So far in our "Shaped by Love" series, we've learned about how immeasurable God's love is and how nothing can separate us from it. But what kind of a love is it? Time and again, scripture tells us that God's love is a Father's love. This idea is one of the most astounding in the Christian life. God is an amazing creator. He is holy, lifted up, the sovereign, majestic Lord over all creation -- and yet -- He is our Father who loves us. For some of us the idea of God as Father is hard to swallow. Those of us who had negative experiences with our earthly fathers may resist the idea of God-as-father. But even those of us who enjoyed healthy relationships with our dads lack a perfect picture of Father-God. If we look only at the earthly analog available to us, we'll miss what scripture tells us about God's fatherly love.
In the Old Testament, God often expresses Himself as a Father who longs to embrace His people and bless them with their inheritance. But in the New Testament, God as Father becomes a unique revelation as we see Christ as Son and ourselves as co-heirs with Christ. The New Testament makes explicit our position as sons and daughters of a loving God. When we truly understand this relationship, our relationship with God can be changed for the better as we learn to trust in His love for us.
One of the most poignant pictures of God as Father comes from Jesus's parable of the prodigal son. This is a specific story about a father and a son -- and this particularity is crucial, for it reminds us that God, our Father feels deep love for each of us, individually. In the tale, the father not only waits patiently for his lost son to return to him, he actively scans the far horizon in his anticipation. Even when his son is far away, he sees him, runs toward him., and embraces him.
Such is God the Father's love for us. God will always run to embrace us, no matter how far away we wander from him. His tone, when he welcomes us back, will be one of delight and joy, not consternation or anger. He does not delight in our sin, but He truly delights in us, as the father in the tale of the prodigal son delights in his wayward child. God is not interested in rubbing our nose in our mistakes and thus continuing or increasing our pain. God does not operate through condemnation and fear, but through a furious love.
God's love is not indifferent, however. He doesn't want us to do whatever we want. He knows that our sin leads us to pain and damages our relationship with him, and because He loves us, He will do whatever it takes to rescue us from that pain and restore our relationship with Him. That means that we will sometimes suffer the consequences of our sin and experience discipline. But the goal of God's discipline is never to crush us, but to awaken us. Our Father does not lord power over us; instead, He exposes a broken heart for us.
It's not only in the large-scale dramas of sin and reconciliation where God's fatherly love shines. He also demonstrates His love in small, everyday gifts. The Bible reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father. Such gifts might include the love of other people, the beauty of a perfect spring day, the hospitality and comfort of a warm meal, the inspiration of art and music, or the smell of a freshly-peeled orange. The signs of God's love are all around us in big and small ways.
Today, remember that God loves as a perfect Father loves. His heart breaks for us, He waits up for us, He embraces us, and He takes delight and pride in us. He gives us good gifts from His heart. And He won't let anything get in the way of His relationship with us. That's a Father's love.