We suspect that, deep down, most people can sense that the existence of this world is no cosmic accident – the notion that we are all an insignificant dot in the grand scheme of things does match our intuitive sense of worth and of the complexity of the world around us. However, we can struggle to reconcile the existence of God, particularly a God of love, when looking at the mess of the world around us. This becomes even more acute when hit with personal afflictions and tragedies. Even in this does not apply to us directly, we all know of others who endure horrific suffering of various kinds. This can easily reinforce the belief that even if there is a God, He cannot be a God of love.
Furthermore, isn’t the picture of God from the Bible at least partially one of judgment and punishment? How is this consistent with love and mercy?
We resolutely stress that God’s attributes of being both loving and a judge work in perfect harmony – this is not wishing thinking or blind logic – it rests on the balance of the way God is presented in the Bible.
God is love
Love is one of our greatest desires and instinct – we all have an instinctive desire to love and be loved, no matter much this is suppressed. Unfortunately, as humans, this is often not manifested in the way intended. Although we express love through friends, relationships and family, this love will always fall short and is never everlasting. We fail in so many ways which cause relationships to break down and even if we have a long-lasting relationship we know that death is a reality – separating us from the ones we love. When our partners or family are no longer there, the vacuum is often one of loneliness and despair. This is not the case with God, nothing can separate us from Him, as Charles Spurgeon said:
As God created us with this desire to be loved, it follows that He is the only one who can fully meet this need. Love is not just something that He offers but is the way He is – it is an innate attribute of His character. The apostle John writes:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 NIV)
The Greek word used for love in this passage is “agapé”. Unfortunately, in our culture, we usually associate the word “love” with romantic or sexual feelings for a loved one or even a brotherly love for family and friends – in the Bible, different Greeks words are used for this kind of love. Agapé love has a different meaning – it is the ultimate form of sacrificial love that is only concerned with the benefit of the person loved. In its purest form, it is only a love that only God can demonstrate as it is an undeserved form of love – from a human perspective, the love of a baby is probably the closest we could get to experience this, but even that would be slightly polluted in comparison to God’s love for us.
This type of love is virtually impossible for us to understand as it surpasses everything we can imagine.
Love is just one of God’s attributes but it is the one that can touch us the deepest as our in-built human nature craves to be loved. In recent years, especially in the “emerging church” environment, the term “love wins” has been used as a slogan implying that everyone can make it into heaven. Many cannot accept that a loving God can condemn anyone to an eternal hell so, this “feel-good” teaching is promoted in error.
It is important to stress that God does not condemn anyone to hell – it is our choice to accept Jesus or not and we must live with the consequences of our decision! But we must understand all of God attributes – the emphasize one of God attributes and ignore the others unbalanced and allows our emotions to blind us from scriptural truth.
God is holy and just, everything He is and does is perfect. But, let’s not forget, God does hate too, He hates sin! Sin (or our rebellion against God) is what separates us from Him – each one of us has lost our connection with God. The only way to restore this connection is to be righteous is His eyes, this is only possible by accepting Jesus’ payment for our sins.
Why can’t we always feel God’s love?
We all have periods in our lives when we struggle and feel alone. In this loneliness, we should be reassured that God never leaves us. If you feel a long way from God at the present time, it will not be God that moved – it will most likely be you! The more we conform to this world around us the more distant we will be to God. This is a dangerous road to be on, the longer we stay away from God the harder it will be to believe that God loves us. Like any relationship, if one person moves far away that relationship will break down. God will never move away from us but we can edge Him out of our lives and lose the that close connection we once had.
Once we understand that God has an immense and unbreakable love for us, it should be reassuring to us that God does know us inside out and should cause us to lean on Him at all times.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. (Proverbs 8:17 NIV)
What greater love
Can there be a greater love than our Creator coming in the flesh to die so that we do not have to face the deserved wrath of God?! God’s love is shown to us at the cross!
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NIV)
This is the greatest demonstration of love there could be and it is a love for us as individuals! Even if you were the only sinner in the world God would have still sent His son to die for you. Jesus Christ voluntarily went through all the pain, suffering and rejection because of His love for us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
Our temporary earthly lives should pale into insignificance because of this. It is impossible for us to process what happened on that cross – the physical and mental pain is horrific enough, but there was a spiritual dimension to this that is unfathomable to us. All to demonstrate an infinite love for us. To our Creator God, we are so valued – proof of a love so great that we can be called “children of God”:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1 NIV)
And “co-heirs with Christ”:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17 NIV)
This is an everlasting relationship with God Himself – and we have the promise of being with Christ on his throne:
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 NIV)
These are incredible promises!
Jesus Christ is coming back!
Although God’s full plan is beyond our understanding we have a guarantee that Jesus Christ is coming back. God’s love does not end with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection – He has promised to come back for those that know and love Him!
We can see that the world and society are falling apart and imploding – Scripture warns us that this would be the case in the end times. This does not mean God has changed in any way – it is His desire for everyone to be saved, that is why He is delaying His return:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
God hates what is happening in the world but it certainly is not a surprise to Him as He has told us to expect this dramatic moral decline in the lead up to Jesus’ return. Our loving God is waiting as long as possible for even the most unrepentant people to turn to Him, but He will not wait forever. Many will choose not to accept God’s love and there will come a time with it will be too late.
Respond To God’s Love
Our Creator God is a God of love in more ways than we can comprehend and we will only fully understand this when we are with Him in our resurrected bodies. Until then we have to respond to the love He has shown us through His son Jesus Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
An understanding that we are sinners and undeserving of anything, God’s love should shine through in our lives. We can experience His love and mercy through the forgiveness of our sins – not a day should go past where we are not thankful for this.
As we live in this troubled world it is essential we walk with Jesus Christ each day:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV)
The closer we walk with him, the more we can experience and understand God’s true love for us. An agapé love that is stronger and more incredible than we can imagine!
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV)
This story from Sundar Singh helps put another perspective on God’s love for us:
Believe that nothing can separate you from His love amazing love:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NIV)