Learning to Recognize God
I have read from a couple of different sources that the most frequently used description of God in the Bible is that God is merciful.
Deuteronomy 4:31 declares, “For the Lord your God is a merciful God.” Nehemiah 9:31 announces, “For you are a gracious and merciful God.”
I have been a serious student of God’s Word for around 45 years now. You would think, after so many years of following God and studying His Word, that I would be able to recognize His character, but I had an experience recently in which I mistook God’s character for something entirely different.
Here’s what happened. I recognized in me a spiritual longing for deeper intimacy with God and for a deeper awareness of my need for God. With that spiritual longing stirring my soul, I prayed, asking God to increase my intimacy with Him and asking God to deepen my awareness throughout the day and throughout the week of my great need for Him. Then I added to that prayer a quick P.S.: “But God,” I said, “as you answer that prayer, please hit me on the wrist with a ruler rather than hitting me over the head with a 2×4.”
After praying that P.S., it struck me that the only way I expected God to answer my longing for deeper intimacy with Him would be by hitting me—either hard, with a 2×4, or soft, with a ruler. I mistook the character of God. I anticipated that the only way God could get through to me would be by hitting me. I failed to recognize that the character of God is mercy.
So I changed my prayer. I asked God to woo me to Him in love. As soon as I uttered those words, though, I felt that I was being inappropriate in my prayer. What right did I have to ask the Almighty God to woo me to Him in love? I didn’t have any qualms about asking God to hit me soft instead of hard, but I thought it was inappropriate for me to ask God to woo me to Him in love! Again, I had mistaken the character of God. I had not taken to heart that God’s character is mercy and that He wants to love me.
Fortunately, God brought to my mind an example from Scripture that helps me to recall His actual character. After Peter denied knowing Jesus, he returned to fishing. I believe that Peter now considered himself no longer to be qualified to be an evangelist for Jesus so had gone back to fishing. Jesus met Peter on the shore while Peter was fishing from his boat (John 21). Here was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to hit Peter with a 2×4 (zapping a hole in Peter’s boat) or to smack Peter with a ruler (zapping a hole in his fishing nets). Jesus could have chosen the hard hit or the soft hit in that situation to stop Peter from fishing and bring him in desperation to Jesus. But Jesus does neither. Jesus doesn’t hit Peter with a 2×4 or with a ruler. He deals with Peter in mercy. He woos Peter to Him in love. He gives to Peter a huge catch of fish, and He prepares a breakfast for Peter and the others. After breakfast, He pulls Peter aside, asking him three times, “Do you love Me,” while three times affirming His call to Peter to feed His sheep.
There is something wrong with my eye-sight (or my soul-sight). I have trouble recognizing the true character of God. But, fortunately, in His mercy God is working in me to help me to see more accurately who He really is.