The last few days have been tough. On Friday I gratefully gathered with good friends, men desiring something – Someone, really – beyond themselves and to fight the good fight together. Men don’t often voluntarily get together to strengthen their hearts, but there is something primal, a budding power, in a room when men seek God.
Our meeting sparked a tough weekend, spiritually. We talked about fathers and sons. We were diverse group of age, race, politics and origins but we could see the crack of evil running through us all as we talked. No matter if one man’s father fought in the Pacific, Saigon or the streets of Cleveland, each one found a father broken down by life, turned emotionally distant, walled off, with little to offer his son. We were tragically united in our common father wounds. None of of expressed the blessing of masculinity bestowed by our fathers. We knew our fathers’ failures better than their virtues and did our best to explain them away.
I have seen one father literally wall himself off from his family, absorbing himself in computer games by himself instead of playing with his son. He was raised by a father who walled himself off too, hidden behind the glow of a TV screen and a haze of cigar smoke. Since Cain men have raised up ramparts to keep out the world, to keep out God, hiding behind them so you never see their shame, how deep the pain goes, how ill-equipped they truly feel that they are.
Few may truly understand, even fewer truly face, the tragic story of fathers and sons. As I reflected, I have come to understand that we are all our fathers’ sons for better or for worse. At better we mimic the good and eschew the bad, at worst we make inner vows to never be like our fathers, but happens anyway. We can never truly be our own man. We enter the world empty and our fathers fill us up, whether they intend to or not, present or absent, with all that they are. The cycle repeats throughout time. Father fills up son, becomes a father and does the same. The same brackish water fills up one son after another. We are our fathers’ sons, and we are our fathers’ sins.
As I hope for my own son someday soon, I am wonder how I will do as a father. I wonder at my purpose as a father, how to do it right, what it means to be one. I see the cycle, and I fear my father’s sins, his father’s sins and those before being poured into my son because I stood by and did nothing.
I am convinced we all have only one hope. Jesus said once that you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins, you pour new wine into new wineskins. He was speaking about the Spirit of God, the new wine, who must be poured into reborn people. In the same way, the only hope we have as sons and fathers is to be reborn – it is the only way to break the cycle.
I remember distinctly the first thing God ever said to me. It was, “I am your Father now.”, and I was wrecked. He knew just what to say. Since that time John 1:12-13 have been bedrock verses for me:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
We are often our fathers’ sins and our fathers’ sons, but Jesus has given us the right to be adopted by God, to have those sins burned away, to have that old way of being destroyed, and a new life given – new wineskins. In Jesus we are no longer our fathers’ sins, we are also no longer our fathers’ sons – we belong to Father God, and it is in his image that we are being renewed in daily. He pours into us his Spirit of adoption – new wine – that cries out ‘Father!’. We are being transformed from the inside out, until the day we are changed in an instant, and then we’ll see him just as he is, and know him fully, just as he knows us fully.
This is the truth, but it is easier understood than lived out. There is a process of forgiving our earthly fathers, setting aside their image, their sins, the messages they’ve imprinted that stand in opposition to the fatherhood of God. Turning their brackish water into new wine is difficult, but fortunately Jesus knows how to do that.
If you find yourself such a man, and if you don’t, trust me, you are, then I say with all conviction: be adopted by God.