Fathers have the unique privilege of sharing a title with God himself: our heavenly Father. How special that the Bible speaks of a human father’s love as a window into our heavenly Father’s love. Jesus said in Luke 11:11-13 that if even human fathers know how to love and give good gifts to their children, how much more should we expect an abundance of love from our great Father in heaven!
Fatherhood in Scripture
It is a privilege to be able to illustrate the qualities of God himself, yet it is also a weighty calling. Throughout Scripture fatherhood is spoken of as having tremendous impact, for good and for ill. As fathers shape the character of their children, they are in many ways shaping the future—the outlook for multiple generations (Ex 34:6-7). Fathers can pass on to their children a strong legacy of faithfulness, or they can leave their children spiritually deprived, without a heritage of the values that matter most.
The Bible contains examples of fathers who left both positive and negative legacies for their children. Unfortunately, though King David was in many ways a “man after God’s own heart,” (Acts 13:22), his family life and parenting left much to be desired. His lack of faithful fathering set in motion a negative legacy for his children and descendants. For instance, his marital unfaithfulness—not only in adultery with Bathsheba, but also in taking multiple wives and concubines—impacted his children. It brought death to one son (2 Sam. 12:14) and led to familial tension and discord. When Solomon followed his father’s pattern of acquiring wives and concubines, it ultimately led both him and the nation away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:2-4).
Scripture also shows that David failed to lead and discipline his children, leading to several cases of rebellion and tragedy. One son raped his daughter and, seeing that David did nothing, another son murdered the rapist. And two of David’s sons—Absalom and Adonijah—rebelled flagrantly against him, with David again largely failing to act. Yet God was gracious, even through David’s failure, to bring about a long-term descendant who was faithful: Jesus himself.
Fathers Throughout History
There are many more encouraging examples of fatherhood offered in Scripture and in history. Consider these American fathers who left strong legacies for their children, through the way they modeled and trained their children:
• Cotton Mather, the 17th century Puritan preacher in New England, began his Father’s Resolutions with the commitment: “At the birth of my children, I will resolve to do all I can that they may be the Lord’s.” Mather was himself the son of a pastor and several of his descendants also became prominent Puritan ministers.
• The 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards, together with his wife Sarah, raised their children in a way that left behind a powerful legacy. Researchers are astonished at the disproportionate influence his descendants have had in education, Christian ministry and public service. His descendants include fourteen college presidents, one U.S. vice-president, 200 Christian ministers, and a large number of doctors, senators and judges.
• Martin Luther King, Sr. (b. 1899) was a major influence in the life of his son, Martin Luther King, Jr. As a pastor and Civil Rights leader himself, King Sr. was hugely influential in the development of his son’s conscience, ideals, and own desire to follow in ministry and Civil Rights. MLK Jr. would not have been the same person without his father’s example and training.
• Nate Saint (b.1923), the missionary pilot in Ecuador, left a powerful legacy to his son Steve Saint, in his willingness to give his life for the sake of the gospel. Though Nate was martyred by the Waodani people while he was still a young dad, his son Steve decided to take up his father’s work and continue to preach to the Waodani and to others, worldwide. He has helped share the story of his dad and the other martyrs through documentaries and films like Beyond the Gates of Splendor and End of the Spear.