Monday, March 04, 2019

Anonymous Asks (29)

“Does Jesus love us all equally?”

Equality is the signal obsession of our age. I’m not sure people living hundreds or thousands of years ago would have asked this question or even thought much about it.

So let’s ask another one: does it really matter?

We already know Jesus loves us. You probably learned it in Sunday School: Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. And one of the most famous verses in scripture tells us that “God so loved the world …” God gave his Son for us, and his Son gave himself on our behalf. That’s love.

There is, I suppose, a measure of equality in God’s most obvious expression of love, in that the sacrifice of Christ is potentially applicable to every human being who needs it. Nobody is excluded. This world has been shown the greatest possible love that can be expressed; that cannot be argued.

Taking his love for you as a given, then, would it make a significant difference to your life to know that Jesus loves your neighbor to the left just slightly more than he loves you, and loves your neighbor to the right just slightly less? If so, I’m a little curious why that might be.

Jesus Loves Me

But what does “us all” mean exactly, and how does the love of Jesus impact us? For example, the apostle Paul says, “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” At first, that might sound like it means everyone in the whole world, regardless of how they feel about God.

But we must be careful when we grab onto words like “all”. In fact, if we look closely at the verse I just quoted, we’d notice that the “all” in verse 15 refers back to this statement in verse 14: “one has died for all, therefore all have died.” Have all human beings on earth died with Christ? Well, no. Romans tells us that being spiritually united with Christ in death is characteristic of people who have been justified by faith in him, not of all men and women generally. The “all” in “He died for all” refers to all Christians, not to all unbelievers.

So when we ask “Does Jesus love us all equally?” we must take into account that while the love of God reaches out to all of mankind, and while it is true that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” that great love he expressed to the world is only really enjoyed by believers.

Hating Sinners

Where the wicked are concerned, there is another matter to consider. The love of God is certainly offered to all in Christ, but what David said about God in Psalm 11 remains true: “his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

God has a visceral loathing not just for sin, but for certain types of sinners. “You hate all evildoers,” reads Psalm 5. Hosea speaks for God about the wicked in Israel: “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them.” Proverbs 6 says the Lord hates “a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

Now, all of us have sinned. We have all sown discord and breathed out lies, if we’re honest about it, and more than a few of us have loved violence too. How God feels about sin and sinners has never changed, even as he expressed his love to us at great personal cost. That’s as true of Jesus as it is of the Father. So then, some of us confess our sin, turn to Christ, and enjoy the love of God. Others do not, and remain the objects of his wrath.

Nothing could be much less “equal” than that, outcome-wise.

Equal Treatment, Equal Reward?

So let’s say our question is strictly about believers. Does Jesus love all those he redeemed “equally”? What are we really asking there? It very much depends what meaning we import into the word “love”, doesn’t it.

Does Jesus treat every one of his servants equally in this life? No, he does not, and he will not be pinned down by those who ask him to explain it. As the master of the house said to his laborers in the parable, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Obviously the answer is yes, Jesus may call one of his followers to persecution and even martyrdom while allowing others to enjoy lives of comparative peace and ease. And yet we would be wrong to call that “unloving” or “less loving”. We can’t really measure his love for us that way.

Does Jesus reward all his servants equally in eternity? Again, if we read carefully, the answer is no. Paul speaks of those who are saved, “but only as through fire,” and encourages the Corinthians to “run that you may obtain [the prize],” as if in eternity there are greater and lesser rewards. Obviously it is still wonderful to be saved, even if we have little or nothing to show for our lives here, but the teaching of scripture seems clear that there are degrees of reward to be had at the judgment seat of Christ. Nothing “equal” about that. We can’t really measure the love of Jesus that way either, can we?

Equal Affection?

So maybe this is the real question: does Jesus have equal affection for all who believe in him? That’s an interesting thing to think about. I’m not sure I have an answer for that one.

John refers to himself six times in his gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. People argue about what that means. Is John saying Jesus loved him more than the other disciples? After all, he was one of only three out of twelve disciples who saw the Lord transfigured. He was one of only three allowed to witness the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. He was one of only four disciples to get the private instruction about the coming judgment of Israel, and one of only three to watch with the Lord in Gethsemane. He was definitely part of the Lord’s inner circle, and reclined beside him at that last Passover celebration. It was John to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, and John who followed him all the way to the cross, and it was John who received from Jesus himself an unprecedented revelation of things to come. John knew Jesus in the flesh — he could say, “we looked upon him and touched him with our hands” — and he also saw the glorified Christ. Nobody else — not Peter, not the apostle Paul — could say that.

John was unquestionably privileged beyond any of the other disciples. But did Jesus actually have greater affection for John than the others? Perhaps. We can hardly exclude the possibility just because we don’t like the idea of Jesus having “favorites”. Or maybe it’s that John entered into the enjoyment of Jesus’ love in a way the others did not, and simply could not stop mentioning that wonderful reality.

If the latter is the case, then anyone can be loved like John was loved, right?

No comments :

Post a Comment