Rev. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frace; he remembereth that we are dust.”

Psalm 103:13, 14


Who wants pity?

It seems no one. The handicapped of our day tell us they want respect, not pity. The street people scoff at pity. They want action, they want money, food, places to live. The broken, the wounded of our society want understanding, not pity.

Could it be that a people schooled in the virtues of being independent has lost the sensitivity of compassion? Is pity a violation of self-esteem? Has love grown cold in this world?

It has.

And pity has gone out of the window.

The passage we consider here speaks of the pity of our Heavenly Father and that of an earthly father. “As a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.”

Within the household of faith, pity is not demeaning, it is Divine!

Pity is the heartfelt desire to bridge justice and mercy. Let me explain. In the Psalm before us, God is extolled for His justice. “The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed” (vs. 6). In His justice He punishes the wicked and requires satisfaction for the sins of His people. That is not all, for man cannot provide that payment. Hence the Psalmist David adds the element of mercy. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (vs. 8). That mercy of God is love in action. In mercy He removes our transgression from us as far as the east is from the west (vss. 11, 12). He does that by the blood of His own Son. What moves God to do this, to give His own Son in payment for the sins of His people? The answer to this question is, pity.

Pity is to feel the pain of others, to weep with those that weep, to be compassionate with the lonely, to share in the burdens of life. A good description of pity is found in Hebrews 4:15, where Jesus is described as our high priest, as one Who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

That is pity!

As the Psalmist looks around him for an earthly display of the pity which God has for His children, the Holy Spirit moves him to focus his attention upon an earthly father. As a father pities his children, so Jehovah pities them that fear Him.

An earthly father is the example, par excellence, for pity.

That has to say something to fathers. We might argue, why not mothers? They are the ones who nurse the wounds and sing softly as disturbed children try to find sleep. Mothering is the epitome of pity!

The Holy Spirit speaks otherwise: as a fatherpities his children. The most obvious reason is that the analogy drawn here is between earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father. Still more, the father represents headship in the home, and he is responsible for the care of his wife and children. Hence, pity must come from him as father; and the mother is his helpmeet as well. Being the head of the home, he is in a special position to display pity, for in his strength (physical, psychological, and spiritual) he is equipped to provide what is so sorely needed in the family, pity!

Fathers, are you reading this carefully?

The great virtue which God Himself ascribes to every father is, of all things, pity.

And we ascribe pity to weakness. Far too many fathers think their calling as head of the home is toughness. Rule and authority is so abused by so many fathers. They become demanding tyrants. Their will is an iron law in the home. Before long, his dictum is executed with threats and violence. His big hand can thrash the strongest willed child into submission. Wife and children cower before his rage. Pity, that is for wimps! Do not talk love to this man, that is mushy nothingness. Biblical authority is his weapon; his law is God’s law, and that is final.

But God says, “as a father pities his children.”

A father that pities his child sheds quiet tears when his little one is hurting. Even though he may not be on the front line to soothe and comfort every need of his hurting children, at the end of the day he offers a prayer of thanksgiving for his wife who can so ably nurture and mother the children he loves. He takes time to be with his children. He knows the greatest deterrent to hurting children is to demonstrate his love by spending time with them. On a daily basis these children know that their dad loves them. When the hurt does come, they can pour out their heart to father, for he will listen, he will understand. When they are sick, he will visit their bed at night. When they are restless, he will pray with them. When they act in ways of rebellion, he will discipline them and afterwards assure them of his love.

The sure test of pity is this: when your child hurts, do you as a father hurt more than he does? Be careful what this means. Do you have more hurt, not for yourself in self-pity, but do you have more hurt for your child than your child does for herself or himself?

Then you have pity.

Such a father is a gift from heaven. Such love and compassion from an earthly father is a reflection of our Heavenly Father.

Children in such a home are spiritually blessed. They can experience firsthand what God is saying here. As a father pities his children, so Jehovah pities them that fear Him.

The urgency is this: If we abuse our children, physically, sexually, psychologically, spiritually, or any other way for that matter, what will our children think of their Heavenly Father? Imagine, that a child slapped across the face by an angry father has to fold his little hands and pray, our Father Who art in heaven. The very thought of God being a father scares him. How will a child who is yelled at and called names by an angry father ever have the courage to look to heaven and believe he is precious to his Heavenly Father?

The Holy Spirit draws a comparison between earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father. Like as a father pities his children, so JEHOVAH pities them that fear him. God intends that the loving security of a Christian home becomes the womb out of which the children of God are born into this world.

And pity is a critical ingredient.

Justice and mercy are joined together by pity.

We may well ask, what does it take for a father to possess such pity? I am sure there are many fathers who read these words with pangs of guilt and deep feelings of inadequacy. Mothers read these words and breathe a prayer to God that the father of her children might be more like this.

In the measure that we fail, we must surely repent of sinful behavior, also within the home. God has given to fathers a wonderful and awesome position in the home. Often times fathers think that authority and love are incompatible, while the very opposite is true. The law which gives to fathers their authority is the law of love. Pity is the application of that law to the special needs of our hurting family. Well may we spend more time on our knees, repenting of our wrongs and asking God for guidance in correcting them.

What assistance does God give to fathers to encourage them in the exercise of this pity?

The purpose of Psalm 103 is to guide us in extolling God’s great love to us. The more we consider what God has done for us, what His pity means to us as adults, fathers or mothers, married or single, whatever age we may be, the more we will exercise love and pity to others.

Jehovah pities us! He is our Father Who bestows such pity upon us that we can only respond with the doxology which begins and ends this Psalm, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”

It was pity that moved Him to elect us. We are chosen, not because we are better and more noble than others, as if we were distinguished for our great qualities. He chose us in love unto the adoption of children (Eph. 1:4, 5).

It was pity that reached out to our first parents, Adam and Eve. Our Heavenly Father did not give them a tongue-lashing and beat them physically when they came from behind the bush, trembling. He took from them the leaves of self-righteousness and clothed them with the garments of blood. He told them they would have to bear the consequence of sin, ‘but held out the promise of the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. The wilderness sojourn confirms that as a Father, Jehovah pitied Israel, and that pity bridges the gap between justice and mercy. He punished them in their sins, and forgave them their transgressions.

What pity Jehovah displays in the death of His own Son. Look at that cross, the blood, the shame, the cries of anguish. Jesus bore that because our Heavenly Father knew that we could never do that. He spared us, but not His own Son.

In His pity for us, Jesus, our exalted Lord, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

When our children see their earthly father exercising pity upon them, they are encouraged to look heavenward. And this passage confirms God’s faithfulness to them.

In turn, they learn to fear Jehovah. That fear is not to be scared of Him, but rather the opposite. They learn to reverence their Heavenly Father, to stand in awe of Him, to listen to Him, and to obey Him.

That is what we earthly fathers desire most.