To the Fatherless

Last week, we turned in our *big* senior papers. Having finished mine about two weeks early, it wasn't anything monumental in my mind. However, what I learned from my research was enough to break my heart even further for those who are broken, for those who don't can't speak for themselves.

This is the first thing that comes to my mind when I
think of orphans.
In the Old Testament, there is a litany of passages which talk about three major people-groups which are constantly being oppressed in the Ancient Near East: widows, aliens, and orphans. Today, I want to take a look at orphans.

One of the most surprising things that I learned through my studies was about orphans. In ancient Israel, a child was considered an orphan if he had lost only his father. That's why you see many translations offering the word "orphan" as "fatherless." In fact, I found that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a context in the Old Testament in which "orphan" refers to someone who has lost both parents.

There are many reasons for this which don't necessarily apply to our modern-day Western culture. The primary reason for this distinction deals with the way in which ancient Israel operated. If a child didn't have a father, or a woman didn't have a husband, they didn't have an identity. They didn't have property. They were among the poorest of the poor, and had no way of helping themselves.

This really seems to put a damper on the saying that "God helps those who help themselves."

Nowadays, if you don't have a father, you still have a social identity, you still have the capability of acquiring wealth and possessions, and, for the most part, you can be economically secure.

One thing that is often overlooked about the fatherless, though, is that beyond their economic security lies a much deeper need, a square hole often filled by a round peg.

The fatherless are still without a father. Biologically speaking, they lack half of their heritage. Half of who they are is a mystery. So, even though they may be secure economically, their deep-seated emotional insecurity remains a void that is rarely filled. And even though they may have an identity socially, they lack part of their identity internally.

Because our culture has so radically shifted from the culture of ancient Israel, I would also go as far to say that the same conditions apply to those who don't have a mother. If you grew up missing a parent, then this  applies to you.

What are the rest of us to do, then? The Bible seems clear on this one: provide for their needs. Those who have should help those who have not. And I know this sounds a lot like socialism, but it isn't. It is love.

Do we really need a step-by-step outline of how to "care" for these people, though? Are we so far out of touch with God's love that we've forgotten what it looks like to truly provide for someone in need?

My first instinct is to propose a list of practical, applicable steps to remedying this situation, but it seems unnecessary. After all, if we, as Christians, are a people who claim to live in love, shouldn't we know how to love one another? Shouldn't we be the best at serving the fatherless or motherless? Shouldn't the love of God (which we claim to be so great and abundant) be overflowing in our lives to the point that loving these people wholeheartedly is our only alternative? 

This love, which we say comes from God, should be evident to those who need it. To those lacking emotional security, we should be a beacon of safety and security. To those who seek their identity, but can never find it because it has gone missing with their mother or father, we should be a ray of hope, illuminating the answer for them: that their identity remains, not in parents (who may leave or pass away), but in God, who never leaves or passes away.

Again, I'm resisting the urge to enumerate the practical steps of such an action, because I know that we've heard it all. We don't need anymore step-by-step guides or self-help manuals to point others to God. We only need to stop asking "How?" or "When?" or "Why?" and simply start doing.

When we stop asking and start doing, then (and only then), will these square holes stop being filled with round pegs. Then, and only then, will those without fathers or mothers find the One who fulfills what they've been seeking all along. And then, and only then, will we become those flesh and blood fathers and mothers to those people.

There are so many broken and so many hurting and devastated because one of the two (or even both) of the people who are always supposed to love them have abandoned them. Will we come to their rescue? Or will we hide behind a facade of ignorance, hoping that if we pretend long enough, the problem will simply disappear?

The need is evident. The command is simple.

Love the orphan.

Care for the fatherless.

Provide for the motherless.

And, above all else, point them toward the One who has been there all along.

... ... ...

Questions: Do you know anybody who is growing up without a father or mother? What keeps you from caring for them? How do you desire to help them? What would that (practically speaking) look like for you this week?

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