The Father Factor: Human Fatherhood as a Type of Divine Fatherhood

The fundamental assertion of this paper is that at creation, God patterned human fatherhood after the typological template of divine Fatherhood as an important means of natural revelation.

The typological nature of fatherhood is rooted both in sacred Scripture and orthodox theology. Accordingly, the argument of this paper progresses in two stages.

First, a biblical-theological exploration of Scripture’s teachings concerning divine Paternity and human paternity suggests that the latter is patterned after the former. Nowhere is this correspondence tighter than in Genesis 5:1-5. Insofar as God stands at the headwaters of Adam’s genealogy, he is “the Father from whom every patrilineage…on earth is named” (Eph 3:14-15). Not only so, but striking linguistic parallels in the text reveal that God’s creation of Adam establishes the paradigm for Adam’s fatherhood of Seth. Although several other OT passages draw an analogy between God and fathers (e.g., Deut 1:31; 8:3; Ps 103:13; Prov 3:12; Mal 3:17), the OT rarely ascribes Fatherly language directly to God. However, with the eschatological entrance of Jesus Christ, God’s unique Son, we discover that Fatherhood is part and parcel of who God is. In the fellowship of the Trinity, God has always been a Father. Consequently, Fatherhood is not an ANTHROPOmorphic metaphor for God. Rather, human fatherhood is THEOmorphic (cf. Athanasius; Aquinas; Barth). One of the ways in which men “image” God, then, is by representing his Fatherly care to their children.

Second, in search of a systematic-theological category in which to canvas the biblical material, Jonathan Edwards’ framework of “types” and “antitypes” emerges as a suitable candidate. In the enchanted worldview of Edwards, the entire cosmos is teeming with types, shadows, or “images of divine things” that reveal God’s glory. From an Edwardsian standpoint, we might say that human fatherhood is a type of divine Fatherhood in two senses. First, human fatherhood is a creational type that points backward to the eternal relations of the Trinity. Secondly, like marriage, it is an eschatological type that points forward to God’s relationship with redeemed humanity in the eternal state. At the same time, however, God’s Fatherhood transcends human fatherhood in such a way that his holiness is uncompromised. A false move here proves fatal to one’s orthodoxy. According to Athanasius, the fundamental blunder of Arius was to mistake the type (human fatherhood) for the antitype (divine Fatherhood).

The conclusion of this paper briefly sketches out the far-reaching practical implications of this “father factor,” particularly in the realm of psychology. If God designed the father-child relationship to reflect his own Fatherly essence, it is unsurprising that people tend to view God through the lens of their earthly father and to read into the biblical word “Father” the cumulative experience of their youth. Thus, the Church has a powerful healing word—not to mention an army of would-be spiritual fathers—to offer a world in which fatherlessness is not only endemic but epidemic. God desires to re-Father his children, and the Church is his orphanage.

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