Summary: God is compassionate toward us, because he created us, and because Christ became one of us.
When you picture God, what do you see? What kind of mental picture do you get when you think of God? Do you see God as a kind, jolly old fellow, sort of like Santa Claus or a favorite uncle? Do you see Him wearing a robe and crown, sitting on a throne? Is he holding a lightning bolt, like Zeus, waiting to zap anyone who steps out of line? Or does he look like one of Michaelangelo’s paintings, old and bearded, yet strong and muscular at the same time? Let me ask it another way: when you imagine God looking down at you, what expression does He have on his face? Is he smiling? Or is He stern-faced, frowning at you? Is he pleased? Or is He angry, or disappointed?
Why does it matter? After all, no one knows what God really looks like, do they? If you remember, in the Old Testament, when Moses asked to see God, He was only allowed to catch a brief glimpse of God’s back. And in the second of the ten commandments, God expressly forbids the making of idols. He doesn’t want people praying, or bowing down, or worshipping in any way, in front of a painting or a sculpture that supposedly represents Him. So why even raise this question of what we see in our mind’s eye when we think of God?
Because the image we get in our mind when we think of God says a lot about how we view God. If your mental picture of God is someone dark, foreboding, scowling - as if He’s ready to reach down out of heaven any minute and give you a good swat - then you probably think of God as basically a God of wrath, a God of judgment, a God of condemnation. On the other hand, if you see God smiling, relaxed, looking down at you with approval - then you probably think of God as basically a God of love, a God of mercy, a God of compassion. Which one do you see?
There’s an element of truth to both of those. God is a God of judgment for those who persist in doing evil and refuse to seek forgiveness through Christ. But for those who place their trust in Christ, for those who find forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, that’s not an accurate picture. For us, there is no condemnation, no judgment, no punishment, no wrath. Christ has already suffered all of those things in our place. For us God is only love, and grace and mercy.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." - Romans 8:1 (NIV)
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." - John 5:24 (NIV)
Let me say that again: there is no condemnation - none - for those who have trusted in Christ for salvation. God’s attitude toward us is not one of anger or wrath, but one of acceptance, and love, and approval. God is not frowning at us. He is not scowling at us. He is smiling.
This morning, I’d like to look at one aspect of God’s love toward us, and that’s His compassion. In a sense, God has an image problem. [In reality, it’s our problem, not His]. When George Bush began his campaign for the Presidency, what was his slogan? "A compassionate conservative." Now, to some people, a compassionate conservative is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, like "jumbo shrimp" or "military intelligence." [or "accordion music," "airline food," "athletic scholarship," "educational television," "non-dairy creamer"]. Many people have the same problem seeing God as compassionate. They’ve bought the lie that all God wants is to condemn people. They think that somehow God gets his jollies from giving people a good whack in the head, that what God loves most of all is to punish and smite people. Nothing could be further than the truth. God’s desire is to save, to do good, to bless.
"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." - 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
What pleases God is not to condemn people. What pleases God is for people to turn to Him for forgiveness. God’s fundamental attitude toward us is one of love and compassion. Let’s look at that statement in more detail.
God is compassionate toward the hurting
Does God care when we hurt? One of Bill Clinton’s famous lines is, "I feel your pain." Does God feel our pain? Does He understand what we’re going through? Does He care? Or is he just sitting up there in heaven, watching as we suffer and struggle, serenely unmoved and emotionless?