Life Theology

A Throb of the Father’s Heart

Having two daughters has changed my life drastically. Yes, I get less sleep, my patience is tested way more now, but my heart seems to be undergoing this strange softening—an internal reality that can only be explained by a God-placed love that a father is given for his children. We are told in the Bible on numerous occasions who God the Father is and, most importantly, how He sees and relates to His children.

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

“God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate…” (Psalm 103:13).

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22).

This is just a small sample of passages from the Bible about the Father’s compassion, and there are numerous others. Before I became a father, scriptures like these were “nice” and “comforting”, but when my girls were born, the reality of father-like compassion and care penetrated far and wide into my heart. This was a wonderful surprise.

We are told that Martin Luther (the German Reformer) grew up with a very harsh and rigid father. Unfortunately, this childhood experience transferred to his own understanding of God the Father. But when his second child, Elizabeth, passed away as an infant, that all changed. His heart was so full of sorrow and compassion for his infant daughter Elizabeth — like a father whose child was lost and could not be replaced. So Luther looked up to God the Father with his aching heart and saw a God of compassion and comfort. When composing the Small Catechism, this experience comes through in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father[1]

The tenderness in Luther’s words are hard to miss. For him, to see the father-child relationship this way did not come naturally. It was given to him in a real, painful experience that God entered into. Children are dear to their fathers; fathers are dear to their children. Losing his daughter Elizabeth made him see (and feel) how much he loved his children; and how much our heavenly Father loves us.

Among all the tender attributes of God the Father, none is more “father-like” then His provision. In the feeding of the four thousand in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus  performs an amazing miracle of provision. We remember that Jesus says in John that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The message God the Father speaks through Jesus’ miracle is that he will provide for our necessities. The Father loves to provide for His children’s needs. As George MacDonald said, “God cared for His children, and could, did and would provide for their needs […]: it was a throb of the Father’s heart” [2] So the Father reveals Himself to our world as a tenderhearted and compassionate God who provides and suffers with us in our pain. And we fathers who walk with Jesus experience our hearts throbbing too for our dear children, the same way our Father’s heart throbs for us earthly fathers who are weak and in need.

Yes…”The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we arehe remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die” (Psalm 103:13-16). But…He redeems [us] from death and crowns [us] with love and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:4).

The Father is good. Amen. 


[1] Martin Luther, “The Lord’s Prayer” in the Small Catechism. Concordia Publishing House (1986).

[2] George MacDonald, “Creation in Christ,” in Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 81.

Josh is an award-winning faith and culture writer and the author of the upcoming book, God Incognito: Bonhoeffer's Theology of the Cross for the Trump Era and Beyond. He holds a master's degree in theology from Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and is the recipient of the Dr. Ross and Carol Bailey Theology Award. He lives in Murillo, Ontario with his wife and their two adorable daughters and has a column at ChristianWeek.org.

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