God’s Love, Actually

The prophets spilled no small amount of ink clarifying God’s posture toward his people.  Had God given up on saving a people for himself (Hos 4.6)?  Could God actually overlook or forgive his people’s rebellion against him (Mic 6.9-16)? Will God sit idly by while pagan nations run roughshod over the people he claims to love (Hab 1.13)?  Can we reconcile God’s apparent displeasure with his promise of eternal love toward the very ones with whom he’s displeased?  Does God’s love wax and wane toward those he saves?  Is God mainly angry or mainly loving?

In typical eloquent fashion C.S. Lewis wrote:

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ (Rev 4:11). We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well-pleased’. . . . What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy” (The Problem of Pain, HarperCollins: 2001, pp40-41).

God is making those in Christ into someone he can love “without impediment.” That is God’s goal for all the pain, pressure, and pruning in our lives.  Scripture calls this process fiery refining (1 Pt 1.7-9).  God loves us too much to let impurity, sin, immaturity, and earthbound desires live like squatters in our hearts.

We caricature God (especially the “Old Testament God”) as constantly angry until he is persuaded to love (with our obedience, sacrifice, etc.).  God really wants to be angry with us but begrudgingly and dutifully loves us because Jesus finally makes him do so.  The prophets teach the exact opposite.  God is not angry until we persuade him to love. We are angry with God until he persuades us to love (and be loved).  We don’t make God loving.  He makes us lovable.  God loved us first (1 Jn 4.19).

God is happy whether we exist or not, or even whether we like it or not. He owns and rules every molecule in the universe to serve his own happiness (Ps 24.1; 50.10-12). He needs no help being a happy God (Acts 17.24ff). What then does a God do who owns all, rules all and needs none?  Give! There is nothing for God to get; therefore, if he does anything at all it’s an act of giving.  For a God who has nothing to gain, even the lifting of his pinky finger is an effort to give.  And give he does.

God doesn’t create us primarily to get anything from us because he has no lack. God creates us to give everything to us–himself and all his glorious excellencies. To make us recipients worthy of all he gives God gives us Jesus to make us alive and able to love.  God gives Jesus to us and us to him so that what Jesus deserves to have he gives to us.  As the Father loves the Son “without impediment,” so he conforms us into the image of the Son so he would love us likewise (Jn 17.23-24; Rom 8.28-39). Now, every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ (Eph 1.3).

We tend to make God liberal with his wrath and stingy with his love. The opposite is true.  The cross is not the work of a stingy God, but of One who is passionately jealous for a people to love (Jn 3.16).  It’s far easier to expect God’s wrath than his love. The prophets lived and died to change our minds on that.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love” (Micah 7.18).

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