I’ve been listening to a fascinating talk by Tim Keller on Genesis 27. This deals with the story of Esau and Jacob. Esau is the older son and as such is the rightful inheritor of his father’s blessing. But Jacob, his brother, deceives his father into blessing him instead.
Keller argues that all of us are shaped by the same desire for blessing. We are hungry for someone who knows us, to look into our lives and speak words of affirmation and approval. In Jacob’s case, he craved his father’s blessing. We too long for others – not least our fathers – to say that we are special. But in ourselves, we cannot receive such love. We wear masks to try to earn it. As a result, even if we do get such approval, we know it’s not really for us. We have two options – to be true to ourselves and rejected or loved but fraudulent.
In today’s culture, the relationships between fathers and sons; and mums and daughters are often highlighted. When it comes to eating disorders for example, much is made of the mother’s influence. But what of the father’s impact? Mothers are often characterised as overbearing and anxious. But the father’s input – or absence – is surely just as significant.
It is from our fathers that we first learn how to relate to men. From them, we get our first sense of what it means to be a girl and later, a woman. They mediate to us the outside world. We learn from them what it means to be strong – or weak. How to deal with anger and emotion and pain. For better or for worse, your father’s words shape you. When we learn that our fathers are only human, the world becomes a much more frightening place. We grow up.
No human father can fulfil our basic father-hunger. Keller’s sermon shows that Christ is the real Firstborn – the One who has always rested in the love of the perfect Father. In Him, we too have the love we’ve spent our lives looking for. Those words said to Jesus at His baptism are words for us, because we are in Jesus:
Behold, my beloved child in whom is all my delight.
We may not feel like this is true. But thankfully the Spirit reminds us that we are adopted in Christ (Romans 8:16). And when we really get that we are His dearly loved children, then we can drop all those other masks.