From Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God.
A.W. Tozer famously said that whatever comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. When you hear the mention of “God,” what would you say? What image fills your heart and head when you think about who God is?
The question is important because we all have some kind of answer. Everybody has a go-to thought when they think of God. And we want that picture to be true, that is, formed by what God says about himself, not the dictates of our experience.
Here’s an effort to get that picture right, as the Bible bears it out. Here are at least three things we should know about God.
1. God Is Father.
“The most foundational thing in God,” says Michael Reeves, “is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father.” In his book Delighting in the Trinity, Reeves begins with this important, but all-too-frequently forgotten, fact that God really is Father, as Scripture attests and Christian theology demands.
Many of us, when put on the spot, probably think of God as Creator. We see him as strong and mighty and the cause of everything that exists. And this is true. But it doesn’t get at the heart of who God is.
Reeves makes this point masterfully in his first chapter titled, “What Was God Doing Before Creation?” If God were essentially Creator, it would mean he needs his creation to be who he is. The same goes for God as a Ruler, or a Judge. Each of these titles are accurate descriptions of God, but they fail to show us God in his essence. Each of them depends upon something else to be the case. We must ask who God is in himself. Who is God apart from anything else?
The answer is Father. The Bible tells us this (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Deuteronomy 32:6). And the biblical revelation of the Trinity begins to unfold its wonder. God doesn’t need anything but himself for this to be true. Before there was anything, there was God — the everlasting Father who eternally has loved his Son in the unceasing fellowship of the Spirit. This is who God is.
2. God Is Happy.
John Piper begins the first chapter of The Pleasures of God by citing an important phrase in1 Timothy 1:11 — “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” Piper draws attention to the Greek word behind the English “blessed,” which is the same word for “happy.” The apostle Paul calls God the “happy God.”
So it’s not enough for us to think of God as Father. He is a happy Father.
When you think of God, do you think happy? Or do you think stern? Sadly, it is common for us to think of God as a negative caricature would depict him. Do you think of him frowning? Is he seething with anger like a capricious despot? Or do you see him who is glad at heart — glad in the glory of his Son and the communion that they share? Do we see him as the Father who said of Jesus, with no hesitation, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)? Do we see him as the Father who delights to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32)? Do we see him as the God who overflows with joy when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7)?
So long as sin exists, he feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11). But at heart — who he is in himself — God is happy. To grasp this truth will work wonders in our souls.
3. God Loves.
God is a happy Father who eternally has loved his Son in the unceasing fellowship of the Spirit. This means that in his very nature, God loves. This doesn’t mean that God is never angry. He is angry, because of our sin and unrighteousness that rebelliously scoff at his love. God’s wrath is a response to something external to himself. In his nature, at his heart, God loves. Indeed, God is love (1 John 4:8).
“Before anything else,” Reeves explains, “for all eternity, this God was loving, giving life to and delighting in his Son” (26). And therefore, God is essentially outgoing. Like a fountain, as Jonathan Edwards would say, or like light (1 John 1:5). God, by his nature, shines. He essentially overflows. And so he created the world, in his pleasure, out of his abundant love, because that is who he is.
How could we not worship this God? How could we not heartily run to a God like this? Because sin corrupts the fellowship we were destined for. The fatherly love of God is a truth we are depraved enough to hate because it makes our hostility toward him irrational. If we were honest, in our darkness, we are much more comfortable with an angry, impersonal deity. But a God who is a happy Father who eternally loves with life-giving joy — it is hard to be mad at a God like that. It makes our rebellion feel senseless.
And senseless rebellion was our story — is our story — until the truth of the gospel breaks through. The Father sent the Son to live and die in our place, to suffer the wrath we deserve, that we might be welcomed into the loving fellowship of God. And this gospel came under no compulsion.
The gospel isn’t God’s attempt to balance the scales alongside his anger. Rather, the gospel reveals God’s very heart. God shows his love for us, Paul says, not after Jesus came and died, but in Jesus’s coming and dying (Romans 5:8), that we might be his sons and daughters who enjoy the eternal fellowship he has experienced with the Son by the Spirit for all eternity (John 17:24–26).
God — he is a happy Father who loves.