Every person has a different image of who they believe God to be. Some name God as Universe or Higher Power and for Christians, there are numerous biblical titles like, Lord, Christ, Shepherd, Vine, Rock, Savior and so on… Each name speaks to us based on the lens of life experiences or relationships. There are a number of people who confess that their image of God can get confused with an important authority figure such a father or mother. That certainly is true in my case. My past relationship with my dad has influenced my view of God. My lens has been one of fear, reverence, discipline and punishment. It is one of the reasons I love to read the gospels because Jesus is much more lovable and reachable figure. Jesus called God his Father so it is not much of a stretch that we would also see God that way and relate to Him in the same way. I totally understand that there are many people who do not have a loving parental relationship and cannot identify the same loving relationship as Jesus did with His Father.
The people of Israel were known as God’s chosen people and they had a very long complicated relationship with their one God. They were not a large powerful nation so they were often under attack from the super powers of the day like Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Their Holy City of Jerusalem, which housed the Temple that known by Israel as God’s resting place was constantly under attack. There were many years when God’s people were taken into captivity and they became disillusioned with their relationship with God. This is where prophets came in… They were God’s spokespersons and were feared by people because they spoke truth and consequences regardless if they were a king or pauper. Sometimes the prophets accused the people of unfaithfulness, which lead to their destruction or captivity and their broken relations with God. Other times prophets offered hope and assurance that Israel’s God had not forgotten them. Check out these texts from the Book of Isaiah.
In the 25th chapter of Isaiah, we read that about Israel celebrating a victory over their oppressors. In verse 8, the Prophet Isaiah describes God like this; “The Sovereign Lord will destroy death forever! He will wipe away the tears from everyone's eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. The Lord himself has spoken.” Can you imagine the God of the Old Testament wiping tears from the faces of the people? Is that the way you picture the God you worship on Sundays? I will say in the past seeing God in that manner has be a struggle for me. Again, maybe it has been because I saw too much of my dad in God. The God of Israel loved His people so much that He felt their pain, pursued them when they had abandoned Him, and held space for them until they returned. As He wiped their tears, He also wiped the slate clean by forgiving them and removing any disgrace from them. Wow!
Once the visual of God wiping tears sinks into your brain and heart, check out another verse from Isaiah 40:11: “He will take care of his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs together and carry them in his arms; he will gently lead their mothers.” Can you picture it? When I was growing up there was a well-known picture in all of the Christian gift shops of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. I saw this image on the back of little round mirrors, magnets, and bookmarks. The picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd would have been very familiar to the people in ancient times. Shepherds roaming the hills was a common sight to them. When I traveled throughout the Holy Land, flocks of sheep and their herders are still wandering the grassy hills looking for food and water. After reading the Isaiah text, I have tried to imagine God roaming the hills tending His flock- carrying the weak, gently leading them to greener pastures and protecting them from harm. Hmmm… This God has a familiar look of His Son in the gospels. You remember Jesus, the one who healed the sick, loved the unlovable and protected the weak. Like Father - like Son?
Since finding these particular texts about a God of love and mercy, I now spend less time confusing God with my dad. I have grown to know the God of Isaiah and the Father of Jesus. When I began my journey through college and seminary, I told one of my professors that I needed to bring God down from the unreachable heavens and build a closer relationship without fear and punishment. Slowly but surely my view of God and my relationship with God has opened my heart to trust, forgive and be forgiven. Just like Israel, I can see how God has wiped my tears, wiped my slate clean and carried me lovingly through life.