As a child, I always had fun looking through the family album and learning about our family history. My parents and grandparents would show me what they looked like when they were young and tell us the stories of their childhood. The trouble my uncles had gotten into always made us kids laugh. They told us stories of my family’s history in other countries and the hopes and dreams they had. I’m amazed at how profoundly we are all shaped by our family history.
Children are, in many ways, a beautiful mixture of their parents. They have many of the characteristics of their parents, grandparents, and extended family. And yet, Children have unique needs, interests, and dreams, and parents have the responsibility to foster these in a godly way. Having children and creating a place for them to grow up in the fear and admonition of the Lord is a great privilege, but the compassion and love which is required for this task is often very difficult because of our own sins and weaknesses (Eph. 6:4).
Looking Like God’s Family
Being a child, being made in someone’s image, is directly related to how God created us for himself, for his delight and joy. God loves to see his goodness in us even though we are wild and untamable at times. The fact that God even allows us to create other human beings in his image continues to baffle me. Each child has a spirit that cannot be nurtured in a simple cookie cutter way because each person uniquely displays the glory of our infinite God. The Lord of the universe delights in bringing a multitude of people that cannot be numbered into the world through other finite humans, all uniquely bearing some aspect of his glory.
Although God reigns in majesty, he is not a distant, impersonal God. We are created in his image, and he is a good father who has stooped down to us, his children, to share some wonderful things with us. God is filled with a loving compassion that never ends or runs out (even when our patience and love runs out for our children or family members).
These wonderful truths of who God is and how we relate to him can be forgotten when there is so much pain in the world, especially when it occurs in our own families. Still, God gives us his Word to constantly remind us of who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. Just like when we look back to the family photos and remember the good times and the bad, we look to Scripture to see what our heavenly family is like and how good our God is.
The beauty of God’s Word is that although we read the same stories, God’s compassion applies to all of us in our unique situations. Maybe you had a bad relationship with your mother or siblings, and it’s hard to forget. Maybe you had an absent father who was never there to lecture you when you did something wrong, and you wish that he had. Maybe your father was too meek to assert himself, or maybe, at the drop of hat, he could flare up in anger. Or worse. Children often disappoint their parents, disobeying and rebelling repeatedly in the same ways.
We can deeply grieve each other; that is no secret. Forgiveness and compassion are hard to put into practice.
To forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 135-36).
Life can be grim in this fractured and unfaithful world. When we see other families around us, we can easily feel like failures. We don’t feel like we have it all together, let alone look anything like our heavenly Father. Maybe these failings characterize you. I know they do me.
While God never deals with us in cookie-cutter ways, we are all called to the same forgiveness and compassion day after day. Why? Because God’s compassion is for parents and children, people like you and me (wildness, brokenness, sin, and all). God has brought us into a family of compassion.
Compassion for Broken Prodigals
If there is one word that the ministry of Jesus brings to mind, it is compassion. You cannot read much of the Bible without seeing how much compassion God has for his people (Matt. 11:28-30, 15:32; Heb. 2:17, 4:15; Luke 7:13; Isa. 40:1, 63:9, etc.). He is overflowing with goodness and love. He runs after people, trying to awaken us by his extravagant goodness to us (Rom. 2:4). God’s compassion is for the broken prodigal child in us all.
Out of this compassion, God sent his only Son to be born in a food receptacle for animals. Jesus came down to be among our broken homes and families and to bring us back to God. God turned his back on all our sin and shame at the cross so that he might look with favor upon you and upon me for eternity. Just as God told Moses so long ago, God says to us, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” even though we deserve the very opposite (Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:15).
God is full of never-ending love for us (1 John 4:8). We must never let this truth become dry to us. Just as we were created in his love, so now he redeems us in love. “While we were enemies,” Christ died for us (Rom. 5:10). What a powerful story of our older brother. God freely comes to us and chooses to love rebels, children who have spat in his face and wished he were dead like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). His never-ending love for us is a light that can never be put out.
But his compassion does not end there. After showing mercy to his prodigal children, our Father gives something else. He sends his Spirit to start changing us back into his image, so we start taking on the family traits again. He promises to never end that work in us until we look just like him, no matter what kind of earthly experience we may have (Phil. 1:6). His love is never failing, even when ours is. And now, our life consists of caring for the prodigals all around us, forgiving each other every day, because God had compassion on us.