A. W. Tozer opens his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, with this profound assertion: “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Tozer goes on to argue that what we think or believe about God shapes the entire course of our lives. My experience in pastoral ministry has proven Tozer’s statement to be true.
As I reflect on years of providing pastoral care to distressed individuals, especially those who are hyper-sensitive and lack assurance that they are saved, the heart of their problem is usually a warped view of God’s character. They seem to “walk on eggshells” around God.
To walk on eggshells means we tread lightly lest we offend someone. Of course, we should not be careless in our walk with God. But many view God as though he will reject or become angry with them over the slightest misstep. If I am not good enough or if I do not perform correctly, it is thought, God will become unhappy with me and disown me. This view of God is simply not scriptural, and it is very unhealthy.
If we view God as an angry father, we’ll always be walking on eggshells around him, trying to earn his acceptance, all while feeling that our efforts are always unsuccessful. If we view God merely as a judge, we will always feel guilty. If we see God as just like us, we will become causal about our sin.
Misconceptions about God always create a barrier in our relationship with him.
Misconceptions about God always create a barrier in our relationship with him. And until you know God as he truly is, you will never become what he has created you to be. We need to rediscover the gracious, loving, other-oriented nature of God.
God’s Character in His Own Words
In Exodus 32, the people of God sinned by worshipping the golden calf that Aaron made. Both Moses and God became rightfully angry at their sin. God appears ready to wipe them off the face of the earth and build a new nation with righteous Moses as the patriarch. But Moses intercedes for the people and reminds God of the covenant he made. God then relents, but informs Moses that his presence would no longer be with them as they marched to the land of promise. Moses once again pleads for God to relent. Moses recognizes that God’s presence is what makes his people distinct and different from all the other people on the face of the earth.
At the end of this verbal harangue with God, Moses makes a bold request in 32:18: “Please show me your glory.” Yahweh grants his wish in Exodus 34 by making all his goodness pass before him and proclaiming the name of Yahweh. Exodus 34 is a picture of God that every “eggshell-walker” needs to see.
Exodus 34 is a picture of God that every “eggshell-walker” needs to see.
First, though, it is important to note how God did not reveal himself. One would think, especially after the sin of the golden calf, that God would reveal himself to Moses as a judge. As powerful. As vindictive. Instead, God gives a self-description that becomes the most oft-repeated in Scripture—used over 30 times. Sam Alberry calls it “God’s pinned Tweet”:
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord [Yahweh, Yahweh], a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
I am in no way saying that God never renders judgment. The last part of verse 7 makes it clear that he does. However, even his actions of judgment flow out of the first part of this divine self-revelation—his loving and gracious character. The steadfast love, mercy, grace, and longsuffering of the Triune God are the fountainhead from which all his other acts flow. And everything about his character is relational and others-oriented.
God gives us five beautiful manifestations of his nature: (1) merciful and gracious, (2) slow to anger, (3) abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (4) keeping steadfast love for thousands [of generations], (5) forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
Does this sound like a God who sits ready with a billy club to wack you if you do something wrong? Does this sound like a God who demands absolute perfection from his children and then punishes them when they fail to perform? Does this sound like a God who keeps us at arms distance?
Our God is a God who loves us even if we mess up. Our God is a God who accepts us even if we fail to measure up to perfection. Our God is a God who is patient with us in our sanctification and growth in grace. God is not easily irritated. God is not touchy. God is not grouchy. God is not quick to pull the trigger on us. Rather, the depth of God’s heart is turned outward towards us in deep, intimate love, even when we fall short. That beautiful picture of our heavenly Father should take the eggshells out of our relationship with him.
“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:31-33)