LCN Article
The Hearts of Fathers to Their Children

November / December 2023

Gerald E. Weston

There is a chilling statement at the end of the Old Testament, of which we should all take notice: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5–6).

This passage has puzzled many, and simply quoting it is sometimes enough to start debates among members of the various Church of God groups, including our own. Was Mr. Herbert Armstrong the end-time Elijah? What does it mean to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers?

This article will not enter the debate as to who fulfills this role, other than to say that John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for Christ’s first coming (Matthew 17:11–13) and that the Church has always had a responsibility to encourage parents to teach the laws of God and His ways diligently to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). As for the end-time Elijah, whether it was Mr. Armstrong or will be one of the future two witnesses, or even Elijah resurrected—all are a matter of speculation. God will reveal this in due time. Interestingly, the disciples did not recognize the Elijah who prepared the way for Christ’s first coming (Matthew 17:10–13). And while others focused on whether he fulfilled a prophesied role or not (John 1:19–23), John focused on doing the work he was called to do—pointing people to the One to come. 

Utter Destruction

The last phrase in Malachi can be translated, “Lest I come and strike the earth with a ban of utter destruction.” Yes, this sobering note speaks of the earth being utterly destroyed unless fathers turn their hearts back to their children and thereby prepare a people for God.

Luke quotes this passage, but with a change of wording. Referring to John the Baptist, Luke wrote that “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him [Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16–17).

The difference between Malachi’s and Luke’s quotes is not as great as it may first appear. “Turning the hearts of the children to their fathers” is in fact turning “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” Luke may have a broader audience in mind, but the result is the same: “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The reference to fathers, as heads of their households, is not meant to exclude mothers (Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 1:8). Nevertheless, Scripture indicates that fathers must take the lead in instruction. God looked to Abraham to teach his family, saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing…? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him” (Genesis 18:17–19).

End-Time Children

Fundamentally, Malachi shows us that there is a problem with children at the end of the age—and that parents are crucial in turning their hearts to God. Such turning does not happen by chance. It requires diligent effort by fathers and mothers at the end of the age to ensure that a godly generation of believers remains.

Other verses confirm that there is a problem with the last generations at the time of the end. Paul wrote that our world does “not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28). The result is a long list of sins, describing children as “disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (vv. 30–31). Paul told Timothy that perilous times would come “in the last days” and would include disobedient children (2 Timothy 3:1–2). Consider God’s voice through Isaiah and its implications: “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths” (Isaiah 3:12). Is this not what we see today?

We live in a confused, upside-down world. God created Adam first and held him responsible for leading his family. That role for men has not changed. We must take the lead! It should go without saying that it is to be loving and caring leadership, but men must not neglect their role as leaders. The problem is not so much that women cannot lead, but that, in too many cases, men have not understood their role and have failed to stand up. This lack of leadership begins in childhood. Many men—including many of you reading this article—are standing up, providing for their families and being spiritual leaders in their homes; but that is not happening in the world at large, and it is not happening perfectly in the Church.

We see several factors pushing against men fulfilling their God-given calling. Absent fathers are taking a toll on society, and this is not a male problem alone. Divorce is the fault of both men and women—and, sadly, the Church is not immune. There are an incredible 24.7 million children in the United States today who live in fatherless homes. That is one in three children! And the problem is not an American problem only. According to Statistics Canada, “In 2016, over 1 million children (1,114,055), or 19.2% of all children aged 0 to 14, were living in a lone-parent family, with or without grandparents or other relatives living in the home” (August 2, 2017). Note that this only includes children up to the age of 14, and even if the picture is less awful than the view of their neighbor to the south, who thinks that nearly one in five children living without a father is a rosy picture? 

Note some of the tragic results of fatherless homes: “85% of children with absent fathers get involved in crime. 70% of children in fatherless homes have dropped out of high school. Children living in fatherless homes are 4 times more apt to live in poverty. Girls raised in fatherless homes are 8 times more apt to become a teenage mother. 85% of all children living without a father experience behavioral disorder” (, June 27, 2023).

Shout Out U.K., describing the “Famine of Fatherlessness,” points out the effects as they relate to girls and women. “In addition [to eating disorders], girls disconnected from their fathers tend to be more vulnerable, self-destructive, distrusting and consumed by fear of abandonment later in life. It’s been found that 71 per cent of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes; 92 per cent of girls raised in fatherless homes later suffer a divorce; and pregnant women without a present father experience pregnancy loss at a 48 per cent rate. Suffice it to say, growing up fatherless leaves marks” (, June 25, 2020).

While most statistics focus on the effects of fatherless homes, we should not neglect to highlight the benefits of righteous masculine leadership: “Teenagers with Positive and Nurturing Fathers Are 80% Less Apt to Go to Prison” (

As many sources point out, there is a war against fathers and men in general, and this is not lost on boys growing up. Our most popular Tomorrow’s World ViewPoint video asks, “Do Schools Discriminate Against Boys?” This ViewPoint video by Canadian Regional Director and former educator Stuart Wachowicz has been viewed more than 3.3 million times and has garnered nearly 40,000 comments. Most of those comments come from young men who affirm that they see bias against boys in school, but some girls have also chimed in. “Even when I was like 8 years old as a little girl,” one says, “I could tell something was off on how the guys in my class were being treated.”

