A Fatherless Nation
According to the latest U.S. Census  statistics, about a quarter of all children live in single-parent homes, with blacks having a significantly higher percentage [just over 50%]. It should also be noted that those single-parent homes are almost exclusively mothers [over 90%]. Especially for one ethnic group in this country, many children are raised without their fathers. This was a point emphasized by none other than then-Senator Barack Obama in a Father's Day  address at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. He further noted that these "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison." Statistics show he was telling the truth.
As citizens, we should be concerned for our fellow Americans but, as Christians, we should have an even greater concern than just the socioeconomic consequences. We should be concerned for the spiritual state of those growing up without fathers, yes, but maybe in a different way than you might think. Bear with me on this, but I think this is a point not to be ignored or simply dismissed when trying to reach the lost and give them reasons why they should believe in God, why they should believe His promises, and to see the benefits of our earthly spiritual family, the church.
The Earthly/Heavenly Father Parallel. Throughout the Bible, we see the picture of God as our Father, beginning with the question posed to the Israelites as they approached entry into the Promised Land [“Is He not your Father, who bought you?” cf. Deut. 32:6], but more so throughout the New Testament, as with Paul's opening greetings found in so many of his letters [“Grace to you and peace from God our Father”; cf. Eph. 1:2]. Indeed, within the Old Testament, God admitted, “I am a Father to Israel” (Jer. 31:9), and to those who followed Christ, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (2nd Cor. 6:18). God took the role of our heavenly Father — a title Jesus also used for God (cf. Matt. 6:14) — and purposefully so.
To the Israelites, God promised He would provide abundantly for them (Deut. 28:2-6) and that He would protect them from their enemies (v. 7) — as any father would; but He also promised He would discipline them when they disobeyed or rebelled against Him (vv. 15-68). As a trustworthy Father, He kept His word to them and nothing He said did not come to pass (cf. Josh. 21:45). They would later understand that He kept His word regarding the promise of discipline, just as surely as He had kept His word regarding the good things (cf. Dan. 9:12). They could not say, throughout it all, that their Father did not care, or that He was absent.
Throughout the history of the Israelite nation, even in those times when they turned away from Him time and time again, their Father pleaded with them to return and be forgiven and blessed once again. In spite of their persistent unfaithfulness, God still could say, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). That same measure of love was what moved God to send His only Son to die for our sins, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), with “us” being sinners — all of us. This is a Father who cares so much for the sinful that He would adopt them as His children if they were but willing!
The Husband/Wife Parallel to Christ and the Church. In another parallel [not unrelated to the first], God's word also draws a parallel between the husband/wife relationship and that of Christ and the church, as found in Ephesians 5:22-33. Keep in mind first that the church parallels the wife, who is subject to Christ in everything (v. 24), and Christ is the husband, who loved the church and gave Himself for her (v. 25). This parallel is one that helps us understand both the role of the church and the love of Christ, as demonstrated [ideally] by the husband/wife relationship. For today's study, let us focus on the husband/Christ and Paul's admonition that husbands “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (v. 25), and, “husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies” (v. 28). In other words, what should be seen in the marriage relationship is a husband that shows the same degree of sacrificial love as Christ showed in the sacrifice of Himself for the church. This is the way it should be.
Now, with both of these illustrations and parallels, let us stop and consider what is missing when a household with children does not have a father/husband — something that affects the children of fatherless homes, our society as a whole, and the meaningfulness of the spiritual parallels we often use to appeal to those of the world to see the value in believing in and following God and Christ. Consider:
God As The ‘Father’ Will Have A Different Meaning. For someone who has grown up in a house with a father, being told God is our heavenly Father will be something he or she can relate to, and will ideally see that God cares for us, provides for us, and protects us in a spiritual sense; but what about the one who has not ever seen or known a father in his or her house? What will he or she think, then, when we speak about God being our Father?
Sadly, many single-parent homes [ones with only a mother] have children who have seen anything and everything but the ideal example. For many, what they see is a man who uses the mother for his own selfish purposes, is not faithful to her, and who leaves when he is no longer happy. Far too many see a man who is self-centered, uncommitted to the mother or to the children, who feel no responsibility to either, or — worse — one who is an abuser of either one or both.
They will have grown up without a mentor, provider, or protector; they will not have had the experience of a father's concern, love, or discipline, either. God as ‘Father’ will not be an appeal, but it might just be seen in a negative light.
Christ's Love For The Church Will Be A Foreign Concept. In homes without fathers, there is, of course, no example of a father who loves his wife and will sacrifice everything for her. As was stated earlier, far too many times, the men the fatherless see are users and abusers — not even close to the picture of the husband whom Christ parallels.
In each of these situations, it will be necessary to be careful to show such ones the Bible picture of who God is so they may see what a father should be and should do, and how God as our Father does it all to perfection and without fail; we must also show the Bible picture of Christ's love for the church and His willingness to sacrifice even His own life for her, and what that sacrifice means.
Now, of course, this is all said with the understanding that in many homes in which the father is present, the examples are still not what they should be, and one's perception of God the Father and Christ the loving husband of the church will be skewed. That is a study for another day.
The point we must not forget is that not everyone grew up in a two-parent, loving home; let us ensure we use words and terms others can truly relate to, so the power of the gospel is not lost on them. —— Steven Harper