I vividly remember the moment I became a dad. My daughter was a tiny thing, just over five pounds. Holding her, I couldn’t comprehend the strange feelings pulsing inside me. As I looked into her little face, I thought, “I don’t even know you, yet I’m sure I would die for you.”
That was my introduction to the emotions of being a father. I was surprised with the overwhelming affection I felt for this naked, helpless, yet demanding creature. It wasn’t long before another thought rocked my reality. If I, an imperfect human and dad, can feel this strongly about my child, then what does my Heavenly Father feel toward me? The thought brought tears. Can I be loved with such strong affection by a holy, all-powerful God? And just as I was getting lost in these reflections, something warm ran down my arm. My precious little girl had peed on me. But did that change how I felt about her? Not in the slightest!
The Unmoved Mover?
I enjoy theology. For me, it’s thinking about God, what He’s like, what His motivations and desires are and how we humans can possibly connect with Him. Unfortunately, some theological thought can lead people away from a relationship with God as they wander down paths that tarnish His character or drill into only one aspect of the infinite spectrum of His qualities. Thinkers of the past, like Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, have been referenced to make a case for God as a being who does not experience emotion. It’s called the doctrine of Divine Impassibility. The basic (extremely simplified) idea is that God doesn’t change (which I agree with). Emotions are so changeable (which I also agree with). Therefore, God doesn’t experience emotions (not sure I agree with that part).
The logic makes some sense, but there are some additional matters that need to be considered. While human emotions can have us happy one moment and depressed the next as we respond to circumstances or brain chemicals, God is different. Everything about Him is stable and righteous. Nevertheless, the Bible presents the Almighty at various times as delighted, grieved, joyful, regretful, angry and tender. It’s always in the context, however, of His righteous character interacting with the imperfect, unrighteous ones He loves—never merely out-of-control, knee-jerk impulses. His goodness and holiness are constant throughout the scriptures. We could say that His emotions do not control Him, but at various times they highlight what He values. Overall, it appears to me that God has feelings and that He is rightly moved by them.
A Father’s Heart
The New Testament carries a strong theme of God as our Father. Does that mean He has the feelings of a dad toward His kids? I think so.
We read in Mark 1:11 that He experiences joy as a Father. Jesus tells us He’s a merciful Father (Luke 6:36) and that He’s a Father who is responsive to the needs of His children (Luke 11:13). In John 16:27, Jesus tells His disciples that their Heavenly Father loves them. But it’s in the story known as the “Prodigal Son” that we get the most poignant picture of the emotions our Heavenly Father is capable of. When the father (who represents God) sees His wayward son returning to him, he’s filled with compassion and runs to meet and embrace him, giving him undeserved gifts (Luke 15:20).
Of course, it’s primarily through the life of Jesus and His teachings that we learn about this aspect of God. When His disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father, He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If we want to know more about what God’s fatherly qualities and feelings are like, look at Jesus. He supported His disciples when they didn’t have enough to feed the crowd (Luke 9:10-17). He reached out and rescued Peter before he drowned (Matthew 14:29-31). He mourned over those who refused to believe in Him (Luke 13:34) as well as wept when His friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). The insight is endless. God wants us to see His heart. So, study Jesus to know what your Heavenly Father is truly like.
How Does this Affect Me?
What does it mean for us that God has the feelings of a father? Depending on your experiences with your earthly dad, your response will differ from others. Many do not have a positive reference point for visualizing what a “good father”is like (we’ll address that in another post). But I want to highlight three things we can be assured of about God’s heart, regardless the kind of dad we each had growing up.
It’s one thing to know theoretically that God is a Heavenly Father. It’s a completely different thing to believe and embrace Him as your Heavenly Father. Every human on this earth longs for a father’s acceptance, approval and affection. Few of us feel that we ever got enough of what we need. The Good News is that regardless how the story of your relationship with your earthly dad has gone, there is a Heavenly one waiting to embrace you with His love, even though you’ve “peed” all over Him. And His affection for you is real—the kind that would die for you. Will you believe it?
Reach out to Him. He’s reaching out to you.
(Edited and reposted from July 27, 2020)