If the fathers in the early pages of the Bible could give modern fathers advice, what would they say? Based on their stories in the biblical books of Genesis and Job, here are some messages we can glean.
(See Genesis 3-4.)
My advice is to step up and do what’s right when you most feel like being passive. I passively watched as the serpent lied to my wife, I passively followed her lead into sin, and then when God confronted me, I passively shifted the blame to her. My firstborn Cain learned passivity from me. He didn’t take the initiative to offer the sacrifice God asked for, and when it became clear that his brother Abel had taken the proper initiative, Cain got jealous and murdered him. When God confronted Cain, he was evasive (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”). And when God rebuked him with a comparatively light punishment, he made God appear like the bad guy (“My punishment is more than I can bear”).
(See Genesis 6-9.)
My advice is to anticipate disaster before it happens and to make sure your family rides safely through. This doesn’t mean that you forget about the world around you. Up until the flood came, I warned friends and neighbors as sincerely and urgently as I could. They wouldn’t listen. Thank God my family did. Be aware of the times and lead your family with wisdom and courage.
“Be aware of the times and lead your family with wisdom and courage.”
(See Job 1-2.)
My advice is to thank God for your children, petition him for their spiritual and physical well-being, and yet to realize it could all be taken away in a moment. At any moment, it could come down to just you standing before a God you thought you could understand, minus all the external reasons you once had for trusting in him. When parenting gives you more reason for grief than for gratitude, will you still hold onto your faith in God—or will you forsake God and let your faith die? I recommend that you commit—whether your world stays in tact or not, whether your questions get answered or not—that you’re going to trust in a God you sometimes won’t grasp.
“At any moment, it could come down to just you standing before a God you thought you could understand, minus all the external reasons you once had for trusting in him.”
(See Genesis 12-25.)
My advice is to not be afraid to step out in faith and follow God—even if it causes your family confusion and even anxiety. God’s calling for me to leave my homeland meant a ton of inconvenience for my wife. And I won’t even get into the emotional fallout from my almost-sacrifice of our son Isaac. Yet following in faith meant so much more than I could have anticipated. We were floored when God responded by giving us a son—let alone more physical and spiritual descendants than stars in the sky. Step out in faith and let God use it to prove his faithfulness to your descendants. By all means, try to be the best dad you can be—but you’ll fail from time to time. The best gift you can give your kids is to point them to God through steps of faith.
(See Genesis 25-28.)
My advice is to fight the urge to have a favorite child. We had twins, Esau and Jacob. It was just too natural for me to like Esau better. As our firstborn, he was a rugged outdoorsman who continually made me proud with his hunting ability. I had trouble connecting with his brother, Jacob. Jacob preferred to be inside, helping his mother with the cooking. He was a charmer, and he quickly became her favorite son.
“My advice is to fight the urge to have a favorite child.”
The result of our favoritism went beyond Esau and Jacob merely fighting for position and for our love. One trick went too far. When Jacob (at his mother’s direction) pretended to be Esau and stole the blessing I had intended for Esau, Esau became enraged, Jacob ran away, and after he left, I never saw him again. Perhaps if I had tried more to connect with Jacob, he wouldn’t have been so desperate for a father’s blessing.
(See Genesis 25-49.)
My advice is to not let your own dad hurt become your child’s recurring nightmare. I should have known better than anybody how much it hurts when your dad loves another son but not you. Yet I perpetuated the same curse, having a clear favorite son and making it official with the multi-colored robe I gave him to wear like a first-place trophy. The other sons’ jealousy erupted into selling him into slavery (I thought he had been killed by a wild animal). Just like that, the son I took most delight in was gone from me for most of the rest of my life.
“My advice is to not let your own dad hurt become your child’s recurring nightmare.”
Even with him gone, I simply shifted my attention to his younger brother, embracing him while keeping the other sons at arms’ length. If that’s been your story, pause your other life priorities, get on your knees, and beg God to pry open your heart and your arms for the children you’ve left outside your embrace.