Friday, October 8

God's Love

In the last post on God's goodness, I mentioned that God's love and God's goodness are closely related. They both have to do with God being one who is by nature a giver. While the term love is sometimes used in scripture in relation to God's general providence--the things he does to sustain creation--it is most often used in relation to redemption, which is the rescuing or saving work of God. In fact, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross is pointed to in scripture as the way it is that God loves:
....God is love..... In this is love:.... that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10)
And again:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son....(John 3:16 NET)
Redemption is the supreme example of God's love. God is love, so he saves even at great cost, and costly redemption is the way he loves.

Examining this costly redemption proves to us the infinite depth of God's love. He saves sacrificially--giving up his own Son--and that sacrificial giving is done not for those who are in some way giving back to him, or even neutral toward him, but for those who are rejecting him. The kind of love God has is the kind of love that gives sacrificially to those who hate him.
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us....while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:8,10 NET).
God's love is a love that rescues the unlovely and unworthy by giving up something precious in order to do it. It surpasses what we can know fully or understand completely. Mind-boggling love, it is; and immeasurable in the same way that all the other aspects of his character are, for his "love is great to the heavens."

God's love is free. It is not compelled or "called forth" by anything within the object of his love. The reason for God's love is simply that God has a loving character that he expresses.
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.... (Deuteronomy &:7,8 NET)
If you strip this sentence down to the bare bones of what is being said, you get this: "The Lord set his love on you....because the Lord loves you." God's own love is the cause of his own love, and not anything desirable within the objects of his love. It is a free and unforced (or uninfluenced) sovereign love. He loves because He is love.

This idea is particularly difficult for me to wrap my mind around. Love for us is an emotion of response. It is called out in some way by the ones we love, even if it is only their extreme helplessness that influences us. We make a connection of some sort with something about the object of our love first, and love grows out of that connection. We love our children because they were born tugging at our heart strings. The love of God works the other way around. He loves, and so he connects. He loves us, and so he pulls us to him. We love him back only because he loved us first.

We love because he loved us first; but he loves because he loves. Scripture tells me this is so, and I can understand reasonably that it's the only way it could be, for God must necessarily be free and sovereign if he is God. If God was compelled to act by anything outside of his own character, then whatever it was that compelled God to act would be ruling over God. I know this must be so even while I can't imagine how it can be so. It is perfectly right that his love be love that loves the unloveable, and that it be based only within his own loving purpose (1 Timothy 1:9).

Like all his other attributes, God's love is eternal and unchanging. (I'm putting those two things together because it seems that something immutable must necessarily be eternal, and something eternal cannot change.) There are many references in Scripture to the steadfastness or faithfulness of God's love. It also tells us that the Father loves the Son, and if these two are co-eternal, then their love must be eternal. We know, too, that his love for us is eternal, for God lovingly chose us before the foundation of the world. His love for us exists outside of our own existence and has its place in the realm of the eternal.

God's love is also particular: not persnickity particular, but particular in the sense of being selective rather than only being generally diffused. There is a certain sense in which God's love is general toward humankind, for out of his love he provides and sustains us all; but at the same time, there is a sense in which God's love is more definite. God's love was with those within the nation Israel in a way it was not with those in the nations around them.
However, only to your ancestors did he show his loving favor, and he chose you, their descendants, from all peoples--as is apparent today. (Deuteronomy 10:15)
In the New Testament, as well, we see that God has a special sort of love for his own people. He loved his church and gave himself for her. Out of his special love for them, he disciplines those who are his own children, and that we are on the receiving end of God's disciplining love is proof that we are one of his accepted children (Hebrews 12).

God's love flows to us individually. Most often, scripture refers to the objects of God's love as a group--us, or the church, or his people, or the world--but we can also understand that he loves us individually. Those who belong to him can rejoice along with the Apostle Paul that "I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)."

God is the only source of real love, so God's own love is the true source of any love that we have toward others. If we are his--if we belong to the Source of all love--then we will be loving. From 1 John 4: is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
From 1 John 4 we also learn that this love that God's children show to others is a work of God's Spirit within them:
If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit.
God's Spirit resides in those who love one another, and that love to one another is produced by the Spirit of the God of love.

It is also through the Spirit that we come to understand the marvelous nature of the deep, deep love God has for us.
I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NET)
The love of Christ surpasses knowledge, but we can know it through the power of the Spirit, who roots us and grounds us in love.

That God loved us is our security. We can rest in the nature this love. If God did not spare the Son he loved because of his love for us, we can know that his love is the sort of love we can count on to give us everything else that we need. God's love for us has already cost him immensely; he will not give up on us now. There is no longer anything or any circumstance that can take God's love from us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will trouble, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness,
or danger, or sword?
As it is written, "For your sake we encounter death all day long;
we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we have complete victory
through him who loved us!
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor heavenly rulers,
nor things that are present, nor things to come,
nor powers,
nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in creation
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:35-39)