The love of God

By Calan Moy

The love of God has long been a contentious subject of debate within the Christian religion. With a far extreme known as Universalists asserting God having a universal salvific love for all mankind, to the other extreme where certain branches of theology deny that God has any sort of love for those outside of His chosen ones, aka: the Elect of God. This short article is intended to take an irenic survey of the way Christians should understand God’s love applied, while doing justice to the biblical portrayal of God’s love. A quote from C.S. Lewis’ book “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” will give us an initial glimpse into God’s love.

 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

As mentioned, we will be looking through how we should understand God’s love applied to us, and thus, we see in Scripture that God’s love is portrayed in several ways:

  • God’s love of the Father for the Son and vice versa.
  • God’s general love for creation
  • God’s general love for the fallen world
  • God’s love for the elect of God
  • God’s love that is conditional upon the obedience of His people

(adapted from D.A. Carson’s “the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”)

While those familiar with the above categories may think that merely acts as a restatement of the book, nonetheless, the goal here is for a survey of how God’s love should be perceived and understood and Carson’s categories are helpful for having a well rounded understanding of God’s love. It must be noted, that the Scripture often speaks of love in a way that matches several categories at the same time, and so, we too must be careful not to draw overly dogmatic distinctions regarding the topic.

 

  1. God’s love of the Father for the Son and vice versa.

It has been a universally undisputed truth that the members of the Godhead, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, love each other. Of the many quotations in the upper room discourse in John 14-16, one will suffice for our purposes.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” John 15:9-10

This is a verse that vividly speaks of the love of the Father and the Son, wherein God the Father loves God the Son, and the Son loves the Father and thus keeps the Father’s commands.

Only the Son is privileged to have this kind of love from the Father. When we look at the love of the Son and of the Father, we are peering into the deep things of God, where God the Father from all eternity has eternally and truly loved the Son like no other created thing. Hence, it is necessary for us to differentiate this particular love.

 

  1. God’s general love for creation

“….And God saw it was good…”. This refrain is constantly repeated throughout the book of Genesis 1-2 , when God was creating the heavens and the earth. Lest we get side-tracked into another debate, suffice it to say that God’s love for creation is seen in Him creating creation as “good”. In this sense, everyone can say that God has a love for all nature. Consider the verse in Matthew about God’s good providential love for creation:

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The picture presented is of a God who is caring and close to his creation, carefully paying attention to each detail weaved into the fabric of creation.

 

  1. God’s love for the fallen world

This point happens to be a highly contentious point between Calvinists and Arminians. While the majority of Calvinists and Arminians may affirm that God loves men, some extreme cases may see the Arminians campaigning for a universal salvific love. This, however, is contrary to biblical evidence as the Scripture states plainly that there will be souls in hell. Nonetheless, there is an element of truth that has to be held in tension: in that God loves the world, the big bad world that crucified His son. This love for the reprobate however, is also seen in God’s providence for them, where as stated in Scripture,

 

He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

 

The Heidelberg catechism, Lord’s Day 10 quotes as follows:

“Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with his Hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand”

 

This expression of love for the world is extended through God’s providence, given to a sinful world that does not deserve it.

 

  1. God’s love for the elect of God

God has a specific, salvific love for His elect. Some verses that proponents turn to make this case includes those in the gospel of John, such as John 6 and John 17. However, some opponents invoke the “negative inference fallacy”, as David Allen does in his book “The Extent of the Atonement”. However, he does so at the cost of invoking the logical fallacy of “appeal to selective evidence” in inspecting individual cases rather than examining the passages as a cumulative case for the point (D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies 2nd Edition). The Scripture unilaterally speaks about the love that God has for a certain people group, especially when seen according to biblical-theological methods. The Scripture itself says in Ephesians,

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”

While on first glance, it may seem to fall into the negative inference fallacy, nonetheless, with the addition of Ephesians 2, where God’s love is extended to the Ephesian church who were once reprobate, it is safe to say that the connection between election and God’s love is firmly grounded In Scripture.

 

  1. God’s love that is conditional upon the obedience of His people

To define this love, we firstly define what it is not.

  • This love does not entail that God ONLY loves us based on our performance
  • A conditional love does not mean that God ONLY loves us in a conditional way

This love is the most technical of all to explain as it lies between two truths: the first being that God loves His people unconditionally, and the second being, God demands good works out of His people. Hence, to tackle this, we must be careful in speaking about this love, as going too far on either side will result in either legalism or an antinomian attitude (no law). Thus, we now appeal to Scripture to make our case.

John 15:9-10 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

As Christians, we are already loved by the Father and the Son. However, there is a sense of which, if we do not keep His commandments, we will be “removed” from the Father’s love. While the language is touchy, nonetheless, we must acknowledge that there is a sense where God’s people may incur God’s displeasure, as the London Baptist Confession puts aptly in the topic of the “Perseverance of the Saints”,

“3. And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end”(italics mine)

This goes to show that ultimately, in spite of God’s people grieving God, the expression of love in the “overcoming grace” of God ultimately triumphs at the end of the day. Therefore, the Christian must be aware that the Christian life consists of the struggle between the need to do works to please God, while being simultaneously in a position where God looks upon the Christian that is in Christ and is pleased at the works of the Christian, inspite of the imperfect works. As Thomas Schreiner says in his book about “Faith Alone”,

“Works are not the foundation of our relationship with God but they are the fruit of it. The foundation of our right relationship with God is justification by faith alone”

(Schreiner “Faith Alone”, 62)

 

Conclusion

This topic is a topic that could engross one for ages. While many people have leaned to one side or the other in interpreting God’s love, nonetheless, we must take the full counsel of Scripture in regards to God’s love. God’s love is not the love that has accommodated itself to our whims and fancies, but instead, God’s love is metaphorically like the lion Aslan, untamed by our expectations and sovereign over His dominion, but yet close and intimate to us. We pray that even as you read this article, that you will be blessed by it.

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