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The Father's heart

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

My dear friends,

"I also cannot resolve this contradiction between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and Jesus. He has two sides, and we have to endure that.And also in the New Testament we find these statements about God's severity and punishment. God is not only merciful, and often incomprehensible to us humans."

The conversation in which this sentence occurred was many years ago. I was in my twenties, bloody young from today's perspective. It was a friend who said this sentence, in his training as a theologian and free church pastor. I often think of that statement. I was (and am even more today) convinced that God is good. A father. Infinite love. And yet there were the judgments in the Old Testament, the clear rules - the law.

The Jewish God. YAHWE. A God with two sides, indeed. A God who sends plagues on the Egyptians and kills the firstborn son of all who do not belong to him. A God who sent a flood over the whole earth, saving only Noah and his family, and animals. "What about all the children?" we ask in horror. How is one to trust such a God? How to deal with the fact that Moses, failing once and putting himself in the place of God, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, the land of his promise?

"And Moses took the staff ⟨from the place⟩ before the LORD, as he had commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them: Hear now, ye rebellious. Will we bring forth water for you out of this rock? 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock twice with his staff; and there came out much water, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. 12 Then said the LORD unto Moses and unto Aaron, Because ye believed me not to sanctify me in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. 13 This is the water of Meribah, where the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and he sanctified himself in them."

(Deuteronomy 4:9-13, Elberfelder Translation, author's emphasis)

Fear of God, rejection of God. Assumption that He sees us only "when it pleases Him."

Remoteness from God. Legalism.

All of this leaves a desert in us. The former leader of Steiger International Minneapolis Mark Johnson once said that our natural destiny is to live in communion with God. The ultimate answer to our questions. That this is what we are created to do. John and Stasi Eldredge add that the call of our deepest inner longing, that indefinable aching call of our heart, is grounded in the desire for union with God. We want to believe that God is good. Our Father. Someone who accepts us and delights in us. Someone who loves us even though he knows us.

This dichotomy is a question I have grappled with for a long time.

What strikes me is always the same: whether it was Adam or Eve, whether it was Moses or Gideon, what they didn't do at the point where they screwed up,-it was to wrap themselves in sackcloth and ashes. They didn't -ask for forgiveness.

I wonder what would have happened? What would have happened if Adam and Eve had not put the blame on the serpent? What would have happened if Moses had replied, "O my Creator, what have I done? Forgive me!

What would have happened if Gideon, who had done so, so well before, had asked for forgiveness after having created, against his better judgment, the idol that led once again to the worship of dead idols?

We do not know. But we do know that David was different. David screwed up a lot. His insatiable lust when it came to beautiful women made him not only an adulterer but also a murderer. Moses' unruliness had already driven him out of the land once, back when he slew the slave driver of his people.

I believe that it is the greatest overcoming for us humans to believe in forgiveness. We explain, find excuses, try to make amends somehow. But we don't like to admit mistakes. We would rather live with the consequences and let ourselves be driven further and further away from God than to admit our own faults, our own misjudgements, our own desire to rule.

We condemn ourselves to the greatest darkness. We justify ourselves. We believe that forgiveness is not granted by God.

The punitive judgments that God sent in the Old Testament on the fallen world, so distant from Him, were unspeakably cruel. Again and again the same sentences fall: "My people have forgotten me. My people drink from false springs. My people run after dead idols. My people look everywhere for happiness and security, except with me." In those judgments, God allows the absence of love. His absence. To show us how life is ..without him.

I love the story of Jonah. Always have. God relenting when Nineveh turns back to him and asks for forgiveness. Very theatrically, with weeks of fasting and lamenting. He shows mercy. The punitive judgment does not come. He changes his mind when he sees that his people turn to him again.

No, God is not ambivalent nor duplicitous. God is also not unpredictable in his nature. God is a loving Father who shows mercy. He is a father who is consequent and who refines and guides his children not only back in love, but also into righteousness and into becoming upright and relatable people who learn to love each other.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the son, having really hit the wall, has a great plan of redemption in his pocket: he wants to hire himself out as a skilled worker to his father, pay back the inheritance, give up his status as a son and work for his father. Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey says that was in accordance with the laws of Judaism. That the Pharisees listening applauded at that moment. Restitution, repayment, renunciation. Of course, it was not possible in their eyes that after such dishonor of the father, the son expected anything else. The statement: "Pay me my inheritance" corresponds in the Near Eastern cultural area of that time (and also still today!) to the statement: "Drop dead, old man!"

The father, however...he reacts differently. The village is upset about the son's falling. As a wealthy man, the father will have lived in the midst of the village center. The son's return would have taken him through the entire, surrounding village. That the father runs to meet him, runs, it is unthinkable. He degrades himself to the extreme in front of the whole village to spare his son the humiliation of being spat on by the villagers. He takes this humiliation upon himself by pulling his robe up so high that his underwear is visible and running. Both are not possible in the Jewish context. A grown man does not run or hurry. He strides with dignity. A grown man does not lift his garment! He pays attention to the fact that it surges respectably behind him!

