Matthew 7:7-12 (NKJV)
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
In preparing this study I thought about the incarcerated men I’ve met over the past 17 years, and what each man told me about his father.
For the men who had a good father the passage in Matthew 7 seems pretty straightforward. A father will try to give good gifts to his child, especially if the child asks, and it is a good thing, and it is within the means of the father to provide it.
In a good relationship between a father and his child the act of asking enhances the relationship. The father learns what is important to the child. The child learns that the father wants to provide. Asking is important.
An illustration that I use is about my own son. When he was younger he absolutely loved Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It was one of the first foods he learned how to make on his own. My wife and I wondered aloud if he’d eventually turn orange because he was eating so much of it. Because I knew he liked Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when I went to the grocery store I would buy it for him. But I would only give it to him when he asked.
Many of the men I’ve met, both behind and outside the walls, grew up without a father. How do they read the Matthew passage? How do you ask a father who isn’t there? What perceptions do they have of asking when their father is absent, and even the child support payments were sporadic or missing altogether?
David Blankenhorn said the following:
“Tonight, about 40 percent of children in the western world will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live.
Before they reach the age of eighteen, more than half of our nation’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhoods living apart from their fathers.
Never before in this country have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers.
Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father.
Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child and adult wellbeing in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems…. If this trend continues, fatherlessness is likely to change the shape of our society.”
These men have struggled with believing that God could have any interest in them. Some of these men have found emotional and spiritual healing. Rather than ascribing to God the flaws of their absent earthly father these men have often remembered how they imagined a good father would have treated them. A good father would have been there. A good father would have heard them. God becomes the good father for them.
The Psalmist wrote:
Psalm 68:5-6a (NKJV)
5 A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
6a God sets the solitary in families;
I’ve met men who have found this scripture to be true.
I’ve met some men whose fathers could accurately be described as evil. Fathers who, beyond being gang bangers and drug dealers, demonstrate an unusually cruel streak. The ones who are actively keeping the mother, and sometimes even the children, ensnared in the grips of addiction. There are the violent men who use beating against all family members. One man described the when he was a child his father would force him to choose what device the father would use to beat him – a belt, a wooden switch, or an extension cord.
Another man described how, as a teenager he had saved up money to buy himself a car. When he brought it home and showed it to his dad the fathers reply was, “You don’t deserve a car.” His father sold the car and kept the money to “teach him a lesson.” The money was probably spent to feed the father’s crack cocaine habit.
How do men raised by evil fathers react when they read Jesus describing fathers who give good gifts? They grew up in a household where you tried to avoid asking anything of their father for fear of getting him riled up and receiving another beating.
If they ever did receive a gift from their father it always had strings attached. “Remember when I gave you this? Now you have to …” Some gifts might look good initially, but would have something that would eventually confound or frustrate the child.
I‘d rather not have your gift
if it is going to come
with “strings” attached
Romans and Greeks
In some ways the Romans and Greeks held a view of their gods much like people who have evil fathers. The Greeks had their stories about the gods who answered men’s prayers, but the answer was an answer with a barb in it, a double-edged gift. Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth, so the Greek story ran. Zeus, the king of the gods, offered her any gift that she might choose for her mortal lover. Aurora very naturally chose that Tithonus might live forever; but she had forgotten to ask that Tithonus might remain forever young; and so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.
Even the 1990’s TV show Hercules noted the cruelty of the ancient gods…
This is the story of a time long ago – a time of myth and legend. When the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering, only one man dared to challenge their power…
Jesus describes God as approachable, who wants to hear our wants and needs. One man described that God had given him a gift by God being the father that this man could look to, and cry out to, without fear.
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread[a] 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? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 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!”