I really messed up. In an attempt to fix a bad situation, I made it worse. Feelings were hurt, relationships damaged. Even my relationship with the Lord suffered.
Memorized verses convicted me. Psalm 51:3-4 came to mind: "I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned."
I began the painful process of reconciliation, and I went before our mighty, holy God and received his forgiveness.
But I needed more.
The situation had left me bruised and hurting too. Like a toddler who scrapes her knee and asks her mommy to kiss the boo-boo, I needed someone to hold me, kiss my spiritual scrape, and make me feel better. But who could I turn to? My view of God was holy and mighty, not tender and gentle.
Of the many names God uses to reveal himself in the Bible, one of the most quoted is God Almighty, translated from the Hebrew, El Shaddai. You may remember the song "El Shaddai," written by Michael Card and popularized by Amy Grant.
God first revealed this name when he confirmed his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:1-2. The covenant included promises of land, descendants, and blessing. Still, Abraham could not do anything to assist in the fulfillment of these promises. He could only rely on the mighty hand of the Lord to do it for him.
Almighty God. The name conveys victory as we rest securely in the one to whom we belong. We also associate it throughout the Bible with other names and attributes of God that convey his strength. God is omnipotent and the Lord of Hosts. He is holy and a Consuming Fire. But these names and characteristics can make us uncomfortable as we wrestle with the awareness of our frailty and sin. We know God loves us, yet it often feels more like tough love than tender love.
God is holy, strong, and mighty, but he is also tender. And nowhere is this better illustrated than in the very same name of God: El Shaddai. While El Shaddai does mean Almighty God, another interpretation of this powerful name is The All-Sufficient One.
El Shaddai comes from the root words El and Shad. El is the generic Hebrew word for God. Shad is the Hebrew word for breast. Just as a mother's milk is all-sufficient to nourish her child, God is all-sufficient for us—regardless of our need or situation.
God is God! He is perfect and complete. He lacks nothing, including the tender and nurturing attributes we so often associate with women and mothers.
Consider the compassion of a mother as she cradles her nursing infant. Then know God cradles you and me with more compassion than any mother could ever possess (Isaiah 49:15).
If you are a mother, think of the lasting love you have for your children. Then ponder the love of God that "endures forever" (Psalm 136:1)—a love that sent his Son to the cross for you and me.
Recall the comfort you've received from your mother, or another loving woman, when the hurt was more than you could bear. Then realize God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Consider the reassuring protectiveness of maternal instinct. Then experience the reality of God's promise to be your defender and protector (Psalm 121:7).
Think of a mother's tender voice as she sings a lullaby. Then listen as the same God who created the hurricane's whirlwinds speaks to your heart with the gentleness of a whisper (1 Kings 19:12). Our God is all-sufficient; he is our tender God.
I knew God as holy and mighty. But as I went to him that day, I needed to know that the holy God who has the power to wipe away my sin also tenderly wipes away my tears. That the mighty God who created the universe is also the one who gently cradles me in his arms and kisses my hurts. That I could climb into the lap of my Abba-Father and be wrapped in the compassionate comfort with which a mother holds her precious child.
Jesus demonstrated this tender power during his earthly ministry. The Lion of Judah is also the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:5-6). The one who condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites, snakes, and vipers (Matthew 23:27, 33) is the same one who, just a few short verses later, cried with a breaking heart, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me" (Matthew 23:37). The one who overturned the money changers' tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12) is the same one who wept for those held in death's grip (John 11:35).
When I overlook all the characteristics God reveals about himself, I lose. I lose the blessing of knowing him as gracious and gentle, compassionate and comforting. I lose the joy of knowing him as encourager and friend, loving and kind.
It Makes a Difference
Remembering God's nurturing attributes helps me move from a performance-oriented walk with him to resting in the relationship he has provided. It's the difference between being and doing. God doesn't love us for what we do (or don't do). He loves us because that's who he is (1 John 4:8). He delights in us, not because of our service, but because we belong to him (Psalm 35:27). His encouragement comes, not when we accomplish great things, but when we seek him for the endurance to continue, moment by moment and day by day (Romans 15:5).
Understanding God's nurturing attributes also changes how I share him with others. Instead of allowing one group of characteristics to skew my view of who he is, I know he meets every person at their point of need.
For example, if we focus on God's might and holiness to the exclusion of all other characteristics, we create a fire-and-brimstone god who is unloving, unmerciful, and uncompassionate. Instead of sharing God's mercy and forgiveness with a hurting and desperate world, we will assault people with the truths of Scripture. Instead of leading them to the Lord's loving presence, we will chase them away.
Yet if we only know God as a loving nurturer, we create an anything-goes god who tolerates sin. There would be no need for us to pursue holiness or righteousness. Rather than being salt and light in a dark world, we would live without accountability, convinced that it doesn't matter. Non-Christians would see no difference between their lives and ours.
God is holy, strong, and mighty. But in the midst of my pain, I also need to know God as tender, merciful, and the source of all love. Our Almighty God is our all-sufficient, nurturing God, who longs for you and I to experience his loving caress.