But complaining about a problem—living as a victim—solves nothing. God wants both men and women to be overcomers, and the very act of overcoming indicates that an obstacle is in the way and must be conquered. Godly fathers must stand up and overcome the obstacles presented by Satan’s society as they manifest today, and they must help their sons and daughters do the same.

Cultural pressures are stacking the deck against men, and not just in school. Women are invading traditionally male-dominated jobs—construction, engineering, military, you name it. It should not surprise us, then, that men are now turning around and invading everything female, from bathrooms and changing rooms to sports. This is disgraceful and men ought to take the lead in speaking out against it.

However, this is Satan’s world—you and I are not going to change it now. That is reserved for another day. This is the world we live in, and it is for us to figure out how to overcome the obstacles facing us.

The Role of the Church

As anyone who knows me understands, I love working with young people. I am a huge supporter of our youth camps, enthusiastically support the Living Education program, and, along with Mr. Jonathan McNair, started our Living 4 Tomorrow program for young adults. However, neither camps, nor Living Education, nor L4T, are substitutes for the solid foundation provided by a family led by a godly, caring father with the help of a supportive wife. Yes, the Church can benefit the younger generation, but God’s focus is rightfully on families, where the most vital work takes place.

God’s command is to parents, not the Church, except as we encourage and support parents: “You shall teach them [God’s laws] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:7–8).

And then there is this beautiful passage in Psalm 78, which explains the value of passing the works of God along from generation to generation:

We will not hide them [the works of God] from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God (vv.  4–8).

While this article focuses on fathers, it is not intended to gloss over the need for godly mothers. God presumes that both parents are working together in the family, side by side, just as He designed it. It is a beautiful thing when fathers and mothers both engage in raising children. Each adds different perspectives and different strengths. But as the world is attempting to dismiss the importance of fathers, we must not fail to proclaim that importance, which should be clear from the statistics given earlier.

Challenges of Our Age

Parenting has never been easy, but parents today face challenges their own parents never faced. Technology has changed our world, and we must not be naïve about the dynamics and difficulties it presents. Too few parents understand the damage social media can do to children; the rise in gender dysphoria, depression, sexting, loneliness, cyberbullying, sleep loss, and so much more can be directly linked to social media. Furthermore, video gaming can easily result in an addiction for boys and young men if left unchecked.

Recognizing these and other problems, adults in Greystones, Ireland, have banded together to ban smartphones for children up to ages 12 or 13—including at home. “Some kids in Greystones, Ireland, may have to wait until their teen years to partake in the latest viral dance craze, thanks to a voluntary ban on smartphones that has won the support of many area parents” (, June 4, 2023). 

In a May 31, 2023 op-ed for The Irish Times, Stephen Donnelly wrote in support of the ban: 

Children and teenagers can be exposed to content on social media platforms that is damaging their mental health. Sometimes this damage is profound, with parents referencing anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-harm and suicide ideation. One of the problems is that the algorithms that determine what a child sees in their online feed can prioritise content similar to what they have already looked at. The objective is to keep the customer using the app for as long as possible. So, a girl looks at something on slimming and can then be targeted with content on anorexia. I’ve spoken with parents who’ve told me about the heartbreaking damage this has caused their daughters. Some children and young teenagers are accessing pornography, including extreme content, with a range of deeply disturbing effects (May 31, 2023).

Donnelly also pointed out that the damage done to children by Internet content is stacking up in more and more studies. “The big increase in referrals to youth mental health services we’ve seen in recent years is linked, I believe, to what these reports are telling us.” Referring to the Greystones ban—voluntary, but with significant compliance—he wrote, “This unified approach by the parents means none of them can fall foul of that powerful, guilt-evoking cry: ‘But everyone in my class has one.’” To be sure, “everyone is doing it” is no excuse for parents not to stand up and make decisions that are good for their children, whether those decisions involve video games or the Internet. Doing so may even go against what other parents in the Church decide.

We often focus on what fathers can do for their sons, but what about their daughters? When the boxer Muhammad Ali lamented his daughter’s lack of modest dress, he could have given in to societal peer pressure—“everyone is dressing that way.” But he didn’t. He stood up in a firm but loving manner. This is a classic example of the importance of a caring father, as told by Ali’s daughter Hana.

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them…. Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too” (Hana Ali, More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes, 2000, pp. ix–x).

Whether realizing it or not, Ali was following the instruction found in Deuteronomy 6. We are to instruct our children as we go through life experiences. When I see immodest dress in our girls or women, I often ask, “Where are the fathers?” As men, we sometimes need to stand up with firmness, go against the grain of society, forget what others are doing, and stop something that is hurting the family. We must turn our hearts to our children!