This past week’s message by Matt was admittedly difficult. In case you have not yet had the opportunity to check it out, I highly encourage you to do so. He summarized the previous week’s teaching on the sinful state of mankind and then directed us to Romans 8 to talk about how it is that man’s natural rebellion against God is overcome. In doing so, he spoke about terms like predestination and election and how these concepts relate to God’s foreknowledge. Matt explained that foreknowledge in the Scriptures is not merely God looking into the future, but rather God loving from eternity those whom He calls to Himself. To foreknow is not to know about before time, but rather to intimately know before time, to choose before time, to love before time. For more on that, take some time to read Ephesians 1 and notice all of the references to predestination and choosing.
So, if God loves some people from before the foundation of the world and thus predestines those people, calls them to Himself, justifies them and glorifies them, does that mean that He does not love everyone?
I highly encourage anyone asking this question to read D.A. Carson’s small, but theologically thick The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It is highly instructive in answering this question. I will give a general overview of the concept below, but really hope you will take the time to check out this resource if this question lingers in your mind.
So, does God love everyone?
First, we must recognize that love is a complex term. Humanity experiences this complexity in the sense that we truly love our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children, and our friends. We are also instructed to love our neighbors and even enemies. Is each of those loves valid? Yes. Is each of these love synonymous? Not at all. I do not love my mom and dad the exact same way that I love my Home Group community and hopefully not the same way I will one day love my children or wife.
God’s love is similarly complex. Within the Trinity is a mutual love between persons. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit and they in turn love Him. In addition to this inter-trinitarian love, He also loves the people He has created. He also loves inanimate creation like flowers, trees, and rivers. However, we should not conclude that the Father loves the sun in the same way that He loves His Son.
We can confidently say that God loves everyone. At the same time, the Scriptures declare that there is a distinct love which God has for those whom He sovereignly chooses to draw unto Himself in the glories of the gospel. We see this language quite clearly in the not-so-popular Romans 9:13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”
(By the way, you might check out Luke 14:26 for another use of the Greek word translated as “hated” here. In it we find Jesus telling us to “hate” our families and our own lives. This does not mean that we have nothing to do with them, but rather that we love them less than we do Him. He is our treasure and so compared to our love for Him, all of our affections for family, friends and self are lesser. We need to love Him differently than we love others. God maintains a similar right to love some in a distinct way from His love for others.)
Here are some of the different ways that the Bible speaks about the love of God (taken from Carson’s work):
- The peculiar love of the Father for the Son and Son for the Father – John 3:35, 5:20; 14:31
- The providential love over all that He has made – though the Scriptures do not directly use the word love here, the fact that He clothes the lilies and feeds all creatures certainly implies love.
- God’s general love for a fallen world – John 3:16
- God’s particular love for the elect – Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 9:13; Ephesians 5:25
Once again, this is really difficult and I encourage you to really wrestle with it (rather than simply rejecting it). If this strikes you as unfair or unloving of God, you have two options:
- Believe that God truly is unfair or unloving. This is not the recommended response.
- Believe that you just do not understand how a loving God sovereignly elects and seek help (from God through prayer and Scripture, from Home Group leaders, from pastors at the church, etc.).
I have two general rules to remember when I read the Scriptures. First, that God is absolutely sovereign and does whatever He wants and is right for doing so. Second, that God is absolutely beautiful and lovely and everything He does is good. When my interpretation of the Scriptures leads me to doubt one of those pillars, then I constantly need to go back and confess that the problem lies in my understanding, not in God or the Scriptures.