Lou: The title “How God Treats His Erring Children” raises a question in my mind, Graham. You have reminded us of some beautiful, gripping stories! But they all have centered, for the most part, upon Jesus and how Jesus treated people. And I think we’re fairly clear about that. We all have that image of a gentle Jesus in our minds. But I think some still have questions: “What if this were the Father? Would He be treating people the same way? And what about the Holy Spirit?”
Graham: When most people hear the title, “How God Treats His Erring Children,” does the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit come to mind first? I’m hoping that it wouldn’t make any difference, that we can accept the repeated testimony of Jesus: “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), “The Father loves you just as much as I do” (John 16:26), “And if I go, I will send another Counselor just like Myself” (John 15:26-27; 16:7, 13-14). It would make no difference; Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. That’s the most wonderful thing to understand. Everybody loves gentle Jesus, but the Father would treat us exactly the same as Jesus would. We may have to remind ourselves of this truth many times before we really believe it.
Lou: You used a version for John 20:17 that I’ve never heard of before. Noli? What translation is that?
Graham: The translator’s name is Theophan (or simply Fan) Stylian Noli. He was Archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church in America. He produced an unusual version most people have never seen. I enjoy it very much. And there’s a reason why I chose it. The Greek of John 20:17 literally means, “Don’t go on holding Me, don’t go on touching Me, don’t cling to Me, because I must go.” What Jesus said was actually very polite and gracious. So I love the translation, “Do not detain me.” Another reason I love it is the fact that Ellen White used the wording “Detain me not” in Desire of Ages. I went through my many versions and Noli had it the way I wanted it.
Lou: I noticed that with the exception of Hosea, your stories about God’s kindness are all from the New Testament. Does that mean that the God revealed in the New Testament is really gentler than the One revealed in the Old Testament?
Graham: The only remedy for that is to go through all sixty-six biblical books and note how much tenderness there is in the Old Testament. For example, you could look at the parable of God in His vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), something you’ve preached on many times. How tenderly that story is told. “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isa 5:4, NIV). Or “My people. . . how have I wearied you?” Mic 6:3, ESV; Isa 43:24. Of course, the whole book of Hosea is so moving. So are the texts where God says, “Anyone who touches you, touches the apple of My eye” (Deut 32:10; Zech 2:8). That is sometimes translated, “Anybody who hurts you, My people, sticks his finger in the eye of the Almighty” (based on Zech 2:8). That would hurt! And God says, “That’s the way I feel about you.”
One of the most impressive Old Testament stories, though, is God’s treatment of David. Now David sinned enough to be disfellowshipped from most churches, yet God says to his son Solomon, “Solomon, obey Me in all things, just as your father David did” (based on 1 Kings 11:6). That is one of the most generous statements in the whole Bible, so I will use it again when we talk about the subject of perfection (Chapter Fourteen).