I grew up in the television heyday of the family sitcom. Shows like The Cosby Show, Full House, Step by Step, Home Improvement, The Wonder Years, Boy Meets World, Family Matters, and so on were hugely popular and as far as I was concerned, for good reason. Beyond being well-written and funny, though, they often gave a glimpse into what our culture thought about families and the specific people in them. More modern family sitcoms like Modern Family reveal what we believe about what a family even is. What’s always been most interesting to me, though, is the way dads have been portrayed in various sitcom generations.
Years ago dads like Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson were hailed as ideal and given a great deal of deference for their value to their families. In the ensuing sitcom generations, though, the position of dads seemed to steadily decrease even as the popularity of the genre was increasing. We went from Cliff Huxtable, Jason Seaver, and Danny Tanner to Tim Taylor, Jack Arnold, and Carl Winslow, to Ray Barone and Dan Connor, to Homer Simpson and Al Bundy. After those last imbeciles, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but up. Fortunately, we’ve seen a bit of revival in recent years. For instance, not everyone may agree with the politics of Mike Baxter of Last Man Standing, and he’s certainly not perfect, but he is finally an example of a dad who consistently demonstrates good, loving, disciplined, and fair parenting. He matters to his family as more than just the butt of the jokes.
Perhaps the best example of the impact fathers can have, though, has come recently in the person of Henry Allen, father to Barry Allen, better known as the Flash, star of the show of the same name. Unlike many modern superheroes, Barry is not some morally conflicted hero who rides up along the edge of right and wrong in his pursuit of what he defines as justice. Allen is a pristinely good guy. He’s kind. He’s compassionate. He treats women with respect. He values life—even the lives of his enemies. He’s committed to real justice. He is, in other words, a hero, not just someone with super powers who saves people. More importantly, the show is clear about the origins of this character: his dad. And when he is finally able to run fast enough to go back in time and prevent a tragedy in his past — possibly making dramatic changes to his present—a conversation with his dad (here) shows the real power of fatherhood done right.
The kick here is that far too many kids never experience something like that today. One in three children in America do not have their biological dad present in their home. Now certainly adoptive dads are hugely important (as is actually the case in Barry Allen’s life admirably shown in a clip here), but the presence of an adoptive father means something has happened to prevent a child from having unfettered access to his or her biological dad. Most of the 33% of children simply don’t have a dad in their lives. The impact of this on our culture isn’t simply noticeable, it’s measureable. Kids whose dads are involved in their lives fare better than those who aren’t in every measure of child well-being. We could speculate that fatherlessness creates poverty, increases aggressiveness, contributes to criminal activity and incarceration, raises the likelihood of drug abuse, and could be linked to poorer academic performance.
Here’s the point: Father’s matter…a lot. We used to understand that as a culture. About a generation ago, though, and for a number of reasons, we started thinking of fathers as pointless at best…harmful at worst. We decided the Emperor didn’t have any clothes on and had a great time telling him over and over and over again. We told dads in every conceivable way that they don’t matter and eventually guess what happened. They started to believe it! And when they started believing they don’t really matter, they started acting like it. Get this: today 41% of all births happen out of wedlock. In communities where crime is a problem that number goes up even higher. Among women in their 20s, it goes up to 65%. Well, given all the studies connecting fatherlessness to a host of social and cultural problems, that particular set of statistics should cause our entire country to collectively gulp because we’ve got the makings of a hard, hard road ahead of us.
Dads matter. But, their importance goes way beyond mere economics or sociology or psychology or physiology or biology. Those are all important things, and we can’t ignore them, but there’s something missing in the numbers: spirituality. We are not mere physical creatures who can be described in purely materialistic terms. We are spiritual creatures and what happens to our spirits affects our bodies and by that the culture in which we dwell. And while statistics and surveys and studies can tell us the impact dads have on our physical world, the Scriptures speak directly to the kind of impact dads were created to have on the spiritual lives of their families because while we are indeed both spiritual and physical creatures, if our spiritual lives are in good shape, much of the rest of our lives will work out for the better. The reverse there is not true.
