Great Men, Terrible Fathers

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greatmanterriblefatherHave you ever noticed how often “great people” have awful family lives? When the rich and famous wed, it is usually a countdown to tabloid headlines of infidelity and divorce. There is a long history of great leaders who ruled nations, gave momentous speeches, and conquered foreign enemies—all while their family lives came unraveled. Sadly, many Gospel preachers set out to save the world while their own children sit at home missing their dad. The Bible also has record of men like this.

Eli was a priest of God. By all accounts he discharged the duties of that office well. Yet he had two worthless and corrupt sons who brought ruin to his entire household. God evaluated Eli’s parenting skills by saying, “he did not restrain (his sons)” (1 Sam 3:13). What little discipline he tried to administer was too little too late (1 Sam 2:22-25). Eli’s protégé was Samuel, who grew up to be an extremely important prophet, judge, and priest in Israel leading up to the days of monarchy. Yet he had two sons who were corrupt and greedy judges (1 Sam 8:3).

David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He led the most successful military campaign since Joshua. Yet David was mostly a failure as a father. David’s son Amnon raped his own sister. Absalom enacted a rebellion against his father. The inspired writer evaluated David’s raising of Adonijah this way: “(David) had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (1 Kings 1:6). Now David’s son Solomon brought much glory and wealth to Israel. The building of the temple was a tremendous achievement accomplished under Solomon’s direction. Yet Solomon failed as a father too. His son Rehoboam was a fool from beginning to end.

To be clear, the Bible teaches that parents are not totally responsible for the sins of their children (Ezek 18:20). Good parenting does not create Christian robots. Every son and daughter will answer to God for his or her own decisions. But who can deny the harmful effect of bad or neglectful parenting? Especially in the cases of Eli and David, their failings as fathers are attributed as the root cause of their children’s apostasy. They were busy with religious ceremony, military campaigns, and ruling a nation while their families sat home neglected.

There is something to be said for a quiet and simple life, spent—not in pursuing greatness or solving all the world’s ills—but in simply serving God where you are and being present as a parent and spouse. Solomon gained the whole world, but lost his family. Noah lost the whole world (literally), saving only his family. I’ll take Noah every day of the week.