I have a favorite mental image of fatherhood. It has been shaped and reinforced by much personal experience. You’re driving home in the late afternoon after a day-long family outing. The sun is shining, your wife is in the seat beside you, all your kids are piled in the back. And yet you feel very, very alone. Because you are the only person awake in a vanful of lovable, snoring, slobbering people. And that includes your wife (bless her heart). I’d love to get a picture of my family asleep back there sometime. But when you’re the one driving along the precipices of the Blue Ridge Parkway, that’s a little risky.
The serene sound of regular breathing all around you is seductive. Everything inside you wants to shut down for just a little nap, a little closing of the eyes, a little folding of the hands…. But you alone stand between your family and a crash through the guardrail and down the mountainside. So you do whatever it takes to stay awake. Because their welfare, their lives, are in your hands. That’s your job. You’re the Dad. That’s what Dads do.
I even have some Scripture to back up this image of Fatherhood. One of the Songs of Ascents—those psalms, according to tradition, for Israelite families who left behind their homes and possessions to travel to Jerusalem for the national holidays—describes the Lord this way: He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep (Psa 121:3-4).
In fact, the Hebrew word translated keep appears 6x in that little psalm (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7 [2x], 8)—sometimes translated “keep,” sometimes translated “preserve.” It means to guard, protect—and though God is not referred to as Father in that psalm, that’s what fathers do. That’s part of the nature of Fatherhood in the image of God.
Even though God is not directly referred to as Father in Psalm 121, he is elsewhere in the OT. Sometimes God is said to be like a father:
- A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation (Ps 68:5).
- As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him (Ps 103:13).
But he is also called, addressed as, and even prayed to as Father in the OT.
- Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? (Deu 32:6).
- He shall cry to Me, “You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation” (Psa 89:26).
- Doubtless You are our Father …. You, O LORD, are our Father (Isa 63:16).
- But now, O LORD, You are our Father (Isa 64:8).
Now I don’t like to think of myself as a worrier (though fatherhood definitely carries this temptation to a new level). But I am something of a pessimist (and like all pessimists, I prefer the term realist). I never take an out-of-town trip to go speak somewhere without thinking, “This could be the last time I ever see my family.” Once on my way to the airport, when my kids were much younger, I remember praying, “Lord, please watch over my children while I’m gone and can’t be there to do that myself…”—and it suddenly dawned on me. As if, normally, I’m the one watching over them and protecting them when I’m home! As if it’s not always the Lord who’s doing that, even when I am home with them. Even as the father, I’m never the one truly keeping them. I can’t keep them from viruses, or accidents, or a thousand other dangers, even when I’m right there with them.
As a believer, you can rest in the fact that your Father is the one driving. And he never slumbers. He keeps you (Psa 121:3-4). He is your protector (121:5). He will defend you from all evil (121:7). He will preserve your soul (121:7). He will guard you, coming and going, forever (121:8). That should be as much of a solace to fathers as to anyone.
But this patriarchal dimension of God’s character was never so accentuated in the OT as it is by Jesus in the NT. More on that next time.