While reading in Proverbs the other day, I came across this little gem from the wisest man who ever lived in 14:26: “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”
Let’s look at each part of that in turn. The concept of the “fear of the Lord” is a big one in Scripture. Think of it like this: Jurassic World came out a few weeks ago and is showing itself to be a summer blockbuster of the first order. In the movie, Chris Pratt plays a Velociraptor trainer. If you can remember back to the first…and the second…and the third movies in the franchise, while the T-Rex was always the big, bad dinosaur, the Velociraptors were a much greater source of fear because unlike the T-Rex which was more of a wrecking ball, the Velociraptors were smart and lethal. As a raptor trainer, Pratt has to maintain a constant “fear of the raptor.” This is in part an awe-filled respect of them as they are genuinely impressive animals (at least in the movie!), but it is also part terror because they hold his life in their claws. They could kill him in an instant if they decided to. The fear of the Lord is kind of like that (with the exception that God is perfectly good and the raptors probably did want to eat Pratt’s character). We maintain a healthy respect for God because He is awesome in the fullest, richest sense of the word. But there’s also an element of terror because He’s mighty in power and could snuff us out of existence without effort if He so desired. We see this consistently in the Scriptures. Whenever people encounter the presence of God, they are simultaneously awestruck and terrified. The consistent first words of angels bringing messages from God are, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because the people were terrified. Jesus mediated that glory to us in a way that wasn’t quite so terrifying, but when He returns, as John describes, that won’t be the case.
In any event, Solomon writes that the person who fears the Lord has a secure fortress. A fortress is simply a place of refuge from the turmoil of the world. If we are rightly related to God (which happens when we have a healthy fear of Him), then we do indeed have such a refuge. The thing about a fortress, though, is that it does not make the turmoil of the world go away. Rather, it gives us a place of refuge from it. Finding rest in God doesn’t make the turmoils of life go away. It gives us a place of refuge from them. It allows us to have peace in the midst of the storm. What more, this is a secure refuge. It won’t ever get compromised or overrun. We can trust in it explicitly and rest comfortably while the battles rage. We still stay alert. We still fight hard. We still actively resist invaders. We still make preparations for sieges and occasional sorties. But we know we are secure. We are secure when the unexpected medical emergency arises. We are secure when the sting of betrayal knocks us off our feet. We are secure when temptation rises to sweep us away. We are secure when a job disappears and finances seem impossible. We are secure when we are threatened or persecuted for being faithful to the way that is good, right, and true. We are secure.
A more literal reading of the verse allows us to go even further than this. More literally this verse reads: “In the fear of the Lord is confidence of strength.” When I wrestle around with my boys, I do so with great confidence. I have no fear that they will beat me. Why? Because I know I’m stronger than they are…even with the odds at 3-1. When we fear the Lord and are thus rightly related to Him, we can walk through this life with the confidence of strength. We will still wrestle and fight and struggle on occasion, but we do so from a place of confidence because greater is the one who is in us than the one who is in the world. If we fear the Lord, this is our legacy. But, it isn’t just a legacy for us. Solomon makes clear that the payoff for practicing the fear of the Lord is much bigger than that.
In the second half of the verse, Solomon points out that we are not the only beneficiaries of a healthy practice of the fear of the Lord: “and for his children it will be a refuge.” Our faith provides them a secure fortress. It gives them the confidence of strength. Godly dads create a stronghold of faith for their family. The reverse this time is true. If we have no faith; if we do not fear the Lord; if we do not actively demonstrate that our relationship with God is the single most important thing in our lives, it may be that they will come to a robust, saving faith on their own, but the much greater likelihood is that they will not have this fortress; they will not have this confidence; they will not have this strength. Godly dads create a stronghold of faith for their family.
Here’s why: as a general rule (meaning there are some exceptions…but the safe bet is to assume you’re not one of them), kids adopt the religious identity of their mom and the religious devotion of their dad. This means that if Mom was a Baptist, then absent an intentional conversion to something else, they will always identify as a Baptist. But, they will almost always practice their faith with the same intensity and intentionality as Dad. If he shows them by both what he says and what he does that his faith is important, then they’ll make it important. Godly dads create a stronghold of faith for their family. I’m living proof of this. If, on the other hand, he shows them that work is more important or sports are more important or recreation of some kind is more important or money is more important or even that they are more important, they’ll follow suit. They may not pick the same things as more important, but something will be. And, in a culture where it is increasingly becoming normal, acceptable, and even admirable to not identify as a Christian in any meaningful sense, the pretense of faith practiced by so many in the past for the social benefits it brought won’t happen. In other words, they aren’t going to church like you did just because it’s what they are supposed to do. Thus the chances of an accidental conversion decreased precipitously.
The bottom line here is this: Godly dads create a stronghold of faith for their family. Even ungodly dads, though, are worth having because they make radical improvements to our culture simply by being present and involved in the lives of their kids. But, whether you are a biological dad or not, if you are a man you have the ability…no, you have the duty…to pour into the life of a young person. This is true whether you are a biological dad, an adoptive dad, an empty-nesting dad, or have never had kids for whom you were responsible, you have an impact to make, and you need to make it. Godly dads create a stronghold of faith for their family. Godly men create a stronghold of faith for their community. Let’s rise up, men, and be fully who God designed us to be to His glory, our joy, and for the sake of the world around us.