Thursday, May 12, 2005

Does God Love Everyone? (Redux)

19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)
I am giving the sermon at our church this Sunday. Although I have taught adult Sunday School for the past three years, this is the first time I will give the message. I was free to choose any topic (except, I suppose, infant baptism, which I support, but which would be a bit strange to preach about in a Baptist church.) Since the pastor will be gone, and I don?t want to scare any of his congregation away, I have decided to preach on a seeker-sensitive topic: Hell.

As part of the sermon I will look at the puzzle: How can God send those He loves to eternal torment? My answer: He doesn't. Send people that He loves, that is. You see, I don't believe that the bible teaches anywhere that God loves everyone, and in fact, as I've blogged before, (generating tons of hate mail*) I think it clearly teaches that He doesn't love everyone, so there is no conundrum.

While not a proof text, it seems to me that the passage from 1 John above speaks to this matter.

We assume John is writing to believers, those who love God. His message, in simplest terms, is that if you do not love your brother (which I take to mean a fellow believer) then you do not love God. You supposed love for God is a lie.

Notice, however, that John writes that we love (God, and by extension our brothers) because He first loved us.

The word "because" points to more than a prerequisite, it points to a cause. It is not only required that God love us before we love Him, it is the source of our love.

The question is whether God's love is always effectual, sometimes effectual, or never effectual (in causing us to love God back.)

Suppose God loves everybody. Then:
  1. God's love is always effectual:    everyone loves God
  2. God's love is never effectual:    who knows?
  3. God's love is sometimes effectual:    some people love God

(1) leads to universalism. (2) makes John a liar in v. 19. (3) is the best interpretation in this scenario, although we are left with troubling notion of God's love being effectual "sometimes."

Suppose God does not love everybody. Then:
  1. God's love is always effectual:    some people love God, exactly those whom He loved first
  2. God's love is never effectual:    who knows?
  3. God's love is sometimes effectual:    some people love God

Here (2) and (3) suffer the same problems as in the "God loves everybody" case above. Choice (1), however, strikes me as being consistent with everything else we find in the bible. God chooses some, and his choosing is always effectual. We respond, in time, with love for God. And one necessary sign of that calling, John is telling us, is that we love our brother.

* In the original debate, most of the Reformed argued that God loves everyone, although He offers only "saving love" for the elect. This universal love is not the prevenient grace of Arminians, which although non-existent at least has the virtue that by all appearances it is worthy of the mantle "universal", for it (mistakenly) postulates potential salvation for all. No, the universal love for many Reformed is merely that God does not make life as miserable as possible for the non-elect:
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt. 5:45)

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14:17)
Indeed, who could argue otherwise? By measures of the pleasures of this world, the wicked often do quite well.

I argued that you can call this love if you like, but I would not use that term, preferring the more accurate common grace. This so-called love offers little to the recipient other than an infinitesimal calm before an eternal storm of agonizing punishment. If I am non-elect, I would greatly prefer the prevenient grace of the Arminians to the universal love of certain Calvinists.

This universal love was offered by some Reformed as mitigating the clear but unpleasant teaching of scripture that God hates (e.g., Rom. 9:13). Yes, God hates, some agreed, but He also loves those He hates. People can hate and love a person can they not? Perhaps, for what that is worth. Although the analogy, even if superficially valid, ultimately breaks down, for which human can say to another "I love you, but because I also hate you I will subject you to eternal torture in the fires that don?t consume, and there is no possibility of reconciliation or escape." This, however, is what God is said to do with those He hates and loves.

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