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The Death of a Father

We like to pretend that premature death does not occur in the West but occasionally and tragically it does. Specifically in the case of the death of a father when children are still in his home, how should we respond?

First of all it’s important to note that the Bible sees fatherlessness as the most extreme case of helplessness. Instructions on how to care for the fatherless abound in Scripture. In fact, the word “fatherless” occurs 41 times in the Bible while the word “motherless” doesn’t even occur once. This is just one of so many examples of the huge disconnect between what the Bible teaches about family and what our popular culture believes. Our culture thinks nothing is more tragic than motherlessness. A recent popular song called “A Bird Without Wings” uses the image of a motherless child to illustrate the worst possible situation a child can experience. But is that really the case?

If the family is merely a nurturing nest than nothing could be worse than the little birdies losing the mother bird. And for very young children who are still being physically nurtured every hour of the day, motherlessness would be the worst thing they could experience, but not for long.

Because God designed the family not simply to be a nest but a productive force that is fruitful, multiplies and subdues the world. How can a family without a father fulfill its mission? It simply cannot. A fatherless family is continuously besieged by the world and can have very little effect on it. It lacks the protection, leadership, provision, strength and vision fathers provide.

And how can the children being raised in that family learn to continue our mission?  A fatherless family is the greatest threat to any society because it virtually dooms, not only that family to possible fruitlessness, but lacks the ability to equip the subsequent generations leading to a breakdown that, over the years, will handicap thousands.

Once you truly understand God’s purpose for the family you see how absolutely essential the father is. And this is not to diminish the importance of the mother. The mother is at least as important as our culture suggests, but because our culture doesn’t understand the purpose of the family it cannot understand that the father is absolutely essential.

So what does that mean for a family that loses its father? How can we handle fatherlessness? Here’s a process I’ve been considering.

  • First, one man must stand up and take responsibility to help this family. This man should do it out of love for the man who died. He may be the man’s brother, father, or close friend but he must personally see protecting and assisting this family as his personal duty to the man he loved (1 Samuel 20:42). It shouldn’t be equally shared by 5 families or a program or a social worker it must be primarily absorbed by one man, who himself is a father, so that there is no doubt who takes on this responsibility.
  • Second, that man should move the widow and those children as close to his family’s home as possible. Possibly in his home if necessary, but ideally it would be a house next to his (the larger community needs to help make this financially feasible).
  • Third, this man should personally visit that fatherless family daily to see what the mother and children need and work to do his best to find help for them in each instance.
  • Fourth, this man must ensure that the children are provided for physically and spiritually and include this family in certain meals, holidays, activities and teachings he does for his own family.
  • Fifth, this man must understand that the best thing that could happen to these children would be for a strong, godly, loving man to come and marry their mother and adopt them into his family (1 Timothy 5:14). Because of this the assisting man should be very supportive of the mother’s pursuit of marriage and assist in anyway he can. To some, especially to many women who have lost their husbands or imagine losing their husbands, they may resist out of a sense of love or loyalty to their deceased husband. But we need to be careful we’re not being overly influenced by the cultural narrative about marriage that its only about finding “the love of a lifetime”. The Bible presents marriage as being equally about building a strong, fruitful family. Strong families need fathers period.
  • Until this marriage takes place the man who is providing assistance to his brother’s or friend’s family must persevere in his duty.

I have no doubt there are many elements about this process that feel paternalistic to some (feminists), heartless to some (romantics), and overly burdenson to others (weak men) but family, friendship and especially fatherhood are serious things to God and all children need the strength and protection of a father figure every year of their lives.

Men, are we prepared to take on this responsibility if a father close to us were to die? Let’s get ready.

Side Note: I purposely did not mention divorce which is a much more complicated topic since the father is still alive and may be intentionally making orphans and a widow of his family.