Another Father’s Day has passed and many of you had wonderful barbeques or breakfasts celebrating your dads. Others are feeling sad, disappointed and flooded with memories of an awful childhood. You may have been abandoned, sexually abused, emotionally battered or treated with indifference or cruelty. How do we honor this kind of father?

God hates what happens to children when their parents are selfish, abusive, indifferent and cruel. When evil thrashes our soul, our human tendency is to become overwhelmed by it. We often grow up feeling depressed, useless, unlovable, hopeless, shameful, fearful and bitter. When that happens, the struggle we face is much bigger than what to do on Father’s Day. Every day is a battle for our mental, emotional and spiritual health. The apostle Paul describes it this way, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul writes that we do not fight battle with darkness with human weapons, but rather with spiritual ones (2 Corinthians 10:4,5), and he tells us how to win. He writes, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Because of what happened to some individuals during childhood, they are especially vulnerable (emotionally, mentally, psychologically and spiritually) to being overcome by evil. If we’re not careful, we can start to resemble the very thing that we once abhorred. The only way to keep this poison from turning us into someone evil is to fight back with good. Doing good does not necessarily overcome your father (or any other evil person), but you can overcome the evil done to you as you walk in the truth, light, love and goodness of God.

This does NOT mean you must have a close or personal relationship with an evil person. When someone harms us and is not sorry or changed, often it is not wise or safe to try to have a relationship with them, nor does God ask us to. But it does mean that we can overcome their evil against us when we apply the biblical antidote of doing good.

What does that look like? It will be different depending on someone’s particular story, but it might simply mean that if your father someday needs a ride to the doctor or help managing an illness, you will do what you’re able to do to minister to his particular need. Not because he deserves it, he doesn’t. You do it because you do not want his evil to overcome God’s goodness in you.

God calls us to love and to do good to even our enemies. When we’ve been injured by evil, it’s crucial that we not allow ourselves to be defined by what happened to us (victim), but rather by what God is doing in us and through us now.

We also overcome evil with good by making sure we work through the lies that we’ve believed (or have been told) about our self so that Satan does not have a louder voice in our head than God’s Spirit does. And, as God gives us his strength and courage, there may even be a time when we speak to our father about what he did, inviting him to repent.

God’s word tells us to honor our fathers and mothers. He doesn’t qualify this by saying, only if they were good parents. But what does it mean to honor? When the apostle Paul defended himself before the Sanhedrin, Ananias, the high priest, ordered that Paul be slapped across the mouth (abuse of power). Paul reacted to this abuse by calling Ananias a hypocrite and telling him that God would strike him. When Paul was informed that he had insulted the high priest, Paul immediately felt remorse because he knew God had said, “You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.” Paul didn’t stop defending himself, but he showed respect for the position of high priest, even though Ananias was corrupt (Acts 23:1-9).

Pray and ask God how you could honor your father for his position, not the way he carried out his position. Perhaps right now, the only safe thing you can do is to start praying for your father and asking God to show him the evil of his ways.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t do anything else yet. Just work on the larger battle and be willing to learn how to overcome evil with good. As you obey in this area, God will show you how you can specifically honor your father and will give you the right and safe moments to do so.

6 Responses to "How do I honor a dishonorable father?"

  • Kim Angus says:

    I really find this hard as honoring our parents and I know god says to. I looked up what honor means and its basically respect. My narcissistic father has demanded respect his whole life. So if I continue to do what he expects there is no accountability on his behalf. I keep doing what is right and good, my heavenly father knows that I am honouring him however my earthly father is not enlightened at all. Seeing my father is still an abusive situation. So I have chosen a long time ago not to see him. The last time I saw him was about 9 months ago he was ok however kept glancing at my breasts. This is not normal and Im putting up with abuse. Fathers should not look at their daughters in this way. I am 60 now and he is 80. I find this a very difficult subject and I dont find there is an easy answer. I do show him kindness however I wont tolerate his stuff anymore

  • Susan says:

    Many of our parents were so broken and wounded themselves. I have found that the greatest way to honor a parent that wasn’t really honorable is to forgive them. I guess that would be true for anyone.
    When I release them from the debt of love they owe me, God makes it up to my heart.

  • Leslie says:

    Anisa, it is so hard. I struggled with similar feelings toward my biological mother. Ask God for help in releasing your anger. Even if your father never hears your words of forgiveness, releasing your anger will be of great benefit to you. Then ask God to show you his heart for your father. How can you be grace-filled toward him even though he’s hurt you terribly? That is faith in action – trusting God that he knows what your father did to you and is pleased that you are not being overcome by what Satan meant to harm you with, but you are overcoming evil with good.

  • Anisa Berkey says:

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. Every Fathers Day I struggle – I can not bring it to myself to acknowledge this day with my Father. He left our family for another woman (one of many) when I was ten. He has always been indifferent to me and has said many hateful words to me that have wounded me deeply. I found him two years ago in a desperate situation – homeless and extremely ill. He is now living in a care facility and is still very ill. I actually prayed the other day that the Lord would SHOW me how I should handle my feelings and find forgiveness towards my Father. Your words have really spoken to my heart. Even though my Dad is not an honorable Father, I know I need to show my honor in Godly ways and strive to please my Heavenly Father through honorable actions towards my earthly one. Thank you!!!

  • Leslie says:

    Oh Betty how heartbreaking to be so betrayed. By releasing your hurt to God and forgiving your father and sister, I’m glad you chose not to live the rest of your life with the bitterness and resentment towards them that most people would have if given your situation. They hurt you for a season but good for you that you didn’t allow them to hurt you for the rest of your life. You overcame evil with good.

  • Betty Marschner says:

    All I can say in my situation is that I am blessed I did not know my father was capable to do what he did against me because it would have been much more difficult to honor him and his life had I known.
    My father was always distant, I never carried on a conversation with him growing up. Once my mother passed away, however, he became much closer to me. my younger sister whom he doted on, became indifferent towards him so I became more interested in his welfare etc. I did not know until the last few months of my life that he gave my only sister his entire estate ISO giving each child an equal part as was in his original will. He did give me permission to get some things of mostly sentimental value from his home but later when my sister learned of it, she pursuaded him to take legal action against me so I was even jailed on a false charge. A restraining order kept me from ever talking with him again so I really never learned why he did this to me. He died before the charges were dropped. Being betrayed to this extent by a parent whom I always thought loved me, was difficult to work through and it even tainted my picture of my Heavenly Father for a season. The only peace was in forgiveness of this toward my sister and father. Granted I do not have the relationship I once enjoyed with her as trust has been violated but I have gone on with life and been blessed by being forgiving.

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