Orphans, in this Day and Age?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

Huckleberry Finn. Harry Potter. Oliver Twist.

When most of us read the word “orphan,” images of ragged Charles Dickens heroes come to mind. Or maybe famine-starved children in Africa. Thankfully, in modern countries relatively few parents die before old age. James’ words about looking after widows and orphans doesn’t seem to have much application for us, since we rarely encounter either.

But the Hebrew word for orphan, yatom, just as often meant “fatherless.” In the biblical period, if a child had a mother but lacked a father, he or she still was considered an “orphan,” because in that society, a single-parent family would be impoverished and unable to survive without help from others. Nowadays women have a greater ability to support themselves, so we no longer think this way.

In The Book of Jewish Values, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin makes an interesting observation about this. He points out that modern society has an ever-growing abundance of “fatherless” — those in single-parent families. With so many marriages dissolving and children born outside of wedlock, an increasing number of young people are now growing up lacking either a father or mother, or changing parents with each relationship.

Telushkin sees this group as the “orphans” of today, whose care is of special concern to God. Statistically, they are at greater risk of drug addiction, lack of education and employment. And even if these young people don’t lack in other ways, they are often deprived of a stable family structure. They don’t get to experience how two adults persevere through conflict and not call it quits. Without models for how to form long-lasting relationships and how to act as a mother or a father, they often pass this sad legacy on to the next generation too.

Almost every church and neighborhood has an abundance of “orphans” of this type. We can all name young people who could use a “big brother” or “big sister” who could benefit from our love.

Many divorced people, singles and elderly in our churches long to be connected into the family of Christ, like widows long for a husband. How hard is it for those of us with stable lives to befriend someone from a broken family?

Our society’s lack of “family values” is growing by the day. It’s understandable that many protest. But we may be more effective at stabilizing future families if we enfold a few young people into our own, to show them that they are truly loved.

J. Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values, (c) 2000, Bell Tower, New York, p. 70-71.


(Image from Who Will Tell Their Story? blog)


9 Responses to “Orphans, in this Day and Age?”

  1. 1
    Kathleen|November 26, 2012

    Good article, Lois. There are many orphans today – very sad. However, I appreciate your invitation and challenge for us to be more inclusive. May it be so.

  2. 2
    Nick deVries|December 1, 2012

    Lois, may our Lord bless your tongue/and the hearts of the listeners as you speak at CMC this Sunday. I appreciate the insight you’ve offered in this epidemic of “single-parent” (orphans) normalcy now-a-days. I’m moved to share these insights with those I am blessed to associate with and work to find ways that The Holy Spirit might help me make a holy difference in their futures.

  3. 3
    Janet|December 1, 2012

    Lois, Thank you for these words. As a single mom with boys, I can vouch for the void of which you speak. I have prayed much.

  4. 4
    Josh|January 25, 2013

    Thank you for your words, Lois. This article has opened my eyes to what it means to be an orphan, especially through the lens of a first century Jewish person. It brings to light the struggles that many in their world faced, as well as the struggles we face, if we are people who come from such a background. I appreciate the care you show for the “orphans” of our world: thank you, and God Bless.


  5. 5
    Grace|January 25, 2013

    Thank you so much for this encouragement, Lois! As a student looking forward to working at an orphanage for six months next year, I thoroughly appreciated a broader view of what “orphan” means and how that mission can be brought back to home. James 1:27 means a very different thing in this day and age, but God’s heart remains the same. Thanks again!

  6. 6
    Ellie|January 25, 2013

    Thanks so much for reminding us about this, Lois. So often these people are neglected because of stereotypes––funny, because that is exactly the type of person that Jesus looks for. If we want to imitate him, we need to start by helping and forming relationships with the fatherless.

  7. 7
    Sara|January 25, 2013

    This is a very good reminder as to the real meaning of orphan. Like you said, many people, including myself only think orphans are those in third-world countries. But, in reality, there are orphans all around us. I thank you for the encouragement towards helping and loving orphans around us. We need to remember to love and care for the orphans near and far away through the love of Christ.

  8. 8
    jacob|January 25, 2013

    When I think of Orphans I don’t usually think of them in the way that you show us here in this article. Orphans are not just abused children in places that are third world countries. instead Orphans are all around us everyday. I thank you for your encouraging words of wisdom about orphans today and I would love to think that I can treat orphans like Jesus would on a daily basis. We should strive to be Christ followers and treat them how Jesus did. I now have a better/ broader view on what a “orphan” is now. Thanks for the article.

  9. 9
    PAUL ARTHUR|April 16, 2014

    Dear Pastor
    Greetings you in Christ.
    I am very glad to write you this email letter today, i want to studying with your ministry so that if you have a Branch in my country please let me know? but if you have a study materials then try to send us to study it because the word of God is A spiritual food for every human being our postal address is following below.

    May God Bless you and your family.
    Brother Paul Arthur.

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