Fatherhood is not subjective. There are various experiences and expressions of fatherhood, but there is only one definition. Fatherhood has an objective design. I don’t get to decide what it means for me to be a father. I don’t get to bend fatherhood to my whims and wishes – I must bend myself to fatherhood in submission.
I don’t have a right to define fatherhood, but God does, because He created it. God is the Engineer of fatherhood. We see His design from Genesis 1: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (v.28). This passage is not about fatherhood, but the fulfillment of it implies fatherhood, and specifically the kind of fatherhood that God is pleased with.
First, notice the fabric of fatherhood. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (v.27). Mankind is created analogical to God (i.e. reflecting without replicating). Therefore, it should not surprise us that our fatherhood reflects something of God. We catch an initial glimpse in Genesis 1 of Triune glory, where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (v.2) and the Word of God went forth at the command of God to create ex nihilo (vv.3, 6, 9, 11, 14-15, 20, 24). And when worlds of wonder had been wrought, the One God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v.26).
The divine trinity is only implied in the Old Testament. The incarnation of the Son brought about a full, explicit revelation of the Trinity. For example, consider the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). “When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). God wants us to know Him as Father, Son, Spirit. There is no room for “Mother God” or “Brother, Brother, Spirit.” The first member of the Trinity relates to the second member as something we should recognize as fatherhood.
The fatherhood of the first member is restricted to God the Son, or else the uniqueness of the voice from heavenis limited to an ancient manifestation of surround sound. However, through the mediation of Christ (God the Son incarnate), we come to know the first member as Father (Matthew 6:9-13; Romans 8:15-17) and share in the eternal, triune glory (John 17:1-26) – which is the substance of eternal life (3:16). “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3). By the blood of Jesus, we enter into an eternal rest of monotheistic, Triune joy.
I’m sensing a rabbit trail – here’s the point: in the Trinity itself we find a picture of fatherhood. There is no replication of the Trinity on earth, so applying the Father’s relation to the Son part-and-parcel will not do. Yet this does not mean we can’t learn something of fatherhood from the Father. More importantly, this means that the fabric of fatherhood reflects not only the will but the nature of God.
This point is vital if we are to distinguish fatherhood from general fathering in creation. A dog fathers pups and a bull fathers calves, but neither dog nor bull steps into fatherhood. The dividing wall between man and beast, which keeps the beast from becoming a father, is the glory of Genesis 1:27, that man is made in the image of God. Human fathering is an expression of Triune glory. That’s a privilege no animal can acquire via mutation.
Fatherhood has triune fabric. Fatherhood by nature reflects the triune glory of God. Only man can enter into fatherhood because only man is made in God’s image. Indicative to the Imago Dei are characteristics necessary for fatherhood, and these are passed on throughout our generations (Genesis 5:1-7).
Second, notice the command of fatherhood. God issues five imperatives in Genesis 1:28: be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, have dominion. These are not options or suggestions. We see fatherhood (and motherhood, but that’s a different set of articles) in the presuppositional framework underneath these imperatives. Man has no hope of obeying God in these matters without fatherhood.
This is true in simple generation and multiplication, but more-so in the out-working of the Imago Dei. The commands involve more than fatherhood, but certainly not less. For the earth to be filled and subdued, girls will have to be raised into women. For dominion to be exercised over 196,900,000 square miles, boys will have to be disciplined into men. This result falls chiefly upon father, not mother. Paul teaches this when he expects fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Discipline and instruction are established in a home by the faithful exercise of fatherhood. Mothers help, to be sure – as all wooden spatulas may testify – but the task falls to fathers.
The imperatives of Genesis 1:28 require fatherhood. This means, by necessity, that fatherhood is a universal command. Fatherhood is not optional, in the way a man may choose Wendy’s over Taco Bell. Fatherhood is morally necessary for image bearers of God. Sadly, many people consider marriage and raising children simply one path among many that young men may pursue. The implications for fatherhood found in Genesis 1:28 do not negate the possibility of faithfulness without fatherhood. Two clear examples of this would be the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ Himself.
However, Scripture presents fatherhood as a moral normative. All things being constant, we should expect a young man to pursue fatherhood. When I say, “expect,” I mean that we should hold him to it, not that we should bet on it. God wants men to become fathers. Men excluded from this expectation are a type of eunuch, who forgo marriage and children “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). This is abdication of responsibility and blessing.
First, it is abdication of responsibility. It must be authorized by the Authority Who expects fatherhood in the first place. This is why many Christians consider singleness to be a gift. On this subject, Paul wrote, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17). The choice to become a eunuch is appropriated only by divine summons.
Second, it is abdication of blessing. It must be decided upon with sobriety and not hatred for fatherhood. This point concerns the motivation behind the decision. Do I want to become a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom, or because I don’t want to be tied-down? Do I want to become a eunuch in order to glorify God in local churches, or because I am idolizing Paul’s missionary lifestyle? “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).