Monday, April 02, 2007

God is Love

Amen! God is love and I have great hope and security knowing the truth that is communicated in John’s epistle. As a matter of fact, this statement of truth comes from one of the very first bible verse sections that I ever memorized. I learned these few verses because of a song that I sang in Sunday school.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)
I love and believe the verses cited above. However, I believe that these verses are being abused and mistreated inside of Christendom and are being played as the trump card in defining the sum of God’s attributes. God is love. He is more than “just” love, He is perfect and complete love in its purest form. He is the definition of love, because it is only our basis of knowledge of Him that we have any definition or application of love. However, God is also angry with sin and His wrath will be upon those who die in their sins.

Let me make a quick caveat and say that in no way do I want to communicate that God is unloving. To say that God is unloving is like saying that a square is round. But saying that God is loving and filled with wrath is not making the farcical display of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Let me use the picture of a Rubik’s Cube in an attempt to illustrate my point. We could describe this shape in a variety of ways. Perhaps a simplistic way would be to say that it is square or that it is a cube. We could also describe this same cube as being a specific size (large or small) and that it is red, yellow, and blue (and with a bit more research we would find that it usually is also includes the colors orange, white, and green as well). We could also say truthfully that it has pointy edges and go on to describe the various ways that the cube can be shifted and mixed up. I would not tell someone that they are distorting the description of this cube if they described it with the detail above. Likewise, simply calling it a cube is true even if only in a very shallow or general sense. Saying that God is love is true and I would never say that He is not. However, this description is not the fullest expression of who God is in the same way that describing this object is a cube doesn’t give us the full and true picture of what it is either.

If I were to say that describing this object as a cube was the absolute way to understand it and that no other attributes about it can be put forward as equally valid in helping to fully describe and clarify what it is, I would be communicating an utterly false perception of what it is. I recently heard a statement that was attributed to J.I. Packer that applies to this very issue and, perhaps, can illustrate my point. That saying goes like this, “A half truth presented as a whole truth is complete untruth.”

Now why am I going to such lengths to make my point that God is love but He is not just love or that He is not all loving? The two reasons are that the Bible doesn’t describe God as all loving (to the exclusion of being wrath-filled, just, and holy) and that people often state that God is love when confronted with their own sin in an effort to skirt the issue and say, “God will forgive me because that’s what He does…He is love.”

Let me expound a bit on the second of my two reasons first. The usual time that the statement “God is love” is made is when I (or when I hear others) attempt to either witness to an unbeliever or when I discuss Scripture and the gospel with those inside of Christendom. There is a large movement inside of Christendom where people are over emphasizing the love attribute of God so that it overshadows many other attributes. It is this method by which some theologians are questioning the reality, the existence, and the reason for hell. The philosophy says that a loving God would not send people to hell or try to convince people to believe in Him by using intimidation, coercion, and the threat violence.

This distortion of the message of the Bible and the gospel has been the message that has been communicated to western culture. It has been communicated so well that whether people go to church or not, they usually think of the God of the Bible only in terms of love. It doesn’t surprise me that those outside of the direct influence of a church would cling to this idea that God is loving while excluding His demands for personal perfection and holiness because this would be exactly the god that men would create for themselves in order to soothe their consciences because of their sinful living. However it is sad to think that this is the way that many inside of Christendom view God when they should have a fuller and more complete view of God from the Bible.

This leads me to the other reason, the primary of the two, that I am so ardently opposed to this view. This view of God is contrary to the gospel of Christ and the testimony of Scripture. There is a grand case (an open and shut case) to be made about the reality of an eternal hell, the final judgment, the wrath of God, and so many other doctrines about God that would show the truth of God’s nature. It would show that God is indeed a loving God, but it would also show that He is a Just God who must act justly towards lawbreakers. This would also show that the standard of God’s law is God Himself express in His holiness and seen through the moral law of God.

However, with the kind of “sound bite” theology that is usually employed during this type of discussion, any in depth look at a single attribute of God would fall on deaf ears, or it would be missed because of a short attention span. So I have compiled a list of “sound bite” descriptions of God like “The Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3) to use in order to combat the “God is love” defense that people use for why God wouldn’t judge mankind and send guilty sinners to Hell. Also, please notice that there are references in both the New and Old Testaments for these descriptions. On one hand this is unnecessary because God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but since there is another common objection, I wanted to nip that one in the bud too.

This other objection is the one that says that the God of the Old Testament was the angry and wrathful one whereas the God of the New Testament is the peaceful and loving God. It’s the same God, but He’s changed in some way. No, it doesn’t make sense, but that is what people say. Funny, huh? So, without further ado, here is the list of “sound bites” to combat the assertion that God is love to the exclusion of or in an overshadowing way as to trump His other attributes.

There is nothing super scientific or theologically complex for how I came up with this list. I simply searched the Word of God for the occurrences of “God is” (135 times) and “the Lord is” (186 times) and here are some of the results.

God (the Lord) is…

... a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18)
... a God of knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3)
... a God of recompense, He will fully repay (Jeremiah 51:56)
... a light (Micah 7:8)
... a righteous judge (Psalms 7: 11)
... a shield (Proverbs 30:5)
... a sun and shield (Psalms 84:11)
... a victorious warrior (Zepheniah 3:17)
... a warrior (Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 20:4)
... a witness (Judges 11:10)
... avenging and wrathful (Daniel 9:14; Nahum 1:12)
... awesome (Deuteronomy 7:21)
... compassionate (Deuteronomy 4:31; Psalms 103:8; 116:5)
... evident (Romans 1:19)
... far from the wicked (Proverbs 15:29)
... God (1 Kings 8: 60)
... good (Psalms 34:8; 100:5; 1 Timothy 4:4)
... gracious (2 Chronicles 30:9)
... great (Deuteronomy 7:21 Psalms 95:3)
... greater than man (Job 33:12)
... greater than our heart (1 John 3:20)
... mighty (Job 36:5)
... my fortress (2 Samuel 22:33)
... my Good (Psalms 73:28)
... my king (Psalms 74:12)
... my light and my salvation (Psalms 27:1)
... my rock (2 Samuel 22:2)
... my salvation (Isaiah 12:2)
... my shepherd (Psalms 23:1)
... my strength and song (Exodus 15:2)
... my stronghold (Psalms 59:9. 17)
... not a man (Numbers 23:19)
... not slow about His promise (2 Peter 3:9)
... one (Deuteronomy 6:4: Galatians 3:20)
... refuge and strength (Psalms 46:1)
... righteous (Psalms 11:7; 129:4)
... ruler (Daniel 5:21)
... slow to anger (Numbers 14:18; Nahum 1:3)
... Spirit (John 4:24)
... the avenger (1 Thessalonians 4:6)
... the God of gods (Deuteronomy 10:17)
... the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3)
... the King of all the earth (Psalms 47:7)
... the Lord (Psalms 144:15
... the righteous one (Exodus 9:27)
... the salvation of Israel (Jeremiah 3:23)
... the strength of my heart (Psalms 73:26)
... the sustainer of my soul (Psalms 54:4)
... true (John 3:33)
... upright (Psalms 92: 15)
... wise (1 Corinthians 1:25)

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