God, Our Father, and my responsibility to Father the Fatherless

What’s up, Foster Truth readers? I’m T.J., the dashing husband of the real reason you’re on this site. I’m a pastor and amateur theologian, so Karly asked me to write a little on the theological basis for foster care during foster care awareness month. I focus on what Christians believe about God as a father, and how that compels us to act similarly in the world. 

God the Father

The primary image of God in Christianity is God as father. But God is not just any father, he is particularly a “father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5).

This means that, first, God’s character is evident in how he takes care of those whom no one else will. God is good because he “places the lonely in families.” There is an inseparable connection between God’s goodness, love, mercy, and justice and his actions toward those who suffer from rejection, separation, and loneliness. Secondly, God as father to the fatherless has a spiritual meaning: the heart of the gospel, the good news, is that God adopts the spiritually fatherless (a.k.a. everyone) into his family. Apart from Jesus, we are alone and lost, but Jesus has invited us to become true sons of and daughters of God. The third thing God’s identity as father tells us is that, as true sons and daughters of God, he teaches us — no, commands us — to follow him into fatherhood and motherhood to the fatherless and motherless. 

Would you like to know which book of the Bible mentions the word orphan the most? Deuteronomy. Then Job, then Psalms, then Isaiah. Forty times (a nice, biblical number) in those books and a few others, the Bible makes clear that God takes care of orphans, that he expects his followers to take care of orphans, and that he will send judgment on those who refuse to take care of orphans. Forty times. Want to know how many times in the Bible there is an explicit command to go to church? One. In fact, in the prophets God actually condemns the traditional rites of worship when they are not accompanied by care for orphans. In the opening chapter of Isaiah, God says that when they come to lift up their hands in prayer, he won’t hear them until they turn from evil and defend the orphan. In other words, God’s not interested in hearing you sing Reckless Love if you’re not loving others recklessly, particularly orphans. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go to church and participate in worship (you should), or even to say that we’ve overemphasized going to church; it is to say that perhaps we’ve underemphasized caring for orphans as integral part of the life of every believer

Here seems as good a place as any to say that orphan is perhaps an unhelpful word, as it relates to this conversation, for two reasons. 1) It primarily refers to a child whose parents are literally, physically dead, and 2) like all words that describe an undesirable status, it has been leveraged by wicked men and women and children as an insult (think Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events). So, when I read the word orphan in the Bible, I think of a child without a home. Home here meaning a safe place to stay where basic needs are met and safe people who are or act like family. And it is my Christian responsibility and joy, following my Father in heaven, to participate in providing a home for children without homes. 

For me, it’s simple. God is my Father. He provided me a home — physically and spiritually. So, if there are children without homes, I will provide them one. Of course, there are a million other questions, but they all serve the greater question: How can I provide a home for children who don’t have one?

Fathers, Mothers, Aunts, and Uncles

Perhaps you’ve seen an image floating on the interwebs along these lines: Adopt — if you can’t adopt, foster — if you can’t foster, babysit — if you can’t babysit, support — if you can’t support, donate — if you can’t donate, pray. I have a number of issues with this train of thought (adoption is not always the end goal, nearly everyone can do nearly every one of these things at some point in their lives, etc.) but I heartily agree with the heart of it: Everyone can and should be involved in caring for children without homes in some way. As we’ve seen, every Christian is in fact commanded to care for children without homes in some way. 

I’ll tip my hand: I think you should do foster care. But there are reasons not to do foster care. Perhaps you don’t have enough space in your home, or you aren’t financially able to care for a child, or you have other family needs that prevent you from being able to do foster care. Now, don’t get it twisted — the state minimum is 40 square feet of space for each child and the state provides financial assistance (Heck, I’ll provide financial assistance if that’s the barrier; send me your Venmo/cashapp). When it comes to orphan care, reasons not to abound, but the primary reason to do it still stands: kids need homes

Honestly, I think many people don’t do foster care because it’s hard. And it is. More times than I would care to admit, I think about how much easier my life would be if we hadn’t chosen foster care. But perhaps there is a more excellent way, a way that makes it a little easier, a sharing and bearing of one another’s burdens. 

What if the church fostered and adopted as a community? One family, of course, would take placements, but five more would be respite certified, trained and familiar with the needs and challenges involved in foster care, taking new placements shopping for clothes, out to dinner, or just spending time with the child, like an army of aunts and uncles prepared to love that child as their own family. Then, what if it wasn’t just five families but an entire church? Imagine the case manager’s face when she received 75 names on a potential babysitter list. 

The question shifts from “should I do foster care” to “should I be a mother/father or an aunt/uncle to any child who needs a home”. If every church in the United States took in one child, every single child in the foster care system would have a home, a home where they are better cared for with an abundance of family, and where their foster parents are healthier and better equipped to love well. And every Christian would be stepping out in obedience to God’s command to care for orphans. Then, maybe, we could stop talking about the orphan care crisis, and start caring for birth parents, preventing the need for foster care in the first place. 

A Prayer to Our Father

The “Our Father” of the Lord’s prayer reminds of who God is — a Father — and that he is not just my father, but our father, the father to the fatherless. What if every time we prayed to our father we remembered the hundreds of thousands of fatherless children in the United States, and around the world? What if we prayed for them? What if we unbowed our heads and opened our eyes and prayed looking at the rooms in our home that could become rooms for children sleeping in shelters and CPS offices? What if God is calling us, me, you, to be his representative fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles to one or two or twenty of those children? 

I begin every prayer with the word Father. Maybe one day my actions will catch up with my prayers. 

The Truth:

“Father to the fatherless, defender of the widows — This is God, whose dwelling is holy” (Psalm 68:5)
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Romans 8:15–17)
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. (Galatians 4:4–7)
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.  Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,  for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean!  Get your sins out of my sight.  Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good.  Seek justice. Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows. (Isaiah 1:15–17)
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27)
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)