Psalm 68:5-6 states that God is “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely…” As we approach Father’s Day, we need to realize as church leaders that there are those in the congregation who either had an unhealthy relationship with their father, or didn’t have a father in the home at all. As you walk through the hallways of your church, consider What it means to be fatherless.

– By Jody Dean

The weight of the word “fatherless” captures the mind to weigh the depths of being without a father in society where the father is a major aspect of your natural development. “The father is responsible for the overall development of the child.”Leroy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciple Making, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 66.

What is my heritage from my father when he is not there? Fatherless to the extent of no Father’s day cards, no birthday or Christmas gifts made or purchased, no advice about dating, no college or career advice in high school are some examples of the void. The key male figure God intended to help shape a child into a person that follows after God is not there.

The Facts

Fatherless does not necessarily mean a child is an orphan. Although a fatherless child could also be motherless and thus be orphaned, this articles describes the single parent home and the implications for the child and ministry. Although a child can be fatherless from birth many have the experiences as a preschooler, child, or adolescent of having known their father and then being confronted with him no longer in their life. Webster’s dictionary simply defines fatherless as “someone not having a father living, lacking a father’s protection, or not knowing the identity of one’s father.” A tragic crisis for a family to resolve is the loss of a member. The first Christmas or birthday causes the family to alter and even reconstruct traditions and rituals.[2] In my family, these served as vivid reminders that my dad was not there. As one grapples for memories or even striving to not forget the family member whether a favorite picture or treasure that one remembers their dad loved. I know I have a collection of artifacts from dad that I cherish the more I mature in adulthood. A family often goes through a restructuring as the missing roles performed by dad must be filled going forward. A person might feel fatherless as their dad wrestles with a terminal illness and is no longer physically able to be a part of their life. Many adults deal with this transition as their parent ages and faces end of life sickness from Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.[3] According to James Dobson the “chief among our concerns is the absence of a masculine role modeling and mentoring that dads should be providing.”[4]

The Difference

In my life, I have been able to overcome fatherlessness due to a multitude of godly men who were willing to stand in the gap for me and be a mentor to me within the church. The statistics reveal that children who are fatherless have many challenges but as people of faith we have a great opportunity to help these children overcome. I am a PhD graduate, married and have two children. I am not addicted to drugs, and not been arrested. Based on the trends I should not have beat the statistics, but I believe the godly men in my life as well as a Godly widowed mother made the difference. James reveals in the latter part of chapter 1, the importance of taking care of the widow and orphan while also taking care of our own walk with Christ. He exhorts the reader to consider personal action as a result of hearing and responding to God’s word. The mirror James references in the passage represents the picture of glancing at yourself to comb your hair or shave and then quickly leaving that image in the mirror to go about your day. The deeper meaning for me as I reflect on this passage reveals the spiritual side of a mirror. Some days each of us only take the time for a quick glance for Bible reading or a brief prayer over a meal that only directs us toward God. If we live each day with just quick glimpses of God, then we never arrive at the place in our lives that will produce a lifestyle of ministry to the forgotten peoples of society.

A widow or an orphan represented a person that was totally dependent on others. Jesus described this level of commitment as loving your neighbor. The evidence of a person that was living more in the Word than with quick glances toward God would not forget the least of these. “To visit orphans and widows means to seek them out with a deep concern for their well-being and a clear commitment to care for their needs.”[5] As the son of a widow, I believe that helping someone with a quick response that is easily forgotten does not change their plight or forecast in life to a great degree, but it helps the other person feel pretty good about themselves. This is not the level of ministry James is calling us toward. James is trying to help you and I understand that we need a deep devotion to the Word of God that leads to a lifestyle of committed response. If you and I can grasp that level of worth to the least of these, then our lives will touch everyone for a kingdom impact.

Both parents are crucial for navigating their children through life, but when one is missing, the challenge for the parent and child are greater. The hurt a child can face due to being fatherless can create a huge void in his or her life.  “Children simply don’t have the maturity or understanding to deal with hurt and pain, so they tend to grab on to anything they can find to protect themselves and help them cope. Whatever works as they become an adolescent —athletic prowess, academic success, good looks, even drugs or alcohol—they want to repeat. By the time they grow up, they may have created layer upon layer of self-protection.”[6] The Old Testament provides a vivid picture of the desire a child has to receive a blessing from his father. Esau pleaded with his dad to bless him as well. A sad picture of a mother’s jealousy and choosing one child over another. Many children feel like Esau for a myriad of reasons, especially the fatherless. The church can stand in the gap for the fatherless by providing godly mentors to help them overcome.

Filling the Void

The father’s exhortation is highlighted in Scripture as a common occurrence. “We were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own child.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11, NASB) Paul is demonstrating the strength of a father’s love by encouraging, comforting, and urging these people toward godly living.[1] The good news for the fatherless child is that he or she does have the Christian father option. While the void in the home has to be filled by the mother, Christian men can also mentor the child. Encourage the godly men of your church to be on the look out for the children in the congregation who either have an absent or unhealthy father figure. Encourage them to look for ways to help that child develop a healthy view of fatherhood and to offer comfort to those who grieve over the lack of relationship they missed with their father growing up.

[1] Max Anders, editor. Holman New Testament Commentary vol. 9 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000) 25.

[2] Diana R. Garland, Family Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999) 588.

[3] Ibid., 589.

[4] James Dobson., Bringing Up Boys. (Carol Stream: Illinois, Tyndale Momentum, 2001) 55.

[5] David Platt, Counter Culture (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2015) 82.

[6] John Trent and Gary Smalley, The Blessing: Revised and Updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 10.

Jody Dean is a member of BACE and Associate Professor for Christian Education, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA.