Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"God Is Love" and Election

There is a question which I hear a lot. I hear it often enough that it deserves some attention. The question is, to state it plainly, about the doctrine of election and the doctrine of God's love. If election is true, then how does God call Himself love when the majority of His creation is going to be separated from Him for all eternity?

The first thing to do when approaching this question is to get the concepts right from the get-go. When most people hear the phrase "God is love," they think to themselves that it means "God loves me." In reality, it is a statement that is rooted in the ontology (the nature) of God's very character. If God is love, then He has always eternally been love; and this love cannot be predicated merely upon the existence of human beings. Otherwise, John would have rooted the concept of God's love in mankind. Rather, the Apostle John says, "God is love." God loves Himself, and has always loved Himself. All of his action reflects a love of and a commitment to His own name, his own glory, his own fame, etc. This relates to the doctrine of divine simplicity in that even God's wrath is loving, because it contains no compromise of Himself. When God is wrathful, he is upholding and loving His own name, His own glory, by punishing those who slight it.

So the idea that God loves Himself does not exclude His showing that love which He already has to humanity. But all deeds and expressions of love which God demonstrates serve this primary purpose: expressing God's self-love. If this does not happen, then God's love is compromised. It becomes an idolatrous and unfaithful kind of love. Any and everything which God does is rooted in love... of Himself, first and foremost.

So when we see God's wrath, we are seeing love. Albeit, a very God-centered type of love which most evangelicals have scarcely ever considered. In the same way, when we hear and receive the offer of salvation found in Jesus, we are also seeing God's love for Himself. This salvation serves to emphasize and display God's graciousness to his enemies. Evangelicals, for the most part, have exclusivized God's love to this second manifestation. They can scarcely see what is so loving about God's wrath, but they think they see lots of loving things about His mercy.

If we have really been thinking in this way, then we will be more troubled by salvation than we will by damnation. Salvation presents enormous problems for God's love. This is because in salvation, we have God, a good judge, acting like a bad judge and acquitting the guilty. He appears to regard His own name lightly. In saving sinners, He appears not to love and defend His own name. There are far more problems in God's pardoning the wicked than there are in his executing justice upon deserving sinners.

So look at the complaint before us, once again. "How does God call Himself love when the majority of His creation is going to be separated from Him for all eternity?" The question assumes that the height of love is for the creature to find union with God in eternity. And no doubt, there is a tremendous amount of truth to that - especially from the human perspective. But when looked at from the divine perspective, the complaint becomes a wash. "God is love" is compatible with any and all of God's actions, so long as He is always acting in a way which primarily promotes His own fame.

This understanding of God's essence as "loving" lays the essential groundwork for a true, robust, Biblically faithful understanding of election. If we don't have this groundwork, then we'll constantly be saying, "But He could have done more! He could have been more loving!" These complaints fall away once we can see God's love in his wrath and his justice. The Biblical mindset, then, does not protest, but instead cries out, "Show us your glory! Show us your justice! Show us your grace! Show us Yourself!" It does not - nay, it cannot - complain that God has not been enough of this, or enough of that.

We ought to consider, as well, that the number of the elect who will inhabit heaven and worship the Lord of Glory will be more numerous than the sands of the sea (Jer. 33:22). This is no small number. I have pointed out in another post that around 635 billion people are estimated to have lived throughout history. If even a small fraction of this number receive the gift of salvation, then we would regard the population of heaven as being numberless. Consider that the population of Phoenix, AZ, where I used to live has a population of around 4.3 million. I daresay that if God had only saved 4 million people in all of human history, we ought to consider it a tremendous number. And yet the number is surely even larger than that. The hosts of heaven will be so many that we will be daunted by the men and women purchased by our Lord.

Given what I have already said, even here there is no room to complain. There is no room to struggle against the doctrine of election or the number of the saved. Any complaint or charge of injustice or cruelty on the part of God is dwarfed by the love of God for Himself and His own name.

1 comment:

  1. No room to complain, but plenty of room to wonder about the magnitude of such love of God shown through His Son! Amazing!
    "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." Rev. 5:9


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