This Sunday is Father’s Day, a day set aside to officially honor and think about fathers.
Father’s Day is especially relevant to Christianity because the concept of father plays a large role in Christianity. Jesus taught that we should think of God as our father. This is unique among the major religions of the world. Christianity is the only one that has this concept of God as being like our father.
Jesus told people to think of God as being like their father. For example in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray to God as “our Father.” When telling people what God is like, Jesus often referred to God as “your Father in heaven.” And, Jesus compared God to our human fathers.
In Luke chapter 11, Jesus says this, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
This idea of looking at God as being like a father came straight from the mouth of Jesus. It was something new Jesus introduced. It represents a completely different way of looking at God, that God is like our father.
As I said, there is no other major religion in the world that thinks of the deity as being like our father. In Judaism, there is no concept of God being like a father. It is something unique to Christianity, something that Jesus Himself introduced.
It should be one of the basic beliefs of Christianity, that God is like our father. According to Jesus, the way God is like our father is that God cares for us like a father, God wants to give us good things like a father wants to give his children good things, and God is always looking out for us, always there to help and protect us, just like a father.
It is an image of God that Jesus introduced and that is unique to Christianity.
Many Christians, though, have lost this idea of God being like a father, because when they think of God as father, they think of it most of all in the sense of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that’s not the idea Jesus was talking about when He talked about God as being like a father. Jesus was not talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He was talking about thinking of God as being like a father who loves us, wants the best for us, and always tries to help us.
By talking about the Trinity so much—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Christians have lost the original idea Jesus gave us of thinking of God as being like a father: God wants good things for us, tries to give us good things, and is always there to help us.
So I’d like for us to think of God as father, not in the sense of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but in the sense of being like our human fathers. But of course that’s hard for us to do, because the very concept of father has changed so much.
Today, in honor of Father’s Day, I’d like for us to look at how the concept of fatherhood has changed. We’ll do it in a roundabout way, by going back in American history and looking at some major changes in American society.
Let’s go back about 200 years, to the year 1820. In 1820, there were 21 states in the United States; the United States didn’t go any farther west than Missouri. The area of Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and California was part of Mexico. It was a long time ago. A man named James Monroe was President. There were less than 10 million people in the entire country.
In 1820, 90% of all Americans lived on farms, and 79% of American workers were farmers. As far as the 21% of American workers who were not farmers are concerned, back then the economy consisted mainly of what’s called the “artisan system of labor.” That means most goods that were produced in the American economy were produced by small craftsmen, by hand, working in small shops. Most of those workshops were either in their homes or nearby. There were furniture makers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, pottery makers, harness makers, all kinds of craftsmen like that. They produced, by hand, in small workshops, most of the goods produced in the American economy.
In 1820, approximately 90% of all Americans were self-employed. That’s hard to believe today, but it’s true. They either worked their own farms or worked as craftsmen in their own shops. Think about that. In 1820, 90% of all Americans were self-employed.
There’s something else interesting about 1820. Most children received their education from their parents. For all practical purposes, there was no public school system. Depending on where you lived, there might be a Sunday School at a nearby church, and children might have received some education there.
Sunday School began in the late 1700’s, not as a religious thing but as a basic educational thing, to teach children to read, write, and do arithmetic. That was the original purpose of Sunday School. It was held at a church because that was the only public building available in a lot of places. The Bible was used to teach children how to read and write because that’s the only book available in most places. Sunday School was held on Sundays not because it was a religious thing, but because that was the only day off most people had. For a few hours on Sunday, children would be taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
So here’s the picture of life in the United States 200 years ago: 90% of all Americans lived on farms, over three quarters of all American workers were farmers, and most of the rest were small craftsmen, with the result being that 90% of all Americans were self-employed. Most children received their education from their parents, with some maybe also receiving some basic education in a Sunday School.
Now let’s move up 130 years, to the year 1950. In 1950 less than 20% of Americans lived on farms and less than 12% of American workers were farmers. In the 130 years since 1820, we had gone from 90% of Americans living on farms and 79% of American workers being farmers to less than 20% living on farms and less than 12% being farmers. Also, the artisan system of labor was long gone. It had been replaced by the factory system of manufacturing, and most Americans were employed in business and industry. In 1950, only 25% of Americans were self-employed. So in 130 years, we went from 90% of Americans being self-employed to 25% of American beings self-employed. By the 1950’s, most Americans were employed in business and industry.
