I have never been able to understand those who say that the God we read about in the Old Testament is angry and vindictive, while the God we read about in the New Testament is loving and kind. The reality is that God has always been gracious and forgiving, and this flows right out of the core of his being.
Think of the account of Moses on Mt Sinai in Exodus 34. Moses had asked to see the glory of The Lord, and God agrees to pass by and allow Moses to see ‘his back’. There is much in this passage that is hard to grasp, but one thing that is very clear is the nature and character of The Lord. As God passes by he proclaims his own name to Moses: “The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness and sin, yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Sure, punishment is mentioned. But the thing to note is what receives the emphasis. The first things mentioned are compassion, grace, slowness to anger, love, faithfulness, more love, and forgiveness. This provides the backdrop for any words about punishment: if God is going to be compassionate and gracious and loving, then he must call to account those who are not compassionate, gracious and loving. But that’s another post…
The main thing to see is how close forgiveness is to the heart of God. Right at core of his character is his desire to forgive.
Forgive is an interesting word. The Hebrew word is nāśā. It means to lift, to carry, to take up, to lift off. So, right at the core of God’s heart is his deep inclination to lift off the burden that weighs people down. God desires to lift off the weight of sin and guilt. He does not want to see people bent and broken by wrongdoing and the fall.
It reminds me of John Bunyan’s Christian, who makes his journey with a ridiculously huge burden strapped to his back. That burden is his own sin. Christian can’t get rid of it, no matter what he tries to do. But here’s the deal: God can get rid of it. And if we pay attention to what God says is at the core of his being, it’s clear that he wants to lift that burden: he forgives wickedness and sin.
In case you wondered whether this desire to forgive was at the heart of God, we see the same thing said about the Servant of The Lord in Isaiah 53 “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering”. The ‘giveness’ of God is expressed in the giving of his Son, Jesus, who took up our pain and suffering, our transgressions and iniquities.
So these are core realities for God, for how he reveals himself, for how he sees himself, as well as the core mission of his son, Jesus Christ. God’s giveness is the foundation of his forgiveness. Our sin and guilt can be forgiven and forgotten because our wonderful God lifts it off us, and carries it away from us, in all he has done through Jesus his son.
When it comes to being forgiven, and being forgiving people, we have to start with the nature of God, with his core characteristics, and the clear reality of what he has done through Jesus. He is a deeply gracious God, and his desire is to forgive all your wrong and every sin.
Is this how you are used to thinking about God?
What does the fact that forgiveness is at the core of God’s heart mean to you?
Thanks for the comments Dave! Well said!
Michael Card in one of his songs – ‘Jubilee’ – also encapsulates it well “His deep desire was for forgiveness, He longed to see their liberty, and His yearning was embodied in the Year of Jubilee” – “Jesus is our Jubilee, debts forgiven, slaves set free”
Thanks also for highlighting that the Old Testament is full of examples of God being gracious and forgiving.
I really like the association between God and Jubilee – Maybe I’ll work that into a future post somewhere. It’s true “His yearning is embodied in the year of Jubilee”. Great insight from Michael Card!
Thanks Dave. Great to be reminded of our God who forgives. Thanks also Geoff about the reminder of the year of Jubilee. It has also struck me as such a wonderful way of setting up a society with first the seven year sabbath year and then the year of jubilee. What a way to remind the people of a God who provides!
If forgiveness is at the core of God’s heart then it needs to be at the core of my heart too.