See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! [1 John 3:1 (NLT)]
When just a child, I associated God the Father with the stern dogmatic man who ruled our house. My fear of the Lord was more like the fear I had of disappointing or angering my father, a man not given to laughter, tenderness, mercy or affection. I couldn’t have been more than seven when I decided to run away. After packing a small bag, I left a note telling my parents I was leaving. I’m not sure what caused me to take such drastic action; perhaps I’d angered my father. I just know I felt invisible and unappreciated. After gathering up my savings of a handful of quarters, I trudged several blocks to the city bus stop. While waiting for the bus, I sat on the cement in the shelter of a storefront and cried. With nowhere to go, I just wanted to belong somewhere I felt loved.
My note must have mentioned the bus stop because my pity party was interrupted when my father rode around the corner on my small bike. He came over, wiped my tears, picked me up, sat me on the handle-bars and then rode me home. We must have been quite a sight as this six-foot man balanced me on the front of a child’s bike and peddled me down the street. Perhaps that’s all my running away had been—a simple test to see if my father cared enough to come after me. Although the details are vague, I clearly remember my joy at being pursued and welcomed back home. Sometimes God seems as distant as my father, but like him, God loves us and will pursue us. Think of that one lost sheep in Jesus’ parable. The good shepherd does not want to lose even one of His flock.
As an adult who now understands the challenges of parenthood and appreciates the circumstances that made my father the man he was, I realize he loved me but didn’t know how to show it. Like most fathers, however, he did the very best he could. Nevertheless, I spent much of my youth trying to earn his love and mistakenly thinking that I’d failed. Fortunately, we don’t have to earn God’s love with accomplishments or good behavior; mankind’s abysmal history makes it abundantly clear that is impossible. From the time of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we’ve disappointed God with everything from golden calves and idol worship to hypocrisy, immorality, rebellion and wickedness. Yet, in spite of our selfishness, greed, defiance, failures, complaints, stubbornness, and assorted other transgressions, God still loves us—even when we behave like pouty sulking children. We have a Father in Heaven who continually offers forgiveness, loves us unconditionally, pursues us when we’re lost, and welcomes us home when we return.
When Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and, in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. [Timothy Keller]