By Stephen W. Hiemstra
When I was younger and exasperated my father, he was often at a loss for words. Now mind you, my Dad was an extremely well-published economist who frequently received invitations to speak, and even appeared regularly on a Saturday morning television show sponsored by USDA: Across the Fence (see Hiemstra 2016). He was seldom at a loss for words in most of life, but in his role as father of four he sometimes came up wanting. On such occasions, we would receive a Dad letter.
A Dad letter would outline our problem; express the disappointment of both Mom and Dad; and propose how we were to change our behavior. There were also consequences. These letters were not common and I think that I have all of mine squirreled away somewhere. None of us wanted to disappoint Dad.
A theme in a Dad letter might seem typical—grades were too low, expenses were too high, XYZ was inconsistent with expectations—but we took this advice seriously. Dad’s voice conveyed authority and the message was crystal clear. I never wanted to receive one, but I also never forgot or discarded the ones that I received.
Dad’s letter’s might be compared to the orders famously penned by Ulysses S. Grant to his generals during the Civil War. Barnes’ writes of Grant’s dispatches: “there is one striking feature of Grant’s orders; no matter how hurriedly he may write them on the field, no one ever had the slightest doubt as to their meaning, or even [had] to read them over a second time to understand them.” (2001, 190) A Dad letter was essentially like a dispatch from the general.
In some sense, the Bible is a Dad letter. This observation is most obvious in reading the various covenants that God makes with people like Moses. The first reading of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 reads: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:2-3) In other words the logic reads, you owe me therefore do these things. Later in Deuteronomy (the second reading) there is a long list of blessings and curses associated with obeying and disobeying the covenant.
I wonder what sort of Dad letter God might write us today?
Some have postulated that the corona virus pandemic is a judgment from God on postmodern society because so many of the libertarian ideas floating around today are directly contrary to scripture. Does anyone honestly believe that God endorses a party spirit, sexual immorality, discrimination, power-mongering, and drug use?
Others argue that a God of love would never allow so many innocent people to die, yet God’s attributes are not limited to love. After giving the Ten Commandments to Moses a second time, we read: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod 34:6) Being slow to anger does not mean that God does not get angry at people who test his patience. God’s anger was expressed early after the Exodus from Egypt at the first generation who tried his patience and ended up dying in the desert.
The Bible offers consolation to suffering people, but it focuses on transformation, not on enabling addictions or abetting sin. This is a lot like my father’s Dad letters,
Barnes, John A. 2001. Ulysses S. Grant on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Front Lines.Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing.
Hiemstra, Stephen J. 2016. My Travel Through Life: Memoir of Family Life and Federal Service. Centreville, VA: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC. (link)
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.