This Father's Day I'd like to interact with a Psalm that keenly speaks to fathers, Psalm 127.
The first two verses state:
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep."
The natural law of fathers providing for their children is very much at work in the heart of every father, be him regenerate or otherwise. But in both cases, that which is good is often the occasion for the expression of the sin of autonomy—the bedrock of all sin. Men labor, toil and compete with each other, often with the rationalization that they are embroiled in all this for the welfare of their families, all the while concealing the sin of the pride of life. What better anthem for this than Sinatra's "My Way." And yet, the Word of God does not allow the Christian father to forget that it is only by divine providence that any creature is able to engage in anything, let alone achieve heights of success in any endeavor.
Calvin comments on verse 1:
"In affirming that God governs the world and the life of man, he does so for two reasons: First, whatever prosperous event may fall out to men, their ingratitude is instantly manifested by their ascribing it wholly to themselves; and thus God is defrauded of the honor which is his due. Solomon, to correct such a perverse error, declares, that nothing happens prosperously to us except in so far as God blesses our proceedings. Secondly, his purpose was to beat down the foolish presumption of men, who, setting God aside, are not afraid to undertake to do anything, whatever it may be, in exclusive reliance upon their own wisdom and strength. Stripping them, therefore, of that which they groundlessly arrogate to themselves, he exhorts them to modesty and the invocation of God. He does not, however, reject either the labor, the enterprises, or the counsels of men; for it is a praiseworthy virtue diligently to discharge the duties of our office. It is not the will of the Lord that we should be like blocks of wood, or that we should keep our arms folded without doing anything; but that we should apply to use all the talents and advantages which he has conferred upon us. It is indeed true that the greatest part of our labors proceeds from the curse of God; and yet although men had still retained the integrity of their primitive state, God would have had us to be employed, even as we see how Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to dress it. (Genesis 2:15.) Solomon, therefore, does not condemn watchfulness, a thing which God approves; nor yet men’s labor, by which when they undertake it willingly, according to the commandment of God, they offer to him all acceptable sacrifice; but lest, blinded by presumption, they should forcibly appropriate to themselves that which belongs to God, he admonishes them that their being busily occupied will profit them nothing, except in so far as God blesses their exertions."
In contrast to the self-absorbed man of the world who has made the unnatural natural, neglecting rest in favor of boastful toil, the man of God is restful even as he engages in hard work, for he depends on the goodness of the Father of lights (James 1:17) from whom his own fatherhood is derived—and this makes for spit-dribbling sleep!
The last three verses declare:
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."
God, in the wisdom and grace inextricable from His character, in another fashion has decreed the analogizing in man of His being Creator in the form of human procreation and the begetting of children. It is notable that God's condescending revelation portrays Him as Father, revealing both the creative and sustaining character of both archetypal and ectypal fatherhood.
Whereas the natural man ascribes fatherhood to his own virility and potency, Calvin notes that:
"Children are not the fruit of chance, but that God, as it seems good to him, distributes to every man his share of them. Moreover, as the Prophet repeats the same thing twice, heritage and reward are to be understood as equivalent; for both these terms are set in opposition to fortune, or the strength of men. The stronger a man is he seems so much the better fitted for procreation. Solomon declares on the contrary, that those become fathers to whom God vouchsafes that honor" (v. 3).
This knowledge of children as a blessing and a participation in God's manifestation of His perfections creates gratitude in the father, seeing that to have oneself virtually replicated in one's children is to be in a state of goodness, as loneliness was not stamped with the badge of "It is good" in that primal creational fiat:
"The Prophet means that those who are without children are in a manner unarmed; for what else is it to be childless but to be solitary? It is no small gift of God for a man to be renewed in his posterity; for God then gives him new strength, that he who otherwise would straightway decay, may begin as it were to live a second time.....It is also to be added, that unless men regard their children as the gift of God, they are careless and reluctant in providing for their support, just as on the other hand this knowledge contributes in a very eminent degree to encourage them in bringing up their offspring. Farther, he who thus reflects upon the goodness of God in giving him children, will readily and with a settled mind look for the continuance of God’s grace; and although he may have but a small inheritance to leave them, he will not be unduly careful on that account." (v. 3).
The poem below is something I wrote back in 2008, some months before I became the father of my second child, a son:
You will eat of my meat
And drink from my flask,
You will share my air
And whiff the same dust.
Of the words that soar
From them you will rhyme,
Of many stumblings yours
In truth they are mine.
You will close my eyes
And in better ones
Look down, below
Upon my grave
To where I go.