A Father’s Pity

June 15, 2014 / No. 3728

Dear radio friends,
On this Sabbath Day, in which we give special remembrance to the calling and blessing of fathers, I call your attention to the Word of God in Psalm 103:13: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” This verse from the holy Scriptures goes right to the heart of what it means to be a father. It expresses it in one word: pity. A father pities his children.
Psalm 103 is a beautiful Psalm. It is outstanding among the 150. In that Psalm the psalmist says that he will bless the Lord, he will speak well of the Lord; and he calls us also to extol our God with him, and with all that is within us. In order that we might do this, the psalmist says, we must remember all of Jehovah’s benefits so richly showered upon us. He speaks to us of the central benefit of the forgiveness of our sins. For instance, in verse 3: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” He goes on to explain to us that this forgiveness is rooted in God’s tender mercy, verse 8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” He tells us further that the forgiveness that God has given to us in His Son is a complete and thorough forgiveness. It is no little forgiveness, verse 11: “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.”
And then the psalmist tells us what causes him to adore his God more than anything. He says that it is His pity. “It’s my heavenly Father’s pity. He pitied us as His children in all of our woe of sin. He was moved with compassion toward us in our hopeless misery.” Jehovah, our perfect heavenly Father, pitied us. That is what undergirds His being a perfect Father. And it is that fatherly pity of God that a human, Christian father is to have if he is truly to be a Christian father.
We read, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” What does it mean to pity? We would say, “Pity—who wants that today?” In our proud and self-absorbed age, that is considered demeaning and condescending. Do we not hear the words, “Don’t pity me!” The handicapped do not want your pity but your respect. The downtrodden do not want pity but understanding. Does it not mean, when you pity someone, that you are looking down on him and degrading him?
Yet, we read that Jehovah pities us, His children. And God’s pity is one of His most beautiful virtues. It tells us that He is a God who is filled with tender compassion. It tells us, first of all, that in our best estate, that is, when we are standing on our two legs in all of our beaming pride, He looks at us and He sees much to pity. He sees nothing of good. He sees that we need His compassion.
That ought to humble us. That ought to check our pride. And that ought to comfort us. Our God is not a God of wood or stone, untouched, but He pities right now. And in His pity He never ceases to flow out towards us in His compassion. God’s pity is His love in the form of tender, melting compassion for His elect in Christ as He sees us in all of our weakness, suffering, misery, and sin.
The word “pity” means to be soft, to hold in tender affection. It implies that we who are the object of God’s love are of ourselves only miserable sinners. Yet the Lord has taken note of us and for His own Name’s sake has pitied us and given to us a full and free salvation. It is God’s love in the form of tender, melting compassion for His own elect as He sees them in their weakness, suffering, and sin. That is a beautiful thing.
That pity is an aspect of His eternal Fatherhood. For as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear Him. As our heavenly Father, He is the God who is moved with eternal pity for us and has given to us His Son to save us.
Now, that truth of Jehovah’s fatherly pity must be seen in a Christian father. For the pattern of all of our life is to be holy as God is holy, that is, to pattern our life after God. For instance, in marriage we must live as God lives with His bride, the church. Therefore, as fathers, we must seek to conform our earthly parenting and fathering to His heavenly fathering and parenting. God says, “I have shown My pity to you as My son. I am your perfect example. As I have pitied, so you are to pity your children.” You must cultivate a relationship with your children in which you seek to reflect the fatherly pity of God.
Yes, that means for sure that as a father you are called to meet their earthly needs. You are to fill their bellies. You are to clothe their backs. You are to put a roof over their heads. And, yes, leave them an inheritance. But what a horrible thing if that is what fathering means to you—if it is nothing more than that—if you do not prayerfully create a climate of spiritual warmth in your home, of tenderness and pity and affection for your child. You must be as God, filled with tender pity and affection and compassion in Christ for your child. Do not say, “Oh, that pity stuff is for wimps.” Oh, no. As a father you are to reveal the pity of God. That means that you must not allow coldness, distance, ill-will, resentment to be the atmosphere of your home. If you allow that to be the atmosphere of your home between you and your child, if you are guilty of those things, if you are guilty of the abuse of your child, if you are guilty of harboring resentments and ill-will and distance and coldness toward them, you are being ungodly. You are not as God!
