What is God Like? Gracious

By Uli Chi

February 23, 2019

And (the LORD) passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6 (TNIV)


Is life a gift or an accident?  That’s the profound question of the 21st Century.

Are we products of random chance?  When we look behind the curtain of the universe, is no one there?  Was Shakespeare’s Macbeth right? “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5).

Or, as the Bible suggests, are we and the universe a gift from a “compassionate and gracious God”?  Today’s text, which records God’s unique self-disclosure to Moses, reminds us that the created universe is the result of a God who acts with generous love (compassion) and unmerited favor (grace).  In particular, the word “gracious” is key to our understanding God’s creation.   Neither we (nor the universe for that matter) deserved to be created.  Our very existence is the gift of God.

God is gracious in another important sense.  As we noted in last week’s reflection, God’s revelation of his character, including his graciousness, comes in the context of Israel’s primal sin of idolatry.  Even though Israel deserved to be “divorced” by the LORD, God’s compassion and grace is highlighted by staying in the relationship.  The LORD’s unmerited favor provides a way for human failure and sin to be redeemed.

Failure makes us go into hiding, like our archetypal parents, Adam and Eve.  How do we face our sin?  How do we face God when we do something wrong, even when we know better?  We know that we can’t fix what we’ve broken.  It’s little wonder we prefer to hide from God, and to hide from facing the consequences of what we’ve done.  When confronted by my sin, I sometimes find myself saying, “I will never do this again!”  While the resolution not to sin is a good thing, I suspect I’m really hoping that my resolution will help merit the forgiveness which I’m seeking.  I find it remarkably difficult to squarely face the sin I’ve committed and to trust alone in God’s unmerited forgiveness – his grace – to deal with its consequences.

So, what can we do when we fail miserably, even spectacularly?  Another incident in Israel’s history provides a helpful guide.  King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, is a particularly egregious example of leadership failure (2 Samuel 11).  When confronted by the prophet Nathan, how will David respond?  On what basis would David approach God after such a massive failure?  Psalm 51 is the canonical answer.  It begins with three of the key Hebrew words found in our text today: “(Be gracious to) me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression” (Psalm 51:1 TNIV, emphasis mine).  Remarkably, in the rest of the psalm, there’s no attempt at self-justification.  David confronts the stark reality of his failure and looks to God, who alone can restore his life and leadership.  God’s character creates the singular context that allows David to deal honestly with his sin and with God.

Seeing life as a gift and seeing our redemption as a gift shapes the kind of leaders we become.  Biblical hope is irresistibly resilient not because we are great leaders who are relentlessly determined to overcome all obstacles, but because the LORD is “the compassionate and gracious God.”  We can persevere despite desperate difficulties in life and leadership, not because we are people of remarkable character and faith, but because we serve a God of remarkable character and faithfulness, who abounds “in love and faithfulness.”  Such a vision of reality results in gratitude in our life and leadership, a sure sign that we are seeing the world rightly.  And such gratitude begets generosity in our speech and actions towards others, a sure sign that we are “children of the light” (I Thessalonians 5:5 TNIV).

Something to Do:

Take time today to focus on a sin in your life that you have trouble facing.

Reflect on the three key words of Psalm 51:1 above.

Ponder Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.


Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

We live in a world that has forgotten its compassionate and gracious Creator.  Claiming to be wise, we have become fools.  Claiming to be enlightened, our minds and hearts have become dark and empty.  Forgive us our god-pretensions.

Thank you that you abound in love and faithfulness towards your creatures.  Thank you that you have not given up on those made in your image.  May you fulfill your gracious purpose for and in us.  May your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

We ask this for your glory and for the good of all that you have made.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
The Lord Reveals Himself to Moses

Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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