Understanding the Father Heart of God

I woke up suddenly at 2:30am in my parents room to the sound of my dad struggling to get out of bed while asking me, “Where’s mom? I need to go to the living room. I just need to get to the living room.” My dad had been battling cancer for four years now and was coming to the end of his life. My mom, the nurse, had called me the week before to tell me to fly home because dad only had about a week left to live. I helped him up, wondering how he even had enough strength to push himself into a seated position. He was so weak this final week of his life. We walked with my arm supporting most of my dad’s weight from his bedroom to the living room. He sat on the armchair, and I sat on the couch. My dad fell into a deep sleep which he wouldn’t wake up from. He passed into the arms of Jesus the next day around 2 or 3pm. I sat up most of the night wondering what I would do without him. The questions you ask yourself and God in the moments of pain are hard but precious. As I was watching my dad pass away, I asked God a series of questions that would lead me on a path of discovery into the depths of God’s heart as a Father. Theology helps you answer the question, “Who is God?” but in my painful situation I asked the question, “Where are you God?” More than ever, I needed the comfort of a father. I needed to know that God was near and that he cared about my pain. We all ask this question at some point in our lives. It’s the heart of God the Father to help us answer this burning question.

God’s Heart

When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt they cried out in pain asking God, “Where are you?” Moses uses four important verbs to describe God’s response to their pain. “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel- and God knew” (Ex. 2:24-25).

God was not ignorant of the cries from his people, and he is not ignorant of our cries. God’s response to pain is all throughout the Bible, and the greatest expression we have of God’s heart for us is in the sending of his Son, Jesus.

In Jesus, Divine Love became human. He decided to experience our pain, sickness, our sin, and ultimately our death. He left perfection, heaven, to come into our broken world. It’s sort of crazy when you think about it. Why would you leave perfection to experience imperfection? The answer is love, but it’s still almost incomprehensible especially to us living in brokenness. But God the Father still sent Jesus and God’s expressive love for His Son directly relates to His love for us.

“This is my beloved Son”

There are two places in Scripture where we find God’s love for Jesus explicitly stated. One is at his baptism (Matt. 3:17), and the second is at his transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). God the Father says the same thing about Jesus with one addendum at the transfiguration. He says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” and at the transfiguration He adds, “Listen to him.” God the Father speaks acceptance (This is my…), love (This is my belevoded…), identity (This is my beloved son...), and approval (listen to him) over Jesus. These four characteristics of God’s love for Jesus show us God’s heart for us.

Through Jesus, God’s love for us is revealed and God’s immanent presence is manifested. Behind my question of “Where are you God?” was a deep longing to be heard and an even deeper longing to be loved. As disciples of Jesus, we must remember that the main purpose of Jesus’s coming was to bring us into a reconciled relationship with God the Father.

We call him, “Abba” through the Holy Spirit because we are all in need of acceptance, love, identity, and approval from him. Abba is a deeply relational word, and it represents what we need most: a Father who will never leave us, who we can always trust, and who we can always come to in our pain for help. We need our dads to say these things to us, but they often fail and they won’t always be around (in some cases they never are).

In my life, I lost my dad and had to explore the world without him. My exploration was often not pretty. What I found was a God willing to speak into my life that which I had lost and that which I had never had in my relationship with my dad. I found a Father. Every disciple of Jesus will wrestle with the question, “Where are you God?” and our response reveals what we believe about him and the depths of relationship to which we are willing to go with him.

Our Response

We can have two responses to the question, “Where is God?” The first response reveals that we do not know God as Father. It is a response that says, “God has abandoned me so I must seek love elsewhere.” Some of us are living this response right now. I know I have lived it. This response believes God can’t be a good Father and won’t ever really be around. I minister to teenagers who never had a dad present in their lives and are ignorant of the love which God has for them as a Father. The first response isn’t meant to be our only response. When God’s love as Father is revealed to us, our response is much different.

The answer to the question, “Where is God?” was “Right beside you.” Just like with the Israelites, God heard my groaning, remembered his covenant through Jesus, saw my pain, and knew me. As a disciple of Jesus, I wanted to follow him to explore a relationship with my Abba. As I began sharing my story, I began hearing story after story of people who had found the love of God the Father. Our deepest wounds are addressed by a Father who's presence as “Abba” changes our very identity.

His presence as a Father through the Holy Spirit reminds us that even when we feel alone, cast off, in pain, and rejected we are actually not alone because God stands with us. Our response now says, “God is present in my pain through the work of Jesus Christ, and he is right beside me caring for me as a good Father should.” And He wants us to share these stories of pain and our wounded hearts so that others can experience the love of God.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Each time we share our story about the love of God the Father, we declare our ambassadorship about belonging to the family of God. We are showing the world that God loves us in our deepest pain and has not abandoned us. He is present in Christ Jesus and shows us that having a Father means we are never alone, we have an familial identity, we are loved, and we have a purpose. So share your story, even if it hurts. God is with you.

Bryan Green is an aspiring church planter, barista, seminary student, and servant at Soma Tacoma. He's graduating at the end of the summer with a M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary.