Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For the love of God

One of the problems with universalism and Arminianism alike is that both positions have been so conditioned by Christian theology that they take the love of God for granted, as if that were a self-evident axiom. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on anyone who questions that axiomatic presumption.

However, the Bible treats the idea of God’s love for wicked as deeply counterintuitive. Take the following:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8).

That’s also the point of Jn 3:16, unless you’re tone-deaf to the strident overtones of the “world” in Johannine usage.

The marvel in Jn 3:16 or Rom 5:6-8 is not the idea that God loves every sinner, but that God loves any sinner. That a holy God would love the wicked is a counterintuitive and even scandalous notion.

When we hear these passages, we need to hear them for the first time. We need to remember what they would sound like in the general context of Scripture, where God is the just judge of evildoers. Too many Christians have lost the shock-value of these passages. We treat them like lullabies. “Of course God loves us! What could be more natural!”

But that’s not the Biblical perspective at all. Quite the contrary. God’s love for the lost is wholly unexpected.

Ironically, some unbelieving Jews have a better grasp of what the gospel means than some professing Christians. They are deeply offended by the cross. And they are half-right.

As a rule, it’s evil to love evildoers. Consider, for example, those who covered for SS officers after the war. Allowed them to flee the authorities. Escape to Latin America. That’s evil.

The only thing that even makes it possible for God to forgive the wicked is penal substitution. That harmonizes justice with mercy.

But there’s no antecedent presumption that God loves the wicked. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, that should always strike you as something utterly surprising. If you don’t grasp that fact, then you’ve missed the boat on what the gospel is all about.


  1. And then there are the universalists who are universalists because we are first orthodox trinitarian theists, who thereby take the love of God as being essential to God's own constitutive reality, directly exclusive to other theistic propositions.

    But I understand, you weren't talking about us. {g}

    (After all, we're admittedly pretty rare; and your time can be said, in a real way, to be more efficiently spent going after the easier targets.)


  2. Hi Steve,

    Good post.

    God be with you,

  3. I know this is a couple of years old, so no one's going to see it, LOL. I just had to say, it seems to me the love of God for His enemies is "surprising" to us because our ways are so much beneath His.

    Is that not the significance of Is 55? "Return to Me, and I will have compassion on you, for My ways are not like your ways!"

    This being the case we should not always be surprised at His love for His enemies--rather we should grow into emulation of it as we are filled with His Spirit, take His yoke, and walk in His footsteps.