Is it possible that far too often as Christians we mentally compartmentalize the Trinity? Perhaps we think of the Spirit as empowerment and knowledge, the Son as meekness and love, and the Father as judgment and righteousness. But is this how God is revealed in Scripture? In this article we will specifically consider the character of God the Father.
Many Bible readers point out that over 200 times the word “smite” or “smote” (i.e., “strike” or “struck” in the newer English translations) is used in the Old Testament referring to God punishing people or groups of people for their sins. Some have emphasized that the last verse of the Old Testament even ends with God saying, “‘
lest I come and strike the earth with a curse’” (Malachi 4:6). For skeptics and even some genuine but confused believers, this has come to characterize God the Father, whom they view as an angry deity waiting to deal out wrath at the slightest provocation.
In Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004) author Alan Jones stated, “The church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as a universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it” (p. 132). He later quips that, “The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine” (p. 168).
In this way Alan Jones posits that a sadistic and surly God was angry at sinners, demanded blood, and the only appeasement to this hot anger was His Son’s death. But is this a fair portrayal of God the Father? Let’s confront these accusations by examining Scripture to get an accurate assessment of God’s character.
One such misconception is that God the Father, as a righteous judge, can’t wait to punish people for their sins. But what does Scripture really say? Ezekiel presented God reasoning with His people and telling them that they would not have to face His judgment if they would turn from their evil ways and repent. God stated that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He is not waiting to pounce on sinners but is longsuffering and patient:
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30–32)
“Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The Apostle Peter similarly declared that God is longsuffering specifically because He desires people to come to Him in repentance (2 Peter 3:9). However, we also cannot presume upon God’s goodness. God can and does punish sin as Abraham stated, “‘
shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? ’” (Genesis 18:25).
God rebuked the prophet Jonah for his lack of pity toward the people of Nineveh (Jonah 4:10–11). Yet God was willing to show pity (and mercy) to a city of more than 120,000 people because they had believed God, humbled themselves, turned from their wickedness, and cried out to God in repentance. God recognized their penitence and told Jonah that He pitied the undiscerning Ninevites (Jonah 4:11).
Even in judgment there is mercy with God. Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom if there were but ten righteous people in the city, and God agreed (Genesis 18:22–33). Sadly, there were not even ten righteous people there. But even when God did destroy the cities of the plain, He delivered Lot and his daughters (and Lot’s wife too, although she was punished for looking back in violation of the warning she had received from the angels in Genesis 19:17).
Look also at the example of Manasseh, considered one of the worst kings in the history of Judah. He was extremely wicked and filled Judah with violence and bloodshed (2 Kings 21:1–16>). God punished him by causing him to be taken captive by the Assyrians. Yet towards the end of his life, Manasseh repented:
Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (2 Chronicles 33:12–13)
Even when God punishes men for their sins, it is less than they deserve and is tempered with mercy and knowledge of the frailty of mankind (Psalm 103:6–18).
God the Father does not needlessly burden us, but He sometimes tries us that we may come out as refined gold. The prophet Jeremiah stated that God doesn’t arbitrarily and capriciously afflict mankind:
Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:32–33)
Sometimes we are afflicted because God wants to teach us valuable lessons from His Word, as the psalmist affirmed, “
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Peter offered this comfort and hope:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:5–9)
This passage, as well as Hebrews 12:5–11, teaches that often the chastening of the Lord is to correct sin, refine our character, and produce in us patience, obedience, and righteousness.
Some erroneously claim that God the Father only loves us for the sake of God the Son (but this is clearly a misunderstanding of John 14:21 and 16:27). Scripture plainly states that God the Father loved the world so much that He sent His Son as the Savior of whoever believes, and that He loved us long before we ever loved Him (John 3:16; 1 John 4:14–19).
The Apostle Paul spoke of the great love with which God the Father loved us (Ephesians 2:4–6). The Apostle John marveled at the “
manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1–2). These are not the characteristics of a capricious tyrant but of a loving Father. God did not send Jesus as a wanton appeasement for His fickle vindictiveness and anger as Alan Jones imagines. Instead Jesus is the means of reconciliation between a holy God and a sinful, rebellious mankind (Romans 5:8–11; 2 Corinthians 5:18–19). Perhaps we should look anew at the “gospel in a verse” (John 3:16) as well as the next verse and amplify them for clarification, just as a reminder of what they really state:
For God [the Father] so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God [the Father] did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him [Jesus] might be saved. (John 3:16–17)
Despite our sin and rebellion, God loved us. The Father loved us enough to send His Son who died for us that our sins could be forgiven. Thus we can die to self and the Spirit will guide us in living for Him (Romans 6:11; 8:13–14; Colossians 3:3–4; Galatians 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:11).
Yes, God is holy, righteous, and just. Therefore He is a God of judgment, wrath, and vengeance. But these are not His only characteristics. God the Father is clearly shown in both the Old and New Testaments as merciful, long-suffering, gracious, and compassionate. The very fact that He promised and planned for mankind’s redemption right after the Fall (Genesis 3:15) shows that He loved mankind. He chose to seek and offer us a means of salvation, even when we were His enemies. So God is both “
just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he contemplated the full scope of the character of God: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10).
Do you want to escape the judgment of God and instead be assured of His love and mercy? Then call upon His Son Jesus, the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12). The Bible says, “
if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you would like to learn more, please read the good news.
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