Every year, when Father’s Day comes around, I think about my dad. Calling to wish him “Happy Father’s Day!” as an adult has never been easy, because he and I didn’t have a good relationship.
Even if I wanted to this year, though, I can’t.
Last August, my father passed away from an aggressive form of cancer. The news of his stage-four cancer came as a surprise. A man of few words, my father remained quiet about his illness for months, not wanting to burden anyone. By the time he was rushed to the hospital, the doctors told us there was nothing they could do. He spent his final days in horrible pain as he drifted in and out of consciousness, covered in sweat, gasping for air while the cancer ate away his body.
He wasn’t a believer.
Mournfully, I was able to spend eight of the 10 final days with him, praying the Lord would save his soul from the greater suffering to come. I sat next to him in silence, regretting the missed opportunities to speak to him, to know him better, and to share Christ with him on a regular basis.
When I was 7, my non-Christian parents sent me to America from Seoul, Korea, in hopes that I would have a better life and achieve the “American Dream.”
Various hardships would follow, including our family’s financial instability, restrictions regarding my immigration status, and my father’s health-related issues. Over the years and under these strains, our relationship started to drift.
The deterioration of our relationship accelerated when I told my father of my desire to pursue pastoral ministry. To him, a pastor’s life was one of suffering and poverty—entirely opposite the future he had envisioned for me. He hated my decision. He said I had been brainwashed by religion. From then on, communication became rare. I had disappointed him.
To my father, a pastor’s life was one of suffering and poverty—entirely opposite the future he had envisioned for me. He hated my decision.
Given these circumstances, it took 25 years for me to visit my father in Seoul, in 2015. The final time would be four years later in 2019, at his deathbed.
The term “hyo-do” (효도) is the Korean word that describes filial piety—the idea of supporting and serving one’s parents as one’s natural duty. By this definition, I was not the dutiful son, a “hyo-ja” (효자). To my father, the decision to pursue pastoral ministry was an outright renunciation of my filial duties and an act of dishonor.
Don’t think I was holier than I actually am for choosing to follow Jesus in Luke 14:26–like fashion. There were so many things I could have done differently, so many ways I could have been a better son.
I regret being angry and bitter at him for so long. I regret not making much effort to forgive him and ask for his forgiveness. I regret not sharing with him my hopes, my dreams, and the graces God had shown me. I regret not making more opportunities for him to love my children and be loved by them. I confess, and I grieve, that I was a bad son. But my mistakes cannot be undone.
What do bad sons do with the remorse of a broken relationship with their father? Especially when there is no chance of reconciliation?
We hope in the better Son.
If your experience with your father is anything like mine, be reminded today—as I’m reminding myself—that Jesus Christ is the better Son on our behalf. Hebrews 5:8–9 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
Jesus has “offered himself without blemish” to God the Father in order to “purify our conscience from dead works” (Heb. 9:14). In the better Son, we are no longer slaves to our failings, but sons—“and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:5–7).
If your experience with your father is anything like mine, be reminded today that Jesus Christ is the better Son on our behalf.
Receive Jesus’s forgiveness. Embrace his substitutionary atonement. Be confident in his mercy and grace. Hope in him, the better Son in whom we’re given all we lack and more (2 Pet. 1:3).
Here are three aspects of the “better Son” that provide hope to us “bad sons.”
1. He pleased the Father.
Place your hope in Jesus the better Son, of whom the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). If you’re struggling with the fact that all your works have failed to please your earthly father, as I have, remember you are pleasing to the heavenly Father not because any of your own merits, but because of the work Christ accomplished on our behalf (John 17:4).
If you’re struggling with the fact that you’ve failed to please your earthly father, as I have, remember you are pleasing to the heavenly Father.
Hebrews 11:40 promises, “God had provided something better for us”—Jesus the better Son, in whom the Father’s “soul delights” (Isa. 42:1).
2. He is loved by the Father.
Place your hope in Jesus the better Son, whom the Father loves unconditionally (John 3:35; 5:20) and eternally (John 17:24). In Jesus, you don’t have to second-guess the Father’s love for you. You may be thinking, What does the love of God the Father for his Son have to do with me? Jesus explains: “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:26). Brother or sister, while you are grieving your faults as son or daughter, look to Jesus the better Child, and be lavished by a love far greater than any earthly substitute (1 John 3:1; Eph. 2:4-6).
3. He is sovereign over every soul.
Place your hope in Jesus the better Son, in whom has been given “all things into his hand” (John 3:35). Although you may never see your father again on earth or in eternity, trust him who is sovereign over every soul (Rom. 9). God desires all sinners be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:23), and he will receive the glory when all whom he chose before the foundation of the world are redeemed as according to his will (Eph. 1:4–6).
You may not have a chance to reconcile with your father, but plenty of others in your life need to know the gospel of God’s grace. Participate in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), so that no one else you know will die without hearing the good news from your lips, as long as the Lord gives you breath.
Every son who ever lived was at some point a disappointment to his father. Every son, that is, save one. And it is in him, the perfect Son, that we place our hope.