Monday, October 02, 2023

Anonymous Asks (269)

“Does God love everyone or just Christians?”

Love is not just something God does, it’s who he is, the overarching quality that characterizes him and the “glue” that binds together all his glorious attributes. Scripture is clear that he expresses his loving nature freely in the world, sending rain on the just and unjust alike. This expression of love is often referred to as “providence” or “common grace”, made manifest in indiscriminate kindness, delay of judgment and so on. Such generalized goodwill on God’s part toward mankind despite our fallen condition makes sense: it would be odd for Christ to command his followers to love our enemies if God did not act lovingly toward them too.

And he did. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were loved before we were ever saved.

He Died for All

Plenty of scriptures reinforce this concept. God “so loved the world”, not just the church. We love “because he first loved us”. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” John writes that Christ is the propitiation not only for the sins of Christians, but also for “the sins of the whole world”. That is to say the Lord Jesus did not die for believers only. There were no limits to his atonement; his sacrifice was sufficient to the pay the price for every man and woman in history, dead or alive. “He died for all,” Paul declares. Anyone who wishes to say otherwise is fighting a landslide of biblical data to the contrary.

Part of the problem people have with understanding this concept, I think, is that they picture God’s love as analogous to their own human emotions. That is not it. God certainly has affections as we do, but these are always expressed in absolute righteousness. When scripture speaks of God’s love, as in “God so loved the world”, it is always associated with the manifestation of that love. He loved so he gave. He loved so he made us alive. He loved so he acted on our behalf. The various writers of scripture are not teaching that God liked the world in all of its wickedness and selfishness — or, worse, that there was something in us that inspired God’s affection while we were living sinfully and selfishly — but rather that he expressed goodwill to our world notwithstanding his righteous abhorrence of the road mankind had chosen for itself.

Saved Against Our Will?

That said, even God’s love has limits, if we can put it that way. He cannot continue to express love indefinitely to those who insult it, refuse it, reject and despise it. The Father will not drag people into his house who obdurately don’t want to be there. That would be to denigrate the sacrifice of his own Son. It would be to say that Christ died to no purpose. God will overlook a great deal of provocation in order to give all who are willing a chance — or in many cases, multiple chances — to repent and be saved. But God is not merely loving; he is both holy and just.

The psalmist says God’s “soul hates the wicked and the one who does violence”. David wrote that “evil may not dwell with you” and “you hate all evildoers”. It is impossible for God to bring those who reject his love and refuse to be transformed by it into the place he has prepared for those who love him. His nature will not abide it, and his disposition is such that he will not save men against their will, no matter how much he would prefer to.

Goodwill and Affection

Keeping all that in mind, there is a sense in which God loves Christians in a way he cannot love the world, because we respond to his love and return it. To Christians, God can express both goodwill and his fatherly affection, just as our hearts go out to a grateful and loving child in a way that they can’t fully express themselves to truculent, immature, rebellious urchins desperately in need of discipline.

We continue to pray for these, of course, but we cannot enjoy them the way we would wish. More importantly, they cannot enjoy us.

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