There are two kinds of relationships in the world: transactional, and covenant.

Here’s some examples of transactional relationships:

  • I give you a burger because you gave me some money
  • I’ll do work for you because you give me a salary or a fee
  • I subscribe to my favourite Youtuber because they offer regular content that I like

But then there’s also covenant (or promise-based) relationships:

  • Cheryl and I love each other not because we get paid for it, but because of the vows we made to each other on our wedding day.
  • I love my children not because they pay me, because I promised to care for them!
  • We offer our time and treasures to serve our church because we’ve pledged ourselves to them as our family.

Many people, if they believe in God, see Him through the lens of a transactional relationship. I lit some incense, so bless my family. I give to charity, so give me a clean conscience. I’ve lived a good life, so I deserve a comfortable retirement.

But God of the Bible is not a gold cat that waves fortune in for me, or insurance cover I take out, or a genie who does as I please. In the Bible we see a God who relates to His people not by a transactional relationship, but a covenant one.

One of the ways we see this in particular is in the fatherly language that drips out of the Bible. For example, it’s how Jesus teaches us to see Him in the Lord’s Prayer. But How can Christians call God “Father” or “Dad”? It’s because we relate to him not by transaction, but by covenant.

This is how David captures this idea in Psalm 103:13-14:

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

God is our Father who knows we’re dust (v14), who knows our weakness, and yet he loves His children anyways. He is like a dad who runs towards us with open arms and clothes us with his finest robes. Even though we are so insignificant compared to him – like flowers that blow away in the wind (Ps 103:15-16) – our Heavenly Father is glad to embrace us.

He’s a Father who adopts us into his family in Christ… The Apostle John puts it this way: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

Even if you have grown up with an earthly father who has disappointed or hurt you in some way, because of what Jesus did on the cross, you and I can still experience the joy of a loving father.

Here’s a real-life example: Henry Lyte was an Anglican pastor and songwriter from the 19th century. If you read his biography, you’ll learn that he had a terrible childhood. His father left him at a young age, sent him to boarding school, and eventually his father remarried. And after that, his father began to write letters to him but wouldn’t sign them as “Your father”, but as “Your uncle”.

Henry Lyte literally experienced the rejection of his father. And yet, here’s how he processes Psalm 103:13-18 in his hymn, “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”:

“Father-like he tends and spares us
Well our feeble frame he knows
In his hand he gently bears us
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Widely yet his mercy flows.”

This is Henry Lyte’s view of His Heavenly Father – healthy, secure, warm. Songwriter Kevin Twit remarks that in every one of his hymns,

“…the father image for him is a warm and comforting one. Which… shows the power of the Gospel and the scriptures to deconstruct and reconstruct something so basic as what does it mean to have a father.”

Introduction to “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”

So even if you and I have had disappointing parents, by remembering God’s fatherly love, you can have this assurance today.

If you’d like to talk to Him right now in prayer, here’s a few suggestions of what you could say:

  • “Father I pray for those of us who have had loving fathers.
    Thank you for how they show a glimpse of Your compassion and care.
  • “Father I pray for those with fathers who have hurt us, disappointed us,
    who don’t understand us, or who have left us. Remind us again that in Jesus, You love us like the Father we could never have on earth.
  • “Father thank you for nourishing me, disciplining me, and instructing me. Thank you for welcoming us into Your family through the sacrifice of Your only Son, Jesus. Help me to obey You gladly. Make me more like You through Your Holy Spirit in me. Thank you Father.”

(This post is adapted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 103. You can check it out below or on  SpotifyApple podcasts  etc.)