This post continues a series on The Love of the Father. Below are the first two posts.
Reasons We Struggle to Experience God’s Love
Seven Features of God’s Fatherly Love
One of my favorite things to do with my four-year-old daughter is enjoy a dessert together—or get a treat, as she calls it. Whether it’s ice-cream, a good cookie, or a donut, we bond as we talk, laugh, and savor the sweets. She’s recently been asking me to tell her stories about myself. It’s partly because she just likes to hear stories, and it’s partly because she gets to know me by the things I share. Whether it’s through these stories, in everyday conversation, or over the course of time as she sees what I’m like she desires to know me. All children desire this.
Many children grow up feeling like they don’t really know their father, either because he’s missing or because many dads struggle to be emotionally present. They might pay the bills, offer advice, show up to events, and love their kids but still not know how to open their heart to their kids. Honest and frequent conversation, sharing how they feel (a word that causes many men to groan), giving affirmation, or showing physical affection seems foreign to many fathers. The child can feel like despite years of being around their dad, they don’t really know him, and they don’t feel known by him. They wonder how their father feels about them and what he was really like.
This is also true in our desire to know who God is and what he’s like. You cannot have a relationship, intimacy, and friendship with someone you don’t really know. And the amazing thing we see in the Bible is that God—our heavenly Father—has made himself known to us. He certainly didn’t have to do this. God speaks to us and reveals himself so we can know him.
“The Bible insists throughout that the living God of whom it speaks not only can be known, but wills to be known. And far from leaving it up to us to get to know him through some game of religious hide and seek, this God takes the initiative in revealing himself to us. God can be known because God has spoken.”
The fact that God reveals himself tells us he wants us to know him, which includes both thinking rightly about who he is and “knowing him” through that knowledge. He longs for us to know, enjoy, and trust him as our Father. God’s revelation of himself to us is one of the ways he loves us. It’s the door that opens to us friendship with him. He reveals aspects of himself in creation, makes himself known in the Word, and then sends his Son to provide a perfect image so we know what he’s like.
Knowing God by Listening to His Voice
The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us in human words. God’s message to us isn’t simply a disclosure of truth, but God’s revelation of himself (1 Sam. 3:21; Deut. 18:18–22; Heb. 1:1).
Through the story of Scripture, God tells us his will for us, and he reveals what he’s like in his words and his deeds. Like a good father, he trains us with the wisdom and knowledge we need to flourish in life. It is the voice of God, communicating with us. When we want to hear the Father speak to us, when we need his guidance, a soothing word, comfort, help, or his presence, the Bible is how God talks to us and makes himself known to us. Similar to how my newborn son settles down when I place my hand on his little chest and speak softly to him, we hear God’s voice in the Word and find rest in his nearness through it. J. I. Packer connects knowing God to listening to his voice in Scripture.
“What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in the bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the worlds and truths of Holy Scripture. Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you—you!—through the biblical message… You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you.”
When you open your Bible, your Father speaks to you. He reveals who he is so you can know him.
The Son as the Father’s Self-Revelation
The Father’s love is seen in the incarnation where the Son is sent to reveal the Father to us. Jesus, God incarnate among us in human flesh, is the revelation of God that uniquely reveals what God is like. Jesus said that “whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). Jesus is the revelation of God to us as one of us (Jn. 1:14; 6:40). He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). We cannot know the Father unless we know the Son (Jn. 14:6–11).
It’s not that Jesus sort of looks like the Father in some ways, like how we say children look like their parents when the likeness might be subtle or partial. Jesus is the “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).
This points to the Father’s love because it proves he wants to be known in a way that is clear, intimate, and according to truth. Because God is not like us in so many ways, and cannot be seen or touched, there are moments he seems distant or our knowledge of him might feel vague. It might even make God seem hard to relate too. But God doesn’t want things to stay that way, so he sends Jesus to show us the Father. Jesus assured his listeners that the Father is seen and known through his Son, Jesus (John 14:9).
When we think about the beauty, humility, and glory of the incarnation we should also find comfort in the Father’s desire to be clearly and intimately known by us. If the Father seems distant or unapproachable, look to the incarnation of Jesus to see just how near the Father has come and how inviting the Father is.
“You don’t need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus. When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.”
To know the Father, look at the Son. Don’t wonder if God is off in the distance hiding himself from you. Remember how far God came to us so that he could be known by us.
Removing All Doubts and Questions
Not only does God reveal himself to us, but God also tells us how he thinks and feels about us. Some children grow up thinking their mom and dad love them, but because they don’t hear it often enough, they wonder if it’s true. If someone doesn’t tell us what they think about us, we can feel in the dark about their view of us and their relationship with us. But God opens up his heart to us in the Bible and tells us again and again and again that he loves us.
God knows our weaknesses, insecurities, and frailty. And part of why I think the Bible repeats God’s love to us so often is because God knows we need reassured in it. We will doubt it and question it. We tell ourselves—or the enemy tells us—that his love might be true for others, but it can’t be for me. It seems too good to be true and we feel so undeserving.
