Thoughts on this started to come to me after watching "Everything's Fine" with Robert De Niro.
In it a widowed father tries to set up a reunion with his grown children, who all cancel. He longs for his children to come and eat together at his table, but it turns out one by one that none of them can make it. Each of them are in the midst of problems that they would rather hide from him, fearing his reaction, his disappointment, or that he is emotionally fragile and would be too hurt to know these difficult things. Then he travels across the country to go see them. We see that it is the natural and powerful bent of a father to long for his children, to worry over their happiness, to accept them as they are with all of their problems and mistakes and to simply want to be with them.
Even terrible fathers know the weight of this love in the power of their regret. It is the greatest weight of the conscience, this beautiful burden of love. The father in this movie does not care so much that the disappointments and problems his children face are disappointing to him, but that the fear they produce in his children removes the intimacy of their relationship. As a younger father he did not understand this, but as an older father he sees it all much more clearly.
We can believe that these aspects of the heart of an earthly father are only faint shadows of the way our Father God in heaven feels towards us. Oh, He longs for us! He does greatly love us! This is the thing that rules-based religion misses. He worries over our relationship with each other, He longs to accept us, He longs to help us. He worries that He is too controlling, not controlling enough, and it is all based in an incredibly strong and pure love for us, for our ultimate welfare. He forgives so quickly, so easily, He so quickly accepts and restores dignity and provision. He so selflessly accepts His own indignities for the the sake of His children. He greatly longs for us, greatly loves.