“Father of the Fatherless” is not an Empty Quip

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.(Psalm 68:5)

Every Father’s Day, somewhere, some well-meaning preacher makes a passing reference to the promise of Psalm 68:5 in a way that may do more harm than good. To the fatherless it may sound like an empty quip— “Don’t worry about the absence, you have God as your Father.” But God wasn’t sitting in the stands with their mom during the game or at the recital. God wasn’t paying the bills so mom wouldn’t have to work three jobs. Wielded haphazardly, this glorious promise can actually multiply the feeling of absence for the fatherless — “Not only is your dad not here, neither is God.”

The fatherless desperately need the promise of Psalm 68:5, but it is not given for instant inspiration. God’s promises are meant to be long considered even in the midst of suffering. “The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies” (Psalm 119:95). His promises are given for meditation throughout one’s life. “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Meditation on God’s promises reorients our perspective on Fatherhood. The institution of fatherhood in this life is given that we may see a glimpse of a greater eternal reality. It is before our eternal Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” and not vice versa (Ephesians 3:14). God is our transcendent Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.

The fatherless need exposition for meditation like the Heidelberg Catechism offers beautifully:

[The] eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them, who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence,) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt but he will provide me with all the things necessary for soul and body; and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father. (Question 26)

God is our Father as the Almighty God who adopts us according to his free grace through the redeeming work of his Son, Jesus Christ. God does not immanently fill the absence of an earthly dad, but rather he transcendently works the evil of this absence for good. He does so by immanently saving us through Christ and dwelling with us through his Holy Spirit. God is our transcendent Father, meaning that any good experience of fatherhood in this life is but an analogy to the glory of God’s eternal Fatherhood. God’s Fatherhood is one of incomprehensible light, giving “every good gift and every perfect gift…from above” (James 1:17). When we ask for fish, he will not give us a serpent, but “the heavenly Father [gives] the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:12–13). He loves us and delights to care for us as sheep to whom he will give his kingdom (Luke 12:32).

However, as the Catechism reminds us, “in this valley of tears” there are indeed “evils.” One great evil for many is the absence experienced in being fatherless. But armed with this new way of thinking, we can rejoice in the face of the absence because God is our Father and he is good. God promises to work all things together for the good of his children (Romans 8:28), thus every evil will finally “turn out to my advantage.” And no matter how evil the absence may feel, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Thus, God’s Fatherhood is a delight, not because he directly fills the void of an absent earthly dad, but because through this absence he transcendently delights us by his presence and his promises. All of this will turn out for his glory and our good.

Our enjoyment of his Fatherly provision is like all of his blessings given to us in this day — already, but not yet (cf. Mark 10:29–30). In this life, the fatherless may be blessed with godly father figures and mentors who do more good than many real dads. The fatherless are given the church, an extended family, that may struggle to welcome them well on Father’s Day, but that loves them faithfully through the years. The fatherless may be blessed with children of their own to enjoy what it is like to be a father. However, there is always an absence that reminds them that they wait for the full experience of God’s presence. The absence is an evil redeemed to be a blessing. The fatherless may know God now in a way that those with good dads never will.

For the fatherless, Psalm 68:5 provides a profound promise. It communicates that God reserves a special relationship of Fatherhood to those who do not enjoy the blessings of a good dad in this life. In addition to being Almighty Father who is able to save, he is the eternal Father willing to save. The fatherless who look to God in hope will enjoy their Father in a way that only they can for all eternity.