Fathers have an enormous responsibility in raising up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And dads have a particularly significant role to play in raising up sons. But Christian dads frequently fail by sins of omission. They don’t usually abuse their children (though some do). They don’t usually malign them or chew them out or yell at them. Often times, Christian dads sin by failing to positively love and affirm their kids, and their sons in particular.
God made the world such that when sin entered the world, insecurity and shame came into the world. Part of that insecurity and shame results from knowing that God, their Father, didn’t approve of their actions (eating the forbidden fruit). Part of that insecurity and shame amounted to uncertainty about the future, about God’s response, about their nakedness. And ever since, people live lives full of insecurity, uncertainty, and fear. But like our first parents, we don’t just stand there in our nakedness usually. We scramble for coverings.
And since God filled the world with all kinds of cool stuff, we look for something cool that we can pull off pretty well. Some people can work out at the gym and get sculpted, sexy bodies. Some people pour lives into athletics. Others work long hours, save up tons of money and find their security in fat bank accounts, big houses, or fancy cars. We cover our insecurity and shame with something we think makes up for it. I might be scared, insecure, uncertain, but at least I eat grass fed beef. I may be scared, ashamed, worried, but at least I have these sweet tattoos.
But people are insecure because they feel vulnerable, unsafe, exposed, naked in some way. It may be unconfessed sin. Maybe they have a porn problem, maybe they slept with their girlfriend in high school, maybe they had an abortion or struggle with same-sex attraction. So they try to cover it up with something cool, something that looks good, something that looks together. But maybe there are no huge skeletons in the closet. Maybe there’s just an emptiness, uncertainty, feelings of shame. Sons thrive on respect, they grow up strong when they know they are loved, admired, looked up to. And when that kind of environment is lacking, sons wilt, they grow uncertain, unsure, unsafe, afraid, insecure. And so even in the absence of gross sin, there can be a dad-shaped hole gaping wide, hungry for love, for affirmation, hungry to know that your dad is pleased with you. And again, in the absence of that hole being filled, people scramble for fig leaves. They try to get affirmation and respect elsewhere. If they can’t get it from their dad, they’ll look for it from their peers, their teachers, the world. But that kind of justification is paper thin. That kind of justification is just fig leaves.
Ultimately Jesus is the answer to this problem, but dads play a huge role in communicating the answer to their kids. Sons in particular need dads who are affirming, who regularly, graciously tell their sons that they are proud of them, that they respect them. They need dads who praise them, ask them for advice, get their input and help on projects. This doesn’t mean ignoring sin or pretending that you like the blue mohawk or the nose ring or certain life choices, but wherever there is goodness, you jump up and down and praise it. You talk about your favorite things about your son, about his accomplishments, his goals, his gifts, and perhaps most importantly, the ways he’s different than you that you think are so cool.
God our Father doesn’t come to us with a list of infractions. He doesn’t come to us with his fingers crossed behind His back. He isn’t hiding secret thoughts about us. He isn’t pretending to like us on the outside but secretly deeply disappointed. God comes to us as a Father who is pleased with His Son, who rejoices over His Son, and invites us into that fellowship, that love by the Holy Spirit.
Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins, we are clean, we are forgiven. Whatever sin or uncertainty, failure or weakness, it doesn’t matter. It’s all taken care of, and furthermore, Jesus is the perfect Son, the righteous Son, and in Him God rejoices over you. Dad’s have the high calling of both receiving the Father’s love and then bestowing and modeling that Fatherly love on their children: forgiving sin, healing weakness, raising up the faint hearted, rejoicing over them with singing and laughter.
Whether sons are 13 or 30, they always thrive under that kind of approval, that kind of pleasure, that kind of love because that’s the love of God in action, that’s the grace of Jesus bestowed. That kind love is not a covering of shame; it’s a garment of glory. And that kind grace makes sons grow up strong.