Sometimes it’s hard to understand God. He’s complex.
He is, mysteriously, 100% just, 100% merciful, 100% righteous, 100% graceful, 100% kind, 100% holy and 100% compassionate all at the same time. (Actually, He is infinitely all of these things, but let’s not quibble.)
And our brains and hearts simply cannot process this 100% correctly.
It’s too much. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen or experienced. We have nothing else to compare God to.
To complicate things further, God is often called our Father in scripture. That is to say perfect God is likened to imperfect men.
We all have specific emotions and images, for better or for worse, that spring to life the moment we hear or read the word “father”. As such, when we believers are told that God is our Father, we knowingly or unknowingly transfer our emotions about our human fathers over to Him.
If we’ve grown up with fathers (or father-like men) who have reflected the heart (particularly God’s heart for us) and character of God to the best of their abilities the majority of the time, we have a lot easier time accepting and understanding verses like Psalm 103:13, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him…”
But if we’ve grown up with fathers (or father-like men) who consistently did not reflect God’s heart (particularly God’s heart for us) and character, we are immediately confused by these kinds of verses. “As a father has compassion on his children…”? Fathers do that? Maybe in some vague, foggy way we know some fathers do that, but we don’t know firsthand what that looks like. In a very real sense, this concept is incomprehensible to us.
You can see, then, that if you fall into the latter category of children-turned-Christians, there is a certain amount of reprogramming that needs to occur before you can understand this dynamic of God better.
I think a lot of that is Holy Spirit work… allowing Him to guide us into all truth about who God the Father really is and who we really are from His perspective.
And I think one avenue through which the Spirit renovates our perceptions is through the scriptures. Psalm 103:13-14, for example, not only states that God has a fatherly compassion toward His children, but it tells us why that’s the case. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
The Father is compassionate toward us because He knows how we are formed – that is, everything about us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our complete need for Him, what we are capable of and what we are not, where our affections lie and where they do not. He knows our hearts. And if we are truly believers, at the end of the day, our hearts are to know Him, love Him, exalt Him, and share Him with others. Our actions won’t always line up with our hearts, but the Lord knows that, and He has compassion on us.
He is also compassionate toward us because He remembers that we are dust – that is, we are essentially nothing. He knows that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. We can – let’s face it – do nothing (good) apart from Him. Instead of holding these facts against us, He shows us mercy and compassion – not excusing our sin so much as encouraging us that we do not have to be perfect for Him to love us. He is God the compassionate Father.
No matter how well or how poorly your earthly father represented Christ to you, you can gain understanding of God’s heart for you when you read verses like these. As foreign as they may feel, verses about God the Father are nonetheless true, and the Spirit will help you understand this if you ask Him to.