The father does not care. The love is so great that he renounces his honor to spare his son pain.

The son- he is overwhelmed by this unexpected love- and accepts it. No more reparation plan. Infinite love robs him of any possibility of self-justification. "I am unworthy"- he says- "unworthy of your love." And lets himself be embraced.

It is an unmistakable parallel. A heart that bleeds for those who are lost. That longs for reconciliation and restoration. That binds and heals wounds.

That calls and warns. And exposes itself to the utmost in order to embrace the lost son again. Theology calls this: the overshadowing of the cross.

Why am I writing this today?

Because if we desire healing, we must trust. Because we need to see the Father heart of God. Because we must stop believing that God may condemn us after all. He, in an already sheer act of desperation, let Jesus die, unjustified, bearing guilt that was not his, heaped upon him by the unjustified judgment, by the anger of the citizens because he did not fulfill their plans and claims for a worldly kingdom (at that time). He brought the anger and rejection, the false image of God to the point of pain. The darkness, the lies. The selfishness and the distance.

"Forgive me" said the sinner on the cross, and was still in the same hour as Jesus in the Kingdom of the Father. God has given everything to show us his love. The only thing He expects is a single "Forgive me".

Forgive me for thinking you were not enough. Forgive me for doubting that you are love. Forgive me for hiding from you. Forgive me for hardening my heart to hold on instead of coming to you. Forgive me for not trusting. And forgive me for not forgiving others, but condemning them with a harshness that only shows my weakness.

God is good. His arms are always open.

We who live in grace should learn that God does not hold anything back, does not condemn. And that when Jesus speaks of healing, he means actually healing and restoration.

How do we learn to trust in that?

By opening our hearts and not hardening them. By accepting that God is love. And if he is love, then we can come to him with everything and ask him to fix what we have messed up. To make right that which others have hurt us.

To hand over to him that which we believe we will never be able to heal again.

Because you know? The son...he stunk. He was covered in mud. He was exhausted and hungry when he arrived home. He was bathed. He was clothed anew. He was protected from the wrath of his older brother. He was given back his signet ring. Once back, abundance was his again.

And us? We are reconciled. We are justified through Jesus. Co-heirs of his kingdom. God's children. "Covered with your precious blood, Jesus," it says in English.

New heart. New spirit. New life. All of that- is always just a step away.

So, what was the big difference David made?

Oh, he believed that God is good! And repentance was not difficult for him. He fell. He failed. And yet knew himself "called the friend of God." And that is why he was so open with God. He wasnt afraid of him. He worshipped him. He loved him. When he turned back to God, after being fallen so, so far, he pleaded for his love. And received it. And we.


Weekly Challenge:

- On what points do you struggle with God as Father?

-Where does the father image your earthly father gave you override the perfect grace and goodness of God?

- In what areas are you avoiding rather than asking for forgiveness-not in self-mortification, but in the expectation of goodness and love, healing and abundance?

- Can you imagine Jesus' sacrifice really giving you the chance for a new life of love, or are you still sitting at the pig trough inside making plans for reparation? Then go home. Your Father is running to meet you.

Weekly prayer:

Dearest Father. Jesus. Holy Spirit.

Thank you for each and every one that you have led to this article. We thank you for your goodness, for your love, for your joy over us.We thank you that you are the perfect Father who does not condemn us but wants to draw us to himself- more and more.

Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice, resurrection and ascension. We gratefully accept these and love you. Thank you for having already atoned for all that we screw up. Thank you that in you we can come to the Father liberated. In you we live and find peace. In you we grow and are loved and protected. Thank you for your perfection in us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, fill us with your Holy Spirit. Fill us to overflowing with your life, your wisdom, your grace. I ask for a new revelation, a fresh revelation of the Father's Heart for all those you have sent here. I ask for healing and for the gentle opening of hearts where they are hardened - by hurt, trauma, darkness, failure, self-accusation. Holy Spirit, fill us, teach us, love us healthy. Let it become bright in us and pour your hope, your truth, your beauty, your kindness and mercy into our hearts.

In your name Jesus, more precious than all diamonds. Amen.

Do you know....back then, when God said it was forbidden for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,...I am convinced it was the warning of a bleeding Father's heart. They did not know evil. They lived in peace and happiness. God knew what would happen when they realized the darkness. And he did not want them to die. It was protective, caring love.

"And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest eat;
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of it thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
( Genesis 2:16, Elberfelder Translation, emphasis author.)

Don't you hear him saying with a bothered Father's heart: "Don't. I do not want you to get hurt?"

With love,



Photo: Pixabay.

Dr. Kenneth E.Bailey, " Lost younger son", full teaching:

More about John & Stasi Eldredge (Teachings, Podcasts, Daily Reading):

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