In recent years, I have come to notice the use of the term “father wounds.” It resonates with many who have experienced these wounds. From fathers who abandoned their families, to those who neglected them, to those who abused them, to those who mistreated them in various ways, to those who rejected a child’s worth through constant criticism so the child felt like he or she could never measure up, to so much more, these mistreatments are examples of “father wounds.”
Obviously, these wounds can be inflicted by birth fathers, sometimes by step-fathers. And sometimes they are inflicted by father figures. This last scenario is often in the church realm, and in such a case, the wounds are primarily due to psychological and spiritual mistreatment. Also, when this is the case, it is most often done in ignorance in the name of standing for righteousness.
Ephesians 6:4 states, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Many fathers and father figures are unaware they are provoking. For all the books written on forgiveness (and they are needed), there ought to be some books written on “provoke-ness”!
The purpose of this verse is not so a father can say about his child, “See, he is angry. He is obviously in the wrong!” The purpose is for fathers to not provoke or exasperate their children. Harshness, condemning words, focusing on correction rather than praise, oppressive rigidity, unrealistic expectations, and the like, provoke. Yet, often, we as parents don’t even know we are the cause of pain. If you’re puzzled by poor responses from your children, it’s a wake up call to evaluate what is driving their response. What seems like an unreasonable response may indicate provocation on your part.
Similarly, in the church realm, some leaders (father figures) say, “Look how angry and carnal so-and-so was! Look what they did. They must be bitter!” But in some cases, this kind of response is just that—a response. They were provoked. Much of this stems from oppressive rigidity, condemning the innocent through upholding manmade traditions, caring more for rituals than people and the pretense of “face” than people’s lives, impractical requirements forgetting the Holy Spirit is practical, and so forth.
Pain is involuntary. What we do with it is a choice. Psychological pain is also involuntary. What people do with it is their responsibility. Yes, wrong responses will be held accountable to God. But so will provocations.
Both fathers and father figures need discernment from the Lord as to what they may be doing to provoke. It is not enough to know what the Scriptures say or even mean, we must also know how to apply what they mean. Thankfully, we can cry out to the Holy Spirit to reveal wrong applications of a text like Ephesians 6:4 and reveal to us right applications. Leadership is needful. Provocation is harmful.
When the Spirit reveals to fathers and father figures the sin of provoking, a humble response and apology are due. This transparent honesty soften hearts, brings healing, and might make for a blessed Father’s Day.
John Van Gelderen