Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Love of God

* Notes from a Bible study.  Part of a series on the attributes of God.

Love of God

A.     God is love: 1 John 4.8-10

a.     God, not culture, defines what love is

I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God—to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.

The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable.  The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.[1]  –D. A. Carson

b.     Love defined by God’s giving of his Son to be the propitiation for sins

                                               i.     Propitiation presupposes God’s wrath against sin

                                              ii.     “[P]ropitiation is not a turning of the wrath of God into love… It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving.  This would be entirely false.  It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving.  That is profoundly true.”[2]

B.     God’s love for sinners

a.     John 3.16

b.     Romans 5.8

c.      Galatians 2.20

C.     Exodus 34.6-7: “the John 3:16 of the Old Testament” (VTS: Vacation Torah School)

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.

a.     Placement in Exodus à Ex 32-34: Golden Calf episode

                                               i.     Exodus 25-31: instructions for building tabernacle
                                              ii.     Exodus 35-40: people build tabernacle per instructions

It is easy to overlook the profound theological significance of its place in the literary structure.[3]

The emphasis to this point in Exodus has been on the holiness of God and the demand for the holiness of God’s people.  But here terms of love and grace are piled one on the other to reassure Israel that God will dwell among his people as a gracious, loving, compassionate, patient, faithful, and forgiving God.  The name Yahweh is now associated with his covenant love (hesed).  This term is “normally translated as ‘steadfast love,’ ‘covenant fidelity,’ or the like.  This becomes the word which from this point onwards summarizes the divine commitment to the relationship.”  God binds himself to Israel in love.[4]

b.     Passages where this complex of attributes appears

                                               i.     Numbers 14.18
                                              ii.     2 Chronicles 30.9
                                            iii.     Nehemiah 9.17, 31
                                            iv.     Psalms 86.15; 103.8; 145.8[5]
                                              v.     Jeremiah 32.18
                                            vi.     Joel 2.13
                                           vii.     Jonah 4.2
                                         viii.     Nahum 1.3

D.    D. A. Carson’s list of different ways the Bible speaks about the love of God[6]

a.     The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father

                                               i.     John 17.24
                                              ii.     John 3.35
                                            iii.     John 14.31

b.     God’s providential love over all the he has made.

                                               i.     Genesis 1—everything is “good”
                                              ii.     Matthew 6.25-30—birds and flowers: “common grace”

If this were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson that Jesus drives home, viz. that this God can be trusted to provide for his own people, would be incoherent.[7]

                                            iii.     Acts 14.17—“he did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

c.      God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world

                                               i.     John 3.16
                                              ii.     1 Timothy 2.4
                                            iii.     2 Peter 3.9

·      We will look at this more closely when we look at election.  Does God love all people or just the elect?

d.     God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.

                                               i.     Deuteronomy 7.7-8: God’s election of Israel
                                              ii.     Ephesians 5.25: “loved the church”
                                            iii.     Romans 8.35-39

e.     God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience.

                                               i.     Jude 21: “keep yourselves in the love of God”
                                              ii.     John 15.9-10: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love”

                                            iii.     This is a common notion in Reformed/Calvinistic theology but not in Lutheran theology. 

                                            iv.     “The distinction between amor benevolentiæ and amor complacentiæ, used by almost all of the Reformed orthodox, explains how God loves us unconditionally in Christ, apart from works, and conditionally in Christ, in light of our obedience or lack thereof (see Jn. 14:21). In other words, God loves us, despite our unworthiness with the love of benevolence; but he also loves us because of our close communion and obedience with him with the love of complacency. He delights in certain graces (e.g., acts of faith).”[8]

                                              v.     “Behind this emphasis lies a distinction with which we are not too familiar, that between the love of God’s benevolence or mercy, and his love of complacence or delight. Why is this distinction unfamiliar to us? Is it because we think of God’s mercy, and the life of faith, of sanctification, as solely motivated by gratitude for what that mercy has procured? But there is more to it than this. God delights in his people. (Ps. 147.11, 149.4) How so? When there is evidence of their Christ-like renewal. So Christians are to ‘walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,’ following Christ who pleased his Father (2 Pet. 1.17, Col. 1.10; 3.20, I Thess. 2.4,  2 Thess. 1.11). God does not delight in his people 'just as they are' but insofar as they come, fitfully and imperfectly, to take on a Christian character. Are there conditions required to qualify people in coming to the Cross? Certainly not. The Lord receives us just as we are. Are there conditions for divine delight in his people? Most certainly. Is the pleasing of God the ambition of Christians today?”[9]

[1] D. A. Carson The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, 2000), 11.
[2] John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 31.
[3] Michael W. Goheen A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Baker, 2011), 44.
[4] Michael W. Goheen A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Baker, 2011), 45.  Goheen is quoting Dumbrell Covenant and Creation.
[5] The word “lovingkindness” appears 125 times in Psalms in NASB.
[6] D. A. Carson The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, 2000), 16-21.  Available online: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_difficult_doctrine_of_the_love_of_God.pdf
[7] D. A. Carson The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, 2000), 17.
[8] Mark Jones in his review of the work of Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.  See online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2014/03/tullian-tchividjians-jesus-nothing.html. 
[9] Paul Helm, “Mark Jones’ New Book.”  Available online: http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2014/03/mark-joness-new-book.html.  Helm is reviewing Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (P&R, 2013).  Also see Wayne Grudem’s essay “Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching.”  Available online: http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Pleasing-God-by-Our-Obedience.pdf