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You can listen to the talk/watch the video of the teaching based on these notes.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day on Wednesday 16 June. Today, Sunday 20 June, we celebrate, internationally, Father’s Day. It is appropriate that they are a few days apart because it speaks to us of fathers and sons, of the older and younger generation.

We remember the brave youth of 1976, who marched from Orlando West High School on the streets of Soweto against the proposed imposition of Afrikaans by the Apartheid regime as the language of education in black schools. Hector Peterson was the first student killed by the police on that day, with another 500 killed in the following weeks, in the protests and riots that followed. What happened to that generation? Were their wounds ever healed?

Many (or most?) have become fathers and mothers. So, what of their children? What of the youth today? We live with so much pain and tragedy in our nation, in the youth, but also of broken fathers and mothers. Stats South Africa recently reported that since the corona pandemic the unemployment rate has risen to 43%, with youth unemployment at 74%, in a country where the median wage is R3 600 a month (275 USD), and poverty is above 55% across all groups and 84.2% among indigenous Africans, with the Gini coefficient at 0.63. What an enormous challenge. The frustration, anger and pain of the youth is a ticking time-bomb. We talk of the fatherless generation. Of father-failure. With it comes broken and toxic masculinity expressed in destructive ways, as in gender based violence. God help us.   

Samuel Osherson said, in Finding our Fathers: The Unfinished Business of Manhood, “The psychological or physical absence of fathers from their families is one of the great underestimated tragedies of our time”.

And Edward Stein said, “Psychological fathering is what the world is in need of more than ever in its history. There is a considerable body of scholarly evidence that civilisation will stand or fall with whether such fathering is available in sufficient quantity”.     

So, today we honour our fathers, for better or for worse, and we seek their well-being. We honour our youth and seek their highest good, by being the best fathers/parents to them.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-2, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honour your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” Not all of us are privileged to be fathers or mothers, but all of us have a father, were born of his sperm. No matter what your experience of your father has been, you can seek to forgive and honour him – with God’s help – for in so doing you honour God your (real) Father.

Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children & children to the fathers

God said via the prophet Malachi (4:5) in 430 BC, “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 (parents) to their sons and daughters (children), and the hearts of the children to their fathers (parents); or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Broken and toxic fathering and mothering, and lost sons and daughters, with the deconstruction and disintegration of marriage and family in our day, is the “total destruction” of society.

The prophecy is fulfilled, at least in principle, in the birth of John the baptiser and Messiah’s coming. It is quoted, and interpreted, in the New Testament by Gabriel regarding the birth of Zachariah’s son, John: “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (righteous)—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Arguably, the greatest need in our world today, for redemption and restoration, is to turn the hearts of the fathers and mothers to the sons and daughters, and vice versa, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord for the good of society, for the renewal of the world.

Note, a) in both texts it is first the hearts of the fathers (parents) that turn to the children – the older we grow the more we need our children, and need to turn to them in forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and harmony… in order to die well and to bless them. And b) the “turning of the children to the fathers (parents)” is rephrased as “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just/righteous” – role of fathers/mothers is to impart “the wisdom of the righteous”, the right way of being, right way of living, of thinking, speaking, behaving.    

What “wisdom” do we fathers impart? That of “the just”, from God, from heaven? Or the “wisdom” that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic”, as James 3:13-18 says. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil. You carry out your father’s desires, a murderer from the beginning. Lies are his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Do we lie to our children? Or tell the tough truth in love? Whose ‘fathering nature‘ do we represent and live? God’s character/wisdom? Or the devil’s nature/“wisdom”?

Therefore, from these texts, and from men’s studies, mature (godly) fatherhood is marked by three essential characteristics:  truth, wisdom and compassion.

Defining fatherhood/fathering

Paul says in Ephesians 3:14,  “I kneel before the Father (Pater) from whom every family (patria, fatherhood) in heaven and on earth derives its name (its nature and character)”.
God’s fatherhood is the source and definition of all fathering and family in all created reality. Our fathering (and mothering) ought to express God’s fathering/parenting. Parents represent and communicate God to their children, for better or for worse.  

Note: this does not mean God is father as in male. We, men, have done a great disservice by using male-dominated language without discernment or disclaimers, in effect conveying the idea that God is a man. God is (S)spirit and does not have a body (John 4:24). The inclusivity of gender in regard to God in the Hebrew Bible goes unnoticed: God is father, but is also portrayed in mother/feminine imagery. It’s a theological concept, not a biological reality. In fact, the Spirit (Ruach) of God is consistently a feminine noun in Hebrew (e.g. Genesis 1:2).

How does God father us? What are the characteristics of God’s fathering/mothering?

There is much to say about the many features of (God’s) fathering/mothering, but here are a few key ones taken from Mark 1:10-11, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven (from God): ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

Fatherhood is the Source of Life:  God gives life. We’re born-again by God’s ‘seed’, sperma, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). Parents make/give life… fathering is generative to all around.  

Fatherhood identifies us in being:  “You are my son, my daughter, my BELOVED daughter/ son”. Biblically, we do not self-identify – God identifies us in creation and in new creation.
“He brought me into his banqueting hall and his banner over me is LOVE” (Song of Sol 2:4). Fathering/mothering identifies (gives identity to) those around them – as LOVE – as truly and uniquely loved… by God… through the gift of both biological and spiritual parenting.

Fatherhood affirms us in person:  “In whom I am well pleased, on whom my favour rests, in whom I delight”. These three phrases are all correct possible translations from the text. This is the power of pronouncing blessing. Fathers & mothers truly delight in those around them, as say it! They affirm others as “well pleased”, conferring favour on them, as God does.

Fatherhood empowers us in doing:  “Heaven was torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove”. Parenting is empowering… or is meant to be… to empower young people, and all those around us, to do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Fathering & mothering is an impartation of spirit, of God’s Spirit. It is an equipping with what is needed to facilitate and enable people’s full potential in God.

Concluding recommendations

Turn your heart to your father (& mother) by “go & find” them. Reconcile with them. Heal your ‘father/mother wound’. Sort out whatever needs to be sorted out.

At the same time, take responsibility for your own wounds, your unresolved ‘stuff’, and get help and healing to grow through it, so that “it” becomes a source of healing to others.

Then honour your father and mother in whichever spiritual and tangible ways you can.

Seek to humbly father/mother others in a psycho-emotional-spiritual sense, as God gives you this kind of ‘ministry’ opportunity to those willing to receive it. Seek to be, under God, a living example of God’s fathering/mothering to all who want to draw on it by virtue of them seeing and experiencing it’s reality flowing in and through you.

Mature spiritual fathering and mothering is not so much a doing of things as it is a being of person, a way of living, a spirit of loving… in truth, wisdom and compassion.

God bless you!

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