And, by 1950, most children were receiving their education in the public school system. In fact, by this time every state had compulsory attendance laws requiring children to remain in school up to a certain age. At first, most compulsory attendance laws required school attendance until age 14, but later it was changed to age 16. In 1910, only 9% of Americans had a high school diploma. But by 1950, over 55% had a high school diploma. That was due to the public school system.
Now let’s move on up to today. Today, less than 1% of Americans live on farms. Less than 3% of American workers are farmers, but even that includes those who farm on the side but who are employed off-farm. Today, only around 7% of Americans are self-employed. And finally, today, over 90% of Americans have a high school diploma.
So let’s take a snapshot of what happened from 1820 until today. We went from 90% of Americans living on farms to less than 1% living on farms. We went from 79% of American workers being farmers to less than 3%, but even that figure is inflated because it includes side-line farmers. We went from 90% of Americans being self-employed to just 7% of Americans being self-employed. We went from children receiving most of their education from their parents to children receiving education in the public school system.
Let’s think about what that meant for the way children are raised.
If you were a child in the year 1820, chances are, overwhelmingly, that your father worked at home, either on a farm or in a small shop. Chances are that you helped your father on the farm or in the shop, every day. You were with your father all day. That gave your father tremendous influence on you as you grew up. Your father was a major influence in your everyday life.
You were raised by your father every day, throughout the day. You spent a lot of time with your father. You learned from your father. Your father had a tremendous influence on the values you formed as you grew up, the values you would hold as an adult.
Now, let’s move up to 1950. If you were a child in 1950, chances are that you didn’t live on a farm, you lived in a town. Chances are your father worked in business and industry. Your father left home early in the morning and didn’t come home until evening. And, you were in school all day. When you came home from school in the afternoon, chances are your mother was there. Your father had been largely removed from your life.
The move off the farms and to the cities, the move from self-employment to employment in business and industry, combined with the public education system, changed the role of father, completely changed what it meant to be a father. By 1950 the father was, for all practical purposes, removed from raising children, removed from influencing children as they grew up. The father was, for all practical purposes, not much of a factor in children’s lives.
Where did children spend most of their time? In the public school system. The rest of their time, they spent with their mothers. This meant that the father’s influence was, for all practical purposes, removed from the values being formed in his children.
Let’s move on up to today. Today, 82% of mothers with children under age 18 work outside the home. This is a huge change in our society. First the father was taken out, then the mother was taken out. The result of that is that children today are raised by others. Children spend much more time around others than they do around their parents. Children actually spend very little time around their parents. Compare the amount of time children spend with their parents each day today with the amount of time they spent with their parents each day in the year 1820. Compare the influence parents have on the values their children form today with the influence parents had on the values their children formed in 1820.
In 1820, parents raised children, and parents formed the values in their children. Today, children are raised by others, and others form the values in children. Parents have only a peripheral influence in their children’s lives.
Today, the role of father, and the role of mother too, is primarily that of earning money. Fathers and mothers are off earning money, while their children are being raised by others. As a result of that, others have the most influence over the values that are formed in their children.
In our lifetimes, we have lived through seismic shifts in society, huge changes in the values and attitudes society holds, huge changes in the values and attitudes individuals hold. Some people think that’s good; others think it’s bad. Some are happy things are moving in the direction they’re going in today; others aren’t. I hear a lot of those who aren’t happy about the direction things are going lament over the fact that the younger generations don’t hold the same values and attitudes that were once held dear in the past.
Keep in mind that the younger generations today did not just invent the values they hold. They were taught the values they hold. Who taught them those values? Others did. First the father, and then the mother, were for all practical purposes taken out of the equation, and there is never a vacuum, something always fills a vacuum. With the father and mother out of the picture, others came in, and it was others who taught the younger generations the values and attitudes they hold today.
Parents found ways to earn money and provide a higher standard of living for their children, but they did not find ways to pass their values on to their children.
Much of that is due to the fact that the economy changed over the past 200 years, and while parents found ways to earn money and increase the standard of living for their children, they neglected to pass their values on to their children.
We look out and we see that the upcoming generations don’t share the values and attitudes we have, and we wonder why. Well, it’s simple. We didn’t teach them our values and attitudes. We didn’t realize the importance of being sure our values were passed down to the next generations. We let others teach them their values and attitudes.
It all started when we took fathers out of the equation.