The Loving Heart of God Our Father

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Take a moment and consider your initial reactions to the word father. What images pop into your brain when you think of that word? What emotions do you experience when you contemplate your own father and his impact (or lack of impact) on your life?

The way you answer the above questions will have a big influence on the way you perceive and relate to God. That's because God is described throughout the Bible as a Father -- specifically, as our Father.

He claims a personal connection with each of us. (See Matthew 23:9, for example.) It's only natural, then, for us to make a connection between our earthly father and God as our heavenly Father.

This connection can be a positive thing in that it gives us some guiderails for understanding God as a Divine Being; it helps for us to think of Him in a specific role we can relate to. On the other hand, connecting God with our earthly fathers can also lead to quite a bit of confusion, and even frustration. That's because God is perfect, while our earthly fathers always demonstrate some flaws -- sometimes minor flaws, but oftentimes major flaws that create a lot of damage in our hearts.

The danger lies in picking up the baggage we carry from our earthly fathers and dumping it on our God in a way that hinders us from connecting more deeply with Him.

I want to address that danger in this article by revealing how God painted us a picture of His own heart and love for us while speaking through Hosea, one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.

A Family Video

If you've ever spent time looking through old family pictures or videos of your children, then you have a good idea of the message God wanted to communicate to His children -- the people of Israel -- through the prophet Hosea. Take a look at how God begins this trip down memory lane:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one
who lifts a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them (Hosea 11:1-4).

I love the intimacy and tenderness of these verses. God pictured the entire nation of Israel collectively as His son -- as a child He loved from birth. He taught the Israelites how to walk and watched their first steps. He bent down to kiss them on the cheek. It's an amazing word-picture coming from God, the Creator of the universe.

But notice the sadness in these verses, as well. The Israelites didn't return God's familial love. They rejected Him and began worshiping Baal and other false gods. We can see this activity throughout Old Testament books such as Judges, 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and more. The Israelites turned their back on God, on their Father, and chose to look for more convenient experiences with worship.

The Sword

If you have much experience with the Bible, you know that God typically doesn't react well to idolatry. He demands that we recognize Him as God alone or face the consequences. And He seemed to be considering some dire consequences for the Israelites as we continue through His message to Hosea:
Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them (Hosea 11:5-7).

Whereas the first part of God's message was tender, these verses indicate judgment to come. The Israelites had rejected God, and here God was contemplating sending His children back into slavery to the Egyptians or Assyrians. God even goes so far as using the imagery of "a sword" flashing in Judah -- a picture of military conquest and defeat.

Basically, God recognized that the Israelites were "determined to turn from [Him]," and He seemed willing to give them over to the consequences of their actions.

The fact that Israel deserved the punishment God seemed to promise is what makes the final verses of Hosea 11 so captivating.

The Heart of God

I love the conclusion of God's message to His children. If you want to catch a glimpse of God's heart -- of what He's really like and what He really thinks of you -- make sure to read these verses several times over:
"How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man --
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars, his children will come
trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,"
declares the Lord" (Hosea 11:8-11).

I love these verses. They paint a vivid picture of a God who doesn't sit up on top of some mountain with His hands full of lightning bolts, looking for someone to strike. No, this is God as our Father. This is a God who had every reason to punish His children and bring judgment upon them because of their betrayal -- and yet He can't. He can't bring Himself to do it because He loves them so much.

Remember that phrase: "My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused." Our God is a God of compassion. He is the "Holy One" and worthy of our fear, and yet He approaches us with grace.

Now, that doesn't mean God came crawling back to the Israelites and ask them to please, please do the right thing. No, He promised to "roar like a lion" and call His children back. He is a loving father, but also a strong Father. Yet even in His strength He promises to settle His children in their homes (v. 11).

I hope you appreciate these verses for the glimpse they give us of God and His character. And I hope you'll think of this obscure passage in Hosea the next time you ponder God and what it means that He's your Father.
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