I have a childhood memory of something that lasted just a few seconds, but it’s still a vivid image in my imagination. A friend’s dad was driving my sister and me home after a play date and as we approached our house, we saw Dad outside watering the front yard by hand. Sure, we had sprinklers, but he found it relaxing to stand outside on a summer evening, press his thumb against the hose opening and water the lawn that way.
Our friend’s dad started laughing and mocked Dad for wasting his time watering the lawn by hand. The loyal daughter in me wanted to stand up for my dad and defend him! I didn’t like it that this man misunderstood Dad and spoke of him as an oddball!
There are times when the loyal daughter in me wants to stand up for my other Father—my heavenly Father. It seems that He, too, gets misjudged. People think He’s uncaring and harsh and that He punishes without mercy. “The God of the Old Testament is not a loving God,” they say, “but the God of the New Testament is.” Yet both the Old and New Testaments describe God the Father as compassionate, forgiving and loving.
God in the Old Testament
When Lindsay picked up a Bible for the first time at the age of 33, she randomly opened it to an Old Testament story about a bloody battle. After reading a bit of the story, she closed the Bible in shock. What kind of God would allow this? she thought to herself. Thankfully, she kept reading day after day and soon she discovered that the God of the Old Testament really is a loving God! The Old Testament writers prove this.
Here’s how God described Himself to Moses in Exodus, the second book in the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7). Did you notice the adjectives God used to describe Himself? Compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and forgiving. Who could ask for a better heavenly Father than that?
One of the most beautiful descriptions of God in the Old Testament comes from King David: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8–12).
David experienced the love and forgiveness of the Father firsthand. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband killed and then tried to keep his sin under cover. But David eventually repented and God forgave him. No wonder he prayed in Psalm 86:15 that “you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
The Old Testament also describes God the Father in terms that we humans can understand. In what I think are two of the most beautiful texts in the entire Bible, God is described as having the love of both a father and a mother: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13) and, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
God in the New Testament
When people tell me that the God of the New Testament is much kinder than the God of the Old Testament, I share with them what Jesus said to Philip and the other disciples. The passage begins with Philip saying, “Lord, show us the Father
and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8).
ohn 14:8). “Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ ” (verses 8–11).
Basically, Jesus was saying that He and the Father are so close that they are as one. Thus, when the disciples looked at Jesus, they were essentially looking at God the Father. So the God of the Old Testament is just as loving, kind, patient and forgiving as Jesus always tried to show God the Father as a loving Being. He once said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11).
God as your Father
When Graham first started coming to church, he had a problem. People referred to God as a father— but he just couldn’t handle that. His own earthly father had been a raging alcoholic and Graham had lived his childhood years in fear. He never knew when his dad might come home drunk and beat him again.
Although Graham had become a Christian, he just couldn’t get over his aversion to the word Father when it referred to God. He couldn’t even recite the Lord’s Prayer because it begins with “Our Father.”
It took months of counselling and Bible study for Graham to realise he shouldn’t compare God the Father to his dad. He came to realise his heavenly Father was everything his earthly father was not. In fact, his heavenly Father was everything Graham had ever wanted and needed in a father! (And He can be everything you’ve ever wanted and needed in a father, too.)
First John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” You are God’s child. He has chosen you.
If you want to know what God the Father is really like, you need to look no further than John 3:16, 17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
When we read this text, we usually think of Jesus’ great sacrifice: He gave His life for us. But there’s another great sacrifice here: God gave His Son. His only Son. Why? Because He so loved the world. Because He so loved you. Because He so loved me.
The apostle Paul said that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When we least deserved it, God the Father showed His love by sending His Son Jesus to die for us.
That’s what God is like. So why not get to know Him? Read about Him in the Bible. Talk with Him. You won’t be disappointed. You will find a Father who’s accepting, forgiving, loving and unselfish. A Father who calls you His child. He’ll never disappoint you. He’ll never break a promise. And He wants you to meet Him in heaven—Father and child together for eternity.