A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
It was a busy spring afternoon when Jess and I met for our weekly one-on-one time. Coffee mug in hand, she looked at me and casually asked: “Cynthia, when you think of God, what comes to mind?” I thought that to be a silly question to ask me, a Bible study leader, so I answered, without missing a beat. I rattled off a list of adjectives about God’s majesty. “I got this,” I arrogantly thought to myself. I was 21 years old, leading a small group in college, and this meeting was a weekly hour-long time spent with my mentor.
“Interesting,” she said. “Do you feel like He is near?” She’d noticed that none of my adjectives for God were of intimacy. Again, I answered off-the-cuff and said, “no” and I paused, surprising myself by that answer. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so arrogant at the outset. She followed up my response by asking about my relationship with my father. Though she had no idea at the time when she posed that question, she was poking at pain I had not given much attention to. More importantly, I did not at the time connect my view of God as distant with my relationship, or lack thereof, with my earthly father.
That conversation was a watershed moment in the journey of God peeling the layers of the narrative I had believed of Him as my Father.
Does God delight in His children?
Recently, while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram photos, I saw a photo my former youth pastor had posted with his daughter, and the caption read: “my daughter knows she can distract me by her presence, no matter what I am doing, because she knows her father delights in her.” Jealousy for this young girl welled up within me, as did sorrow. I was reminded that the only time I have been certain of my own father’s delight in me was when I was 10 years old and excelled at mid-term exams. Delight, in my experience, has been what comes on the heels of accomplishment.
The God of the Bible calls Himself a Father. So I wondered as I looked at that photo whether my youth pastor’s sentiment of delight was true of how God views His children.
I turned to a story in the gospel of Mark where God speaks of His delight in His Son, Jesus.
It’s the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. This baptism occurs prior to Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert and before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In this story, God the Father’s voice is heard saying of Jesus, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” There is a beautiful picture here of the Triune God-the Son who is getting baptized, the Spirit who descends as a dove, and the Father who speaks of delight in Jesus. It is striking that the Father’s pleasure did not come at the end of Jesus’ ministry, it preceded it. God the Father speaks of Jesus’ identity and speaks of His delight in Jesus before Jesus begins public ministry. This is one story of many where God the Father expresses His pleasure in His Son.
Whenever I read that story, and more specifically when I read this story recently, I prayed to believe that just as God delights in Jesus, so He delights in me because I am in Christ. He delights in those who are His children, those who are disciples of Jesus. While my life experience with my earthly father has taught me that I have to earn this delight, the God of the Bible, my Heavenly Father, says He delights in me already because I am in Jesus and have been reconciled to Him. It will take the work of God in me to live in the truth of the gospel. My natural predisposition and constant temptation is to set that gift aside and work for what is already mine.
We need help
To believe God is a gift of God. None of us have faith in God because we have pulled ourselves up by our own proverbial bootstraps. I need God to help me believe He delights in me, as do you if this is a struggle of yours, too. To live out that truth will not come by trying harder or pretending better. Trust me, I have done both. There is no escaping our utter dependency on Jesus as our provision for all of life.
There is a Father who delights in His children and does not fail them. There is a Father who protects and provides. God is that Father. While believing this is an impossibility in ourselves and by our own efforts, the Holy Spirit is able to do the impossible in and through us. The gospel is not just good news for the non-believer, it is good news for the believer too. We never outgrow the gospel, for it is the gospel of Jesus which justifies us and sanctifies us.
One day the lies which scream at us, the fears which paralyze us, the experiences which cause us to doubt the goodness of our Heavenly Father will be no more. We will know as we are known. Until that great and final day, we cling to the truth made known to us in the Scriptures and illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit.