In Malachi 1:6, one of the questions of post-exilic Judah’s lack of faith in God is demonstrated with the following bit of analogical reasoning: “”A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” Says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’” Today, which is Father’s Day in the United States, I would like to at least briefly explore the complicated relationship between honoring God and honoring our physical fathers. This has admittedly been a task that I have mightily struggled with, and often chronicled, but it is certainly a timely topic to examine in a larger context, hopefully for the edification and encouragement of others who have been in my position.
I have a few friends and acquaintances whose relationship with their fathers has been rather strained, as has been the case with me. In some cases, there has been an open admission of difficulties with parents, in other cases there has been a very quiet and sad sort of look on the face when the subject of honoring parents comes up. Even though the Ten Commandments are often (mistakenly) divided into the first four and the last six, largely because many people do not see how honoring physical fathers and mothers relates to the commands to honor God , the fact that the fifth commandment relates to the conditional perseverance of believers ought to let us know that the relationship between physical authorities and spiritual authorities is a close one, and by learning how to respect one of them we can easily learn how to respect the other as well.
Normally, we are expected to learn how to honor God from the godly conduct of physical authorities. Our fathers and mothers, however imperfectly (because we are all highly imperfect), are supposed to model the sort of self-sacrificial love that God and Jesus Christ have for us, and are therefore supposed to teach us spiritual lessons from our birth so that by the time we reach adolescence (and certainly adulthood), we are supposed to have at least some sort of analogy to begin to understand the way that God views us as His children. I speak, of course, to believers who wish to teach spiritual lessons of great importance to their children, and seek to do so intentionally. This is also true, to a lesser but still important degree, to teachers and role models and civil and institutional leaders, whose corrupt behavior can easily corrupt those who look to them as an example because of their positions of visibility and societal honor.
Nevertheless, physical authorities, be they parents or others, can be immensely corrupt and wicked. For example, some depraved fathers have abused their children out of their own twisted and perverted longings, making it very hard for their children to trust others and to set appropriate boundaries of conduct for themselves. Other fathers have continually uprooted their families in the vain search for greener pastures and a good life, or have been largely unable to be productive providers because of alcoholism or other addictions. Yet even where fathers have behaved immensely wickedly or very inconveniently, we are still commanded to honor them because of their office of father, even where they are unworthy of being honored because of their personal conduct. This is not an easy thing to do, and it is easy to fail to honor any authority because of the bad behavior of the first and most important authorities in our physical lives. How then are we to resolve this particular difficulty?
We have to view the relationship of the honor between God and our physical parents (and other authorities) as being a two-way process rather than a one-way process. Rather than simply looking to our physical relationships to teach us about God and rely on the honorable nature of such flawed physical authorities as presenting the only way we learn about God, we can view coming to a greater understanding of God as also providing a way to learn how to respect physical authorities because of their role as viceroys of God’s Kingdom in some fashion. If we learn to honor and trust God, then we can allow that trust to extend from God through the areas of our life where trust and honor are particularly difficult, as a way of redeeming those areas of our life that have been broken by bad circumstance and the sins of others. God willing, the grace of God may do enough that we may not only learn to honor others ourselves, but that we ourselves will receive such honor from others as well.
 See, for example: