A Father’s Day Homily
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”
“From his own father,” C. S. Lewis wrote, George MacDonald “first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe.” Few things strike me as more profound than this. To learn the ultimate reality is not some cold, blind natural force, or a glorified man/Olympian god, or a devil, or some other abstraction, but a Father who is flawlessly loving, good, and kind is, indeed, one of the greatest revelations given man (Matt. 6.9, 7.11).
Biologically, fathering a child is easy, but fatherhood—a relationship—is hard. When God wants some great work done, He goes about it in an unusual way. He almost never sends a thunderbolt or an earthquake; instead, He sends a baby to two people who are rank amateurs at child raising, but He expects them to put an idea into their child that will result in tremendous things. And one of the chief things to put into a child’s mind and heart is faith.
Faith and Fathering
If faith is to be anywhere, it’s to be in families, and in Hebrews 11.20-22 it’s seen in three family relationships: father/son (v 20), grandfather/grandson (v 21), and brother/brother (v 22; Gen. 50.24). I’ll admit my surprise that Isaac’s fathering is cited as an example of his faith, for his parenting skills in Genesis 26-27 seem more marked by failure than faith. But God can spot faith even when it’s hard to see—and doesn’t that say something lovely about our God?
In v 20, three considerations show the essentials in a father’s faith.
A father’s obligation: By faith Isaac blessed. Blessing has to do with the enhancement and enrichment of life. It’s opposite is cursing (Deut. 30.19), involving the destruction of life (Deut. 23.5). Fathers bless their children when they love unconditionally, not demanding the child earn their love, or withholding love when the child fails. Conditional love causes children to react rather than act and usually leaves deep scars of anxiety, regardless of how much spiritual/moral teaching the child received. A father’s faith should lead to fatherly love.
A father’s complication: Jacob and Esau. The challenge of fatherhood is proportional to the difference in children. Isaac had two sons—one was a man’s man, the other, a momma’s boy; one was profane (Heb. 12.16), the other faithful; etc. When it comes to parenting, “one size doesn’t fit all,” and there’s no better illustration of this than the twins, Jacob and Esau. But despite their differences, Jacob blessed them—acted in their best interests—even when Esau didn’t realize it, understand it, or agree with it (Gen. 27.38,41; Heb. 12.17).
A father’s orientation: concerning things to come. Faith, says Hebrews 11.1, pulls the future into the present so as to affect the present. On a practical level, this could mean that a father isn’t interested in how a child feels and reacts now as much as how he will feel and react as an adult. True faith (and love) deals with a child with a view to the future (Heb. 12.11).
Note that in 11.20–22, each instance of faith involved a dying faith (for Isaac, see Gen. 27.1-2,41). A person’s response to dying reveals their depths; and for Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, what they did showed their faith in God’s continuing purpose. Maybe these words from Paul get to the nub of Hebrews 11.20–22: “For I know the one in whom I have placed my confidence, and I am perfectly certain that the work he has committed to me is safe in his hands until that day” (2 Tim. 1.12, Phillips). The God who begins a good work will complete it (Phil. 1.6).
The greatest forces in the world are not thunderbolts and earthquakes but fathers and mothers who quietly and tirelessly live by faith in their home.