In the December 2020 issue of First Things, Mary Eberstadt wrote an article titled, “The Fury of the Fatherless.” Her argument in the article is that much of the dysfunction that we see in Western society can be attributed to the lack of fathers in the home. Eberstadt writes, “Six decades of social science have established that the most efficient way to increase dysfunction is to increase fatherlessness.” According to Eberstadt, “absent fathers predict higher rates of truancy, psychiatric problems, criminality, promiscuity, drug use, rape, domestic violence, and other less-than-optimal outcomes,” such as the search for “father substitutes,” which can “turn out to be toxic.”
She also cites evidence to show that there is a link between the “loosening of family ties and the loosening of religious ties.” In other words, when a child’s relationship with an earthly father is broken or dysfunctional, there is a statistical, sociological, and psychological likelihood that the child will reject faith in God. She notes the research of sociologist Paul Vitz, who observed that many prominent atheists had “experienced some form of ‘defective fatherhood,’ such as absence or abuse. Anger at fathers, Vitz theorized, was translated into anger at God.”
Eberstadt uncovers a grim reality that as fatherlessness increases, so does secularism and a disregard for the biblical vision of marriage and family. These trends and statistics are discouraging and heartbreaking. However, they do not tell the whole story, nor do they present ultimate reality.
The Bible tells us that reality is not dictated by human sociology but by divine sovereignty. Though the fury of the fatherless is real, Scripture anchors our faith and hope in the faithfulness of God the Father. Scripture assures us that God is able to overcome evil, sin, and unbelief. God is totally free and all-powerful; therefore, he is not constrained nor is he weakened by societal drifts.
Eberstadt’s article really resonated with me. Like many of the statistics and people she referenced, I grew up in a fatherless home. I did not meet my biological father until I was 20 years old. The majority of my elementary years I grew up with an angry, abusive, and alcoholic stepfather (note: he has since passed and my current stepfather is a godly man who loves the Lord).
Sunday School teachers told me as a young child that God loves me and cares for me. Yet, I would think in my mind, “Has God forgotten me? Does he hate me?” (Psalm 10:10-11). I remember feeling anger, resentment, and confusion as a child. I remember feeling socially disoriented, insecure, and, indeed, searching for “father substitutes” to affirm and guide me. Most of these substitutes were sinful and all were misplaced.
But God the Father was faithful. He had not forgotten me. He did love me. He did not give me a father, but he was faithful to give me his Word, a steadfast mother, and a loving church.
One night, as a young child, my stepfather was drunk and angry. I could hear him in the living room shouting profanities, breaking things, and cursing God. By God’s gracious leading, I grabbed a Methodist pew Bible that night, opened it to the book of Exodus, and began reading. I read about God’s faithfulness to bring Israel out of bondage in Egypt. I read about his faithfulness to bring them through the Red Sea as Pharaoh raged behind them. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and showed me what was real: sin has left this world dysfunctional, unjust, and not what it should be. Why are things so broken? Sin.
I read about their rebellion and worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit continued to speak and to show me ultimate reality: Sin does not just affect the world outside me, it affects me to the core of my being. My father and my stepfather are sinners, but so am I! We all stand guilty before the holy and righteous God.
And then I read how God forgave Israel and what he declared about himself in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
God made himself real to me through his Word that night. Dysfunction was not ultimate reality. Drunken rage was not ultimate reality. An absentee father was not ultimate reality. Insecurity, anger, and confusion was not ultimate reality. Exodus 34:6-7 was, is, and forever will be ultimate reality. The God of the Bible is the God who is there and the God who saves and redeems. Reality would never be the same.
God delivered me from becoming a statistic by his sovereign grace and steadfast love. Over the years I witnessed my mother put her trust in God and obey him at great cost. I witnessed God break my stepfather’s abusive power over my mother “by the power of an indestructible life,” (Hebrews 7:16).
God revealed his fatherly love for me by sending me godly men who loved me, taught me his Word, and prayed for me. When Mr. Werntz, my high school “Accountability Group” leader sensed by the Holy Spirit that I was secretly in sin, he lovingly confronted me. After I confessed that I was viewing pornography, he looked me in the eyes as a man and prayed for me with tears.
At every step and in every moment, God was faithfully revealing himself to me. “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself, you have been the helper of the fatherless,” (Psalm 10:14).
We mourn the epidemic of fatherlessness and we mourn the sufferings of the fatherless, but not as those without hope. Our hope rests in our faithful Father and all of his promises that have been secured by the Lord Jesus; including the promise that he will cause fathers to repent and to return to their children (Luke 1:17).
Remember him who said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).