This is the question with which we must confront ourselves as Christian fathers today: Would you want God to be the kind of parent to you that you are to your children? Fathers, you and I are confronted by that question today in God’s Word. Would you want your children to conceive of God’s heart as they conceive of your heart? That is serious business. You say, “I never thought about that when I got married. I never thought about that when I started to have children. You mean to say to me, pastor, that all of my child’s concepts of God are also to be based upon what they see in me as a father?” I answer you, “Yes. That is the teaching of God’s Word.” That is why we tremble. That is why we need to be on our knees before God. That is why we need the holy Scriptures. That is why we need the faithful church of Jesus Christ to instruct us. And that is why we need one another in the house of the Lord. We must work together as men of God, that we might be fathers in Christ.
That is why you need, as a man of God, a husband, father, to know more of your God—more and more of Him. What will our children think of their heavenly Father? Much of the answer is to be found in you, especially in those formative, pre-school years. Oh, we are not perfect. That is why repentance is so necessary in our lives before our children. But, you see, if we resent those children; if in our frustration we slap them across the face; if we do not use wise, consistent, biblical discipline applied to the seat of their pants; if instead we rant and we yell and we call them names and we have no time for our kids — if that is the way we go about things and brush it off as insignificant and we go on in those patterns of life, then we are being ungodly. What will that little boy, that little girl, think when you teach them to fold their hands and pray, “Our Father who art in heaven”? How will they have the courage to look to heaven and believe that they are precious to their heavenly Father? That means that you must rear your child conscientiously, principally, from the Word of God. You must seek to be conformed to the pattern of your heavenly Father.
Your life, then, as a father is to be exemplary. There is nothing that so confounds and confuses a child as inconsistency. We must not simply talk of God’s grace. We must not simply sing lustily about God’s amazing grace to which we are a debtor. We have to live it in front of them. Our Lord spoke of this when He spoke of the painful reality of hypocrisy. In Matthew 23 He spoke of the Pharisees who said but did not do; of the Pharisees who set out the duties for others until a man was so laden down that he could not get up, but, the Lord said, they never lifted a finger to remove the burden. They said what they were to do but they never did it.
That means that we can be conversant with the holy Scriptures, we can talk of honesty, respect for authority, and moral precepts, but if we fail to embody them, then we do not see our own sins. And we are confounding our children. If you walk in dishonesty, if you lack respect for the civil authority, for the church authority, you are lading your children with an inconsistent example. And that is going to create in them cynicism toward the gospel.
We cannot fool our children. They know about the reality of our life. We can be guilty of the most glaring inconsistencies and try to gloss it over with the clever use of words. You say to your children in their squabbles with each other, “You shouldn’t lose your temper like that. Think before you speak. Honor your mother.” So you said that to your little boy. Ten minutes later they see you come home and over a slight provocation you blow up at your wife, you have hard words, you lose your temper, and in innocency they come and say, “Daddy, isn’t that a bad temper?” And you respond, “You keep your place. I’ve got a righteous anger. You mind me, you impertinent thing!” That will provoke your child to anger. That will foul up your child’s ability to discern righteous anger from pride. That will make them lawless. They will not respect authority that way.
It means that as a father you wish to cultivate a climate of closeness and spiritual warmth in your home. That is part of God’s pity. In His pity God comes close to us in compassion. God’s pity to us is not the pity of a millionaire who says, “Well, here’s a donation to help out. But don’t bring those people to my doorstep.” In His pity, God made an atonement for our sins. He erased our debt. But He was not content with that. He was not content simply to have our birth recorded in heaven, to adopt us in the blood of Christ, and to leave it in the file drawer way off in heaven someplace. No, He wants you, He wants you to be with Him, He wants you to enjoy His fellowship.
