Fatherhood among the highest of callings


To be a husband and a father is a noble vocation. Adam’s calling from the beginning was to be a walking, talking, personal demonstration of the goodness of divine Providence.

Our Lord made human fathers on earth to represent Him, not as “tin gods” but as flesh-and-blood extensions of His own love and care for every one of us.

The high calling and responsibility of fatherhood continue today, but as God warned Adam when he expelled him from the Garden of Eden for his sin, it is now a responsibility that must be exercised “by the sweat of the face.” To be a man is to be born with the obligation of earning our livings and supporting our families with the sweat of our faces. To be a man under God is to labor with our bodies, minds, souls, and hearts for others and to learn from Jesus Christ the duties of love’s austere and lonely offices.

We are to provide, not just the hungry things of this world that soon pass away but, far more importantly, the things of the spirit which last forever. This is what we vow at baptism, in matrimony, and in all our various callings, wherever and however God calls us to His service as men.

Can such a life be possible?

It is not, if we surrender to the same false doctrines of self-esteem and self-regard that have befuddled my students and so many like them, depriving them of the example and presence of godly men.

It is not, if we are waiting to be thanked or honored in this world for doing that which is simply our duty.

It is not, if we waste our lives living to please and to amuse ourselves.

But a life of genuine manhood is possible, if we look to the source and perfect image of all manly virtue, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hanging on the cross.

Pontius Pilate said, “Behold the man,” and for once he was right. Our Lord is a man as the Father intends a man to be.

He is strong enough to bear the burdens of the whole world. He is brave enough to face down the terrors of death, trusting in his heavenly Father to give him victory even over death. In achieving that victory, He now promises to share it with anyone who is “man enough” to take up the crosses of this life and to follow after Him.

The first step is humility. Peter wrote we are to be “clothed with humility” that His grace would abide upon us. Our Lord humbled himself before his Father and achieved the salvation of the world. Our achievements as men will follow from the same courage to be humble and to trust in God for ourselves, for our families, and for all that we love.

Humility is courage in action. It is the courage to be known as a Christian on the job and on the street, and not just in private. It is the courage to teach and to live the difference between right and wrong. It is the courage to act as God’s representative within the home, to be a man of God, knowing that at times we will fail and need to ask forgiveness both of God and of those we love. It is the courage to be imperfect and yet to seek perfection in Jesus Christ. It is the courage to commit the sweat of our faces to the commandments of grace.

Given the hard work that it takes to be a Christian man, it isn’t surprising that around the world every Sunday morning these perpetual boys throng the golf courses, sleep off another late Saturday night, or otherwise occupy themselves with base pleasures instead of worshiping their God in His churches.

They may even feel like a “man’s man” for doing so, but they’re only so. Myself, I’ve found that being a “man’s man” and being a “man after God’s own heart” have little in common.

Celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll calls such men “boys who can shave” but I think what they do is far more destructive than such a clever term can imply.

Men such as these are leaving a gaping hole in their families, where a grown-up Christian man is supposed to be. They are leaving a hole in the churches, where boys are meant to learn how to be Christian men from the society of Christian men, and where girls are meant to learn from observation the difference between a godly man and a morally upright slob.

A man never makes a decision just for himself, but always for his family and dependents, for his society, and for the world. God offers all Christians, but men in particular, this challenge and price and promise.

The challenge is to dedicate our lives to the glory of God, including a ceaseless witness to the perfect fatherhood of the Father in heaven.

The price is to suffer a while, to gain and to provide in Jesus Christ what is eternal, at the cost of self-discipline and self-sacrifice in the here and now.

The promise is to build with God, to build a family of blood and spirit for God to make perfect in grace, for God to establish in His power, for God to make strong by His spirit, and for God to settle forever in His own kingdom.

Every family has a Father in Heaven but every family does not have a father on earth, even those increasing few who actually have a male figure in the house. It is the essence of God-given manhood to be an earthly father in God’s Name, both after the flesh and after the spirit.

The call to be a father, and a father to the fatherless, is the great all too infrequently tapped resource of Christianity for reform, for the protection of the innocent, and for the spread of God’s kingdom.

We honor our fathers every year on Fathers’ Day, as well we should. But we will honor them best if we demand of ourselves and of each other that we be Christian men as the very best of them were.

The very best of them have shown us the way to walk, day by day, in the footsteps of the “Son of Man” Jesus Christ, bearing the burdens of others, building the kingdom of God, and sharing the fellowship of love’s austere and lonely offices until we are called home.

I can think of no higher calling for myself, or any other man.