My friend Ned posted a link to this blog post, where someone has written a short meditation on a piece of artwork from a book Ned edited and published. The book and the link are worth a perusal. (I can’t speak for the rest of the blog. It’s new to me.)
The blogger writes: “It was about 17 years ago that I sat down and tried to find a father/husband in the Bible who was worth emulating. After looking at all of the men I could find, I ultimately landed on Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, and the father in [the story of the prodigal son].” It is, as the Italians say, strano ma vero, strange but true that there are a heck of a lot of Bible dads who drop the ball, parentally speaking. Adam, first man, raised Cain, first murderer. Abraham, the father of nations and spiritual father for us all, begat Isaac, the only one of the patriarchs who ages into an old fool. And don’t get me started on the book of Samuel. The only man in that story who raises a good son is Saul. Samuel’s take bribes. David’s rebel.
Still, what’s hidden in that phrase “worth emulating?” Are there no husbands and fathers in the Bible who are righteous, courageous, and self-sacrificing? Noah obeyed the voice of God and preserved his family in the flood. Abraham protected his wife from the wolf Pharaoh and the lion Abimelech. Jacob blessed his sons with great blessings. Caleb found a noble husband for his daughter Achsah. Boaz spread his redeeming wings over Ruth. Job sacrificed for his sons and daughters on a daily basis. Solomon wrote an entire book of wisdom for his son (who seems to have not paid attention to it). And what about Christ himself, the bridegroom who gave His life for His bride?
It’s not that the men in this list didn’t have faults (other than the last one, of course). But are perfect role models the only ones worth emulating? The author of Hebrews ought to have included discretionary asides about the sins of Isaac, Barak, Samson, and David in the “catalogue of the saints” so that we wouldn’t get the wrong idea and – oh, mercy! – imitate them. The men and women we read about in the Bible were sinners, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the examples of righteousness they set for us.
I really like your response to my piece. Thanks. I agree that one of the great things about the Bible is that we get to see everyone’s flaws. I guess my choice of the word “emulate” goes to the idea of looking for someone whom I would like to be like when someone thinks of me as a husband and father. It started when I was at a retreat 17 years ago and looking for a book in the library they had onsite that talked about how to be a Godly husband and father. When I couldn’t find one, I decided to look for a Bible character to be my example. I like your choice of Boaz. I hadn’t thought of him. I don’t know that we ever get a look at him as a father, but he’s good. The same with Job. We know he was a father, but I don’t know that we ever see his fatherhood in action. Noah as well. But those are good examples of righteous men. I also don’t want to label how good of a father someone was by how their kids turned out. If that were the litmus test then, as you pointed out, we’d have to give Saul more credit for how Jonathan turned out than the father of The Prodigal Son for how his boys turned out. Anyway, all of that is to say that I really liked your piece, and I felt I needed to clarify why I used the word “emulate” in my piece.
John, I’m astonished! I didn’t think people read or commented on blogs anymore. I’ll have to pay more attention to what I say… Thanks for your thoughtful response. My main observation to your post was just that we Christians can be very picky about our biblical role models – in some cases more picky than the Bible itself. I appreciated reading your notes on the Revealed artwork. It’s hard to take the time to really *look* at a work like that, and your observations made it easier. Thanks again.