The parable of the prodigal son—remember about the father who received his wayward son? How did the father receive him? Did he receive his wayward son in a merely cold and legal way as a lawyer behind closed doors signing papers? No, he pitied him. He received him in the closeness of the covenant bond. We read that when the son was yet a long way off, his father was moved with compassion and ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him. He did not say, “Well, glad you came to your senses, you rebel. You wasted your inheritance. I don’t want to be shamed in front of the neighbors, you had better come on in.” No, He took us from the hog pen, from hell itself, and He turned us to Himself in sorrow. When the son returned, by God’s grace, in humble self-loathing, how did he find his father to be—distant? Aloof? No, the father was not content with anything less than intimate closeness. He ran out to his son, he embraced his son, he put a robe around his son, he put a ring upon his finger, he invited him to a banquet.
So also, as fathers, we must show the covenant closeness and spiritual warmth of Christ to our children. Are you determined that your children will see this in you? Or do you say, “They get on my nerves.” I want to say this reverently. Do you not think that you and I get on God’s nerves? How do we act in front of God? Oh, He chastens us as a holy and righteous Father. But He is filled with pity. You say, “But I can’t understand where those kids are at, especially those teenagers.” Let me ask again, “Don’t you think that you and I need infinite understanding, patience, and wisdom from God with us who are such complicated, fickle creatures of sin? If that’s the way God is toward us, what are we to be?” No, it does not mean that you let your child run all over you. There must be one person who rules the house, and that is the parent. But you cannot exercise that rule without pity. You have to see your own sins. And if you understand your own sins, you will understand your children. Then you will understand why they do what they do. That is why it hurts, right? As a believing father, you see your own sin in your own children, do you not? Does that not give you some kind of compassion and understanding and wisdom how to deal with them? That means that you are determined to be close to them.
Now they may not have the same tastes that you have. You may have thought that your little boy was going to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a computer genius. He was going to be sharp as a tack in business. And he grows up and shows no interest for any of those things and you find him at a piano. He likes music. And you do not care about that. Guess what? That means that you have to get over to the piano and become interested in those things with him. Or your little girl was going to be prim and feminine. And instead of that she likes dirt—a lot of dirt in the back yard. She is not what you pictured. Well then, you had better learn to go to the back yard and play with her in the sandbox if that is what she likes. Do not resent them because they are not what you want them or expected their interest to be.
You never cuddle what you resent. How many times do we not as God’s children come to God? Constantly, and He never rejects us, does He? Then, do not say to your child, “Get away. Stop bugging me.”
As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him. I’m sure that as fathers, when we hear the Word of God today, we feel great pangs of guilt and inadequacy. We often think, as a father, that it is unmanly to confess our faults in front of our wife or children. Sometimes, brethren, we have to do that, we must do that. A believing child does not expect you to be perfect. But he has a right to expect you to be sincere. We need to spend time on our knees repenting of our sins.
But we do not leave this Word of God despairing. No, we leave this Word of God rejoicing. The more we consider what God has done for us, what pity He has shown to us, the more we will be moved to exercise that pity to our children. He pities us. He has chosen us in Christ, not because we were better or more noble. We were the least. We have no right. But for His own name’s sake He willed to have compassion upon us. Oh, what pity! He gave His Son to die upon Calvary’s cross. Look at it, the shame, the agony, the darkness. Jesus bore what our Father knew we could never bear. He gave His Son to do that for us. And throughout our life our heavenly Father keeps us and carries us and protects, forgives us and draws us and pities us.
Now when our children see us living in the consciousness of such pity, then they will be encouraged to look heavenward. Then they will fear Jehovah. They will not dread Jehovah, but they will stand in awe of their heavenly Father, by the grace of God. Through the Scriptures they will listen to Him and obey Him. Is that not what we desire more than anything else? Is that not what you desire for your children—that they know their heavenly Father? Why, we would die for that! Well, God does not call you to die for it. God calls you to live and to show your children a father’s pity.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us as human fathers that we may turn to Thee for wisdom and strength. Bless our children. Supply to us all that we need. Amen.