God matches our fears and doubts about his love with repeated assertions of his love, his gracious, steadfast, and kind love that never fades. He makes crystal clear he loves us with an unswerving love to remove the doubts and questions about him that linger. He is not short on words of love. He is not shy about showing us affection by the ways he says things to us, such as calling us the apple of his eye (Ps. 17:8; Deut. 32:10; Zech. 2:8) or telling us about how much he delights in us (Ps. 16:3). And sometimes, such as in Psalm 136, he plays this song on repeat until it’s massaged deep into our stubborn, insecure hearts. “His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136).
Consider just a few examples of how God speaks to us of his love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer. 31:3)
“You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Is. 43:4)
“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zeph. 3:17; NLT)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)
God assures us there is nothing that can separate us from his eternal, unending, and unfading love for us (Rom. 8:31–39). And then the stories Jesus uses to describe the Father communicate to us a Father showering us with gifts (Luke 11:13), a God so full of love that he pursues us relentlessly (Luke 15:1–10), and a God who runs to meet us and rejoices to have fellowship with us (Luke 15:11–32). Tim Chester writes, “It’s not enough for him to make you his child. He wants you to feel like his child and live like his child.”
Love Beyond Words
I tell my two kids that I love them over and over. I try to show them love but also communicate my love to them. (No child gets tired of hearing how their mom or dad loves them, just as no child of God grows past needing to know our Father loves us.) But as a father, I also sense the limit of these words. I wish I could somehow make them feel and know just how much I love them. The kind of love in a father’s heart toward their children is volcanic. It’s there, powerful, and deep and it feel like at any moment it could erupt. When I see one of my children in pain or hear their cries, there’s an ache that ruptures out of this love. When we spend time together and I get to hear them talk and laugh, watch them enjoying little things in life, or make memories on an adventure, there is a deep, weighty, mass of joyful love in my heart that no words could make clear to them. If someone is unkind to them, the mountain of love overflows with a yearning to protect and defend. If I think about challenges they are facing and will face, or the potential dangers and heartbreaks ahead for them, my heart can climb up to my throat as I struggle to choke down anything from worry to fear to sorrow to a longing to be there for them.
The love I feel as a father is so deep and has so many layers to it, that when I tell my son or daughter that I love them, it falls short of what I wish I could communicate to them. I think that’s part of why we tell our kids we love them so much. It’s partly the overflow of what we feel toward them, but it’s also this desire to help them understand how truly loved they are and always will be. As I think about the love I feel as a father toward my kids, it’s a love that goes beyond mere words. And yet as incomplete as words feel, they do communicate a part of my love for them, so I say it over and over again.
God’s love is even deeper than our earthly loves. It’s a love we will never fully comprehend and, at times, struggle to even fathom. But God’s love overflows in Scripture as he tells us many times and in many ways that he loves us. He tells us how he thinks about us, feels toward us, and relates to us as his beloved children. He repeats words of love so we can be rooted in and find rest in his love. He’s a good Father who gives good gifts, including the gift we need of finding security and assurance in his words of love to us.
Made Known to be Known
God doesn’t want your knowledge of him to be fuzzy or your relationship with him to be cold. He doesn’t what you wonder what he’s like. He wants you to know him. Only because he was gracious enough to reveal himself can we enjoy the gift of this relationship.
It should astound us that the infinite, transcendent, and almighty God would make knowing us and being known by us a priority. What a joy that God is a Father who doesn’t just show mercy—and that would be wonderful enough—but he wants a real relationship of giving and receiving love. He not only reveals himself to us, but he reveals himself to us as our loving Father.
Don’t guess at what God is like. Don’t let earthly figures provide the sole foundation for your thoughts about who God is. And don’t settle for distance from him. Get to know God by immersing yourself in the Bible to see what it tells us about him and what he is saying to us. And behold the glory and grace of Jesus, the Son who not only redeems us to the Father but reveals the Father to us.
 Christopher Wright, Knowing God Through the Old Testament: Three Volumes in One. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019). Kindle edition.
 “We can never stress too much the importance of the Scriptures in knowing God, even when we rightly talk about knowing God being a matter of experience. For when we say that we know God through experience of his grace, we are not talking merely about some subjective, inward or mystical personal experience. The emphasis is not just on experience for its own sake, without regard for content or control. Knowing God means entering into a biblically informed experience. It means entering into this story, as it is told in the Bible. It means engaging with the scriptural interpretation of what the story means, and what it reveals of the words and works of God. If we cut loose from the Scriptures and allow any so-called experience of God to be treated as valid knowledge of God, then we can end up in dangerous waters without a rudder or an anchor.” Christopher Wright, Knowing God Through the Old Testament: Three Volumes in One. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019). Kindle edition.
 “Through his word, God answers Moses’s prayer, the prayer of us all, if we know what it is we should ask for: ‘Show me your glory’ (Ex. 33:18). Not by coming to us mystically while we read, as if Bible reading were a magical incantation. God reveals himself in his word. He shows his glory through the ordinary words on the page (Eph. 3:4, 8). If you want to see God, read your Bible.” John Piper, “If You Want to See God, Read Your Bible” at desiringgod.org.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God.
 “Indeed, it is in knowing Jesus as the Son of God that we know more clearly about the Father (as Jesus himself told his disciples). And then from that point we move toward the more developed understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Christopher Wright, Knowing God Through the Old Testament: Three Volumes in One. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019). Kindle edition.
 Tim Chester, Enjoying God.