Friday, February 5, 2010

Workin' In A Coal Mine

I always took it for granted that my father would provide for us.

Dad always worked. He worked in coal fields and on riverboats. He once worked on a garbage truck.

Dad didn’t settle for those difficult jobs because he was not smart or because he lacked ambition or pride. My father is an intelligent and resourceful man. He was ordained into Christian ministry. He didn’t like working on a garbage truck.

Dad did jobs that were distasteful to him because he had a responsibility to care for his family. In his day, such dedication was the norm. People believed then that fatherhood required sacrifice.

I am not one of those people who believe that everything new is bad and that everything old was good.

The good old days were not always that great.

However, when it comes to the way we think about fathering, it seems we have lost a great deal since my father’s day. Even though it was sometimes used as an excuse for abuse, I believe that the traditional view of fatherhood was good and biblical. Today’s children are poorer from society having discarded the notion of father as a provider and defender.

Fatherhood certainly cost God something. St. John says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16) His heart was broken for us. He came to our defense. He sacrificed Himself to liberate us from the power of evil. That's what fatherhood is about. When we call God “our Father,” we bring to mind His loving provision for us. If we are fathers, worshipping a Father like our God should teach us what sort of father we should be.

Parenthood costs. It means that sometimes the right thing to do is to turn down career advancement because such a step will take too much time away from our children. It means that we should urge our churches to stop segregating their children from their parents. It means accepting personal inconvenience for our children’s sake.

We learn such things when we worship God as Father.

We have already reached the place in our One Year Bible readings when the Old Testament stories have given way to endless instructions about how to live life. Yesterday, we read the BIG TEN RULES FOR LIVING. Now we are into days and weeks of reading in which the application of God’s rules to everyday life becomes, well, boring.

Boredom is a decision though. It takes courage to pay attention to tedious instructions. Courage is that attribute of character that carries a person through situations from which he would rather flee. Fear, distaste, humiliation or boredom can cause a person to flee an important task before the work is accomplished. Sometimes, we must judge our own reaction to things and decide to override our own emotions. Doing that is called courage. We read the text because God wants us to know how to live and we will not do that by avoiding everything in life that is not to our momentary liking.

Providing for another person is a great responsibility. There will be days and perhaps weeks, when the job seems thankless and without reward. In such times, one must “gird up the loins of his mind,” as the King James Bible put it, and just “keep on keeping on.”

Those of us who had fathers who did this have a good experience with trust. We can believe that a man can endure all sorts of things to keep us warm, clean, educated and fed.

It helps us believe that a God who teaches us to call Him Father, might mean it when He says, “How can I forget you? Can a nursing mother forget her child? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. You are mine.”

If such a God notices every sparrow that falls, I can be sure that He knows my needs before I even ask.

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