15 But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me.
Give Your strength to Your servant;
save the son of Your female servant.
Our fatherless society is killing our perception of God.
Whether you like to admit it or not, your relationship with your father often alters the way you view God. If your father was absent, you might find difficulty accepting that God is near and cares for your smallest concerns. If your father was a temperamental dictator, you might view God as the angry deity in the sky waiting to pummel you with lightning bolts whenever you step out of line. If your father was a softy and a pushover, you might find yourself living more loosely because God would never really punish you for breaking his rules. If your father was simply a detached provider, you might find yourself accepting God’s blessing without ever desiring his company.
Most likely, God is a lot different than you father. God’s plan is that your father imitate him (Eph. 3:14), but unfortunately, that rarely happens. We rarely see a combination of both love and holiness. While God has many attributes, theologians categorize all attributes under those two headings – love and holiness.
This description of God, first mentioned in Exodus, is repeated many times throughout Scripture. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth. What is so shocking to us modern readers is that someone can be both compassionate and angry.
A common misconception is that Jesus of the New Testament was compassionate and the God of the Old Testament was angry. How do you explain God’s constant rescuing of idolatrous Israel and how do you explain Jesus chasing religious people out of the temple with a whip?
God is compassionate, but he also has the right to be angry. He is slow to anger though. That’s not most of our calling cards. Oftentimes, fathers (and mothers) are characterized by flying off the handle when our children upset us. We are quick to anger, not slow. That’s not how God operates. He does get angry. He does discipline in holiness, but he’s not quick about it. He is compassionate and gracious. He is full of love. He is so full of love that he refuses to let his children continue in disobedience.
I have a healthy fear of God. These days, people don’t like to talk about “fearing God,” but I will always be scared of the one who brought me into this world and can take me out of this world. Yet he has fathered me in such a way that I know that he will never evoke punishment on me that doesn’t fit the crime. I know when he disciplines, he does it in love even though it doesn’t feel good. He gets angry, but he never loses it in the heat of the moment.
He’s the kind of father I want to be. He’s the kind of father I’m glad I have. Compassionate and gracious, and slow to anger.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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