I was recently approached by a mother at a homeschooling convention who heard me speak to the teens on the topic of “Waiting for True Love.” She brought her 11-yr-old daughter up to me and said, “Mr. Wayne, can you please tell my daughter why, when she turns 18, that she needs not to date guys and needs to allow her father and I to pick the person she marries?” I studied her face for a moment to see if she was serious. She was. I told her, “If you and your husband have cultivated an open relationship of trust and communication with your daughter, when she is 18, she will be knocking your door down (figuratively) to get your advice, wisdom, guidance, counsel and blessing regarding who she marries. If you have proven that you are trustworthy, have a good track record of making good and godly decisions, and she is fully convinced that you have her best interests at heart, you won’t be able to keep her away from seeking you out for wisdom, blessing and counsel. On the other hand, if all of that is not in place, then anything that you try to impose from the outside will only back-fire on you and cause even more bitterness, resentment and rejection.”
Two Patriarchal Approaches
In Genesis, we see two Patriarchal leaders, Abraham and Lot, who I think provide a bit of a sociological antithesis for us. For fathers who are looking to provide Biblical protection and guidance for their sons and daughters, perhaps we can learn from the lives of these two imperfect men.
A Lot of Mistakes
The Bible refers to the Patriarch, Lot, as “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7-8). This has always bewildered me. To me, Lot seems like the archetype for what a Godly man should NOT do. When you consider his relationship with his daughters, for example, he seems to be absolutely clueless. First of all, in Genesis 13:12, we find Lot separating from Abraham and “pitching his tent toward Sodom.” Every morning as the sun would rise, Lot would awake and gaze upon the Las Vegas of his day. There must have been something in him that longed for that kind of immoral association, for the next thing we discover is that he is quickly living IN Sodom (Genesis 14:12). Even though Lot loved God, and was repulsed by the wickedness of his neighbors (at least to some level), he seemed to lack the wisdom he needed to be a good father to his daughters. He offers his daughters to be raped by the orgy-driven mob in Sodom (Genesis 19:8), that’s something even our modern-day TV talk show hosts would frown on. He allowed his daughters to be engaged to the men of decadent Sodom (Genesis 19:14), again, not what most folks would call a good idea. He allowed his teenaged girls to live in the culture of the world. They were undoubtedly influenced in many ways by the culture and the worldview of the pagan society in which they lived. Once they are instructed to flee from Sodom, and his wife turns into a pillar of salt, Lot does a 180 in his lifestyle. After having a bad experience in the Sodomite culture, Lot heads for the hills and finds a cave to crawl into. From his cave he begins homeschooling, listens to Patriot Radio on his shortwave, lives off of canned goods, orders every CD he can find on avoiding dating, and beats his chest while pontificating about the virtues of having a “Patriarchal Vision.” His cave-dwelling experience is not so much a positive, pro-active move as it is a fearful reaction against their previous culture. Lot’s girls are trying to adjust to the pendulum swing of going from one cultural (and theological) swing to another. It’s hard for them to understand the sudden change in venue. They are given far more WHAT than WHY when it comes to the family’s new convictions. As you probably remember, the whole, “Stay home and wash Dad’s socks until you are 40” plan, strikes Lot’s girls as less of a “Godly vision,” and more of a clueless and directionless apathy to their situation. These girls are of child-bearing years. They want to find a man, get married and have babies. That’s hard to do when you live in a cave. They have no Christian fellowship, there are no men around, they house church (by themselves), and probably don’t even attend homeschooling conventions (in case there is something on which they disagree being taught there!). The situation goes bad. The offspring created from the ensuing incestuous relationship resulted in the Ammonites and the Moabites, two people groups who plagued the Israelites for many years.
A Bride for Isaac
Abraham is an example of a Godly (although imperfect) patriarch. He finally gets his son of promise, Isaac, and delights in him. He raises him carefully, and makes sure that he doesn’t have “companions of fools.” He trains Isaac in the way of the Lord. Everything is going along great until Abraham realizes that Isaac has finished his homeschooling, decided not to go to college, and really hasn’t developed a game-plan for life yet. While the average young man is getting married at 29, it hits Abraham one day that that Isaac is a late-bloomer by anyone’s standards. He is now 40, still living at home, and has no plans to move out in the near future. Abraham decides that this isn’t good. (See Genesis 24.) So he calls his employee, Eliezar, who has faithfully served the family for many years, into his office and says, “Put your hand under my thigh.” Eliezar suddenly wishes he had taken the severance package and retired a few months back before the boss started really losing it. Abraham explains that he wants Eliezar to go to the land of his forefathers, and get a wife for Isaac from the homeplace.
Find a Culture Conducive to Success
Painting by József Molnár (1821–1899)
If I can interject a Biblical principle here, I think Abraham gets something right with this idea. If you want to find a Godly spouse for your children, you need to go to where they are most likely to be hanging out! You need to find a culture that supports your values. Abraham knew that there were no viable marriage possibilities in their local area, but unlike Lot, he didn’t sit around doing nothing. He truly had a vision. His vision was for the well-being of his son, not his own well-being. He wanted to make sure that he gave his son every opportunity to have a Godly and successful marriage. There is a time for sheltering children and keeping them close to home. That is not the ripe old age of forty! There is a time to let your arrows fly. Sometimes you need to do something radical to ensure success for your adult children. You might need to change jobs, move, join a new church, send your child to work for a ministry or mission organization, etc. It might take some action on your part, but that is a good thing, as long as it is Spirit-led and directed.
Recognize the Benefits of the Body
Another thing Abraham does that makes a lot of sense to me is that he realizes that he cannot personally meet all of his son’s needs. His son needs a wife and he isn’t even able to accomplish finding one all on his own. With much prayer and trust in God, he allows God to use Eliezar as a mentor and helper in Isaac’s life. You need to be very careful with who you select as a mentor or influencer in your child’s life. It can’t be just anyone. It needs to be someone who will support your values, and your relationship with your child, but also someone who can take them farther than you have. God will work in your child’s life, even after you are dead and gone. Abraham realized this. Your goal should be to point them in the right direction and help to bend the twig in the right trajectory.
Good Patriarchy vs. Bad Patriarchy
It’s not a bad thing for fathers to be proactive leaders in the lives of their children. What is bad is an abuse of authority. We’ve all seen examples of both godly and abusive expressions of fatherhood. A good and godly father will:
1. Keep himself accountable by living in fellowship and community with other believers.
2. He will be attentive and listen to the concerns/needs of his family.
3. He will recognize his human frailty and walk humbly, with a heart open to correction and change.
4. He will have a long-range vision for his children, considering their future, as well as present, needs.
5. He will invite other Godly men, and women, to help mentor his adult children.
6. He will operate out of faith (Abraham), not fear (Lot).
7. He will eventually work himself out of a job. His goal is ultimately to raise adults, not children.
This article was originally published in Summer 2012 in the Home School Digest magazine.