However, we as a society seem to take issue with honoring the half of the promise that seems to have dropped the ball.
Is is difficult to honor someone who did not meet all (or perhaps any) of our needs? Yes. Does it also reveal the truth that we must honor a heavenly Father, even when He does not seem to meet our needs as we would have Him to do? A painful truth to admit, but a valid one.
For even as we honor the father in a cultural sense, we must honor a Father that we misconstrue as an absentee. We assume, when needs are not met, that He has abdicated his post. In fact, most of the atheistic argument of our society stems from the assumption that a good Father would not leave the world in this condition. A seemingly legitimate lament of a fatherless child if there ever was one.
But God knew our application of honor was not based on whether our parents provided all our needs, but instead on what He provides to us in spite of our human family’s shortcomings. His view of us as beloved children is what helps us to understand our special place in the world, and that truth trumps our earthly father’s good or bad parenting. He thought of us before time was time, and allowed a mother and a father to bring us from His mind to His world. Honoring our fathers and our mothers is, in a sense, an echo of the 1st commandment, which is to honor the Father of all fathers.
It is this sense that is hard to grasp in a culture that has lost the sense of honor based on principle and instead places a premium on current production. And so, every Father’s Day celebration has a healthy dose of guilt and duty as an ingredient. We replace the honor commandment with this premise – Honor who you feel is worthy of honor, and remind those that are not that they are not.
A high wall to scale indeed for fathers like me, who are quite aware that we are not worthy.
I would ask everyone that is struggling with the honor dilemma to look past their own father’s parental production, or lack thereof, and to instead focus on the present opportunity that honor affords. To honor fathers honors your own existence. To honor fathers humbles you, when realize you have an opportunity to aspire to an example in our heavenly Father that we know is impossible to reproduce completely. You have an opportunity to direct the fatherless toward a God that promises to be a Father to them. An opportunity to be better, not bitter, and to show love where perhaps none was received.
This is the high calling of honor. May every father that reads this post, aspire to make this command one our children are glad to obey.
(Postscript: To my own father, Marcus E. Paul, thank you for making this commandment easy for me. There is no other man I would have asked God to have chosen to be my dad. Thank you for every act of discipline and word of encouragement. I’m proud to be your son and I love you very much.)