Unbelievers all seem to have their own ideas of who or what God is. For many, they claim He doesn’t exist. For others, He does exist, but He’s not active in creation in any personal way. Then there are some who believe, if He exists, He would have to be some kind of tyrannical, destructive, selfish, mean dictator — otherwise how do you explain pain, disease, natural disasters, starvation, and human suffering?
At least, that’s what I’ve heard on more than one occasion. But I think it goes without saying that no unbeliever can be faulted for their view of God — whatever it may be — because they don’t know Him. And they don’t understand sin.
Romans 1 says all are “without excuse” in terms of the existence of God, but a tree isn’t going to transmit the Gospel of John or the Old Testament into anyone’s soul. Considering the pretenses of the unconverted, it also goes without saying that God is not going to seem loving to them. After all, “A god that allows any kind of evil could not possibly be loving.” Moreover, “A god who sends people to hell could not possibly be loving.”
Unpacking those arguments against God would require their own articles. However, reflecting on how unbelievers define Him made me realize something: How amazing is it that God is not like that? That He is just toward the wicked, and wrathful toward sin, and yet, He is a loving Father. You don’t know this until you know Him by being in a relationship with Him. And even then, I believe we undermine how significant this truly is.
R.C. Sproul, pastor and theologian, once said, “[A]n evangelist can always get a crowd if he continually speaks in meaningless terms about the love of God.” In other words, it’s easy to be flippant because, as he continued to say, “I don’t think there’s any word in the English language that’s been stripped of the depth of meaning such as that word love.” These statements are pulled from his sermon series, “Loved by God,” in which he emphasized the crucial distinction between secular love and biblical love — more specifically, the slippery slope of viewing biblical love through the lens of secular love. It’s a conflation we ought to avoid.
When we view the love of God by any secular standard or definition, we flatten it. We strip it of its magnitude, and we only do ourselves a disservice in the process. Yes, to some extent, our perspectives will always be tainted by our finite understandings, but we (particularly believers) should strive to understand Scripture as it pertains to its holy Author, not by its flawed readers. The reason why Sproul emphasized the common misuse of the word “love” is because, in relation to God, it should cause us to be dumbfounded. Truly analyzing the love of God should leave us breathless and in awe.
God could have been all wrath, all fury, all judgement, and all the things many unbelievers make Him up to be. But instead, even before the foundation of the world, He is (and will always be) love. He didn’t need to create us, because even before us, He, the Son, and the Spirit all had their being within one another — the perfect and holy Trinity. However, He chose to create us. And the Garden of Eden was one of His first depictions of love toward us because it was a depiction of how things were supposed to be. Work was not laborious but enjoyable. Adam and Eve could walk with God, unhindered, in the cool of the day. Sin had not flooded into the earth, which meant there was no separation between the Creator and His created beings.
But God also showed us His love by giving us free will, even though Adam and Eve used that free will to rebel against Him. However, their rebellion is what led to the most perfect display of love we could ever fathom both in the macro and the micro sense of the term.
In love, God made a plan to redeem us. He sent down His Son, who then walked among us, despised and rejected. The Son of Man was mocked, beaten, and scorned by the men of earth. He stripped Himself of His glory, faced the complete wrath of His Father, and died an indescribably painful death. He suffered in more ways than one, but in no way greater than by taking on the sins of all mankind to make us right with God. He rose again on the third day and shortly after ascended to the right hand of the Father.
And still, we were not left alone.
The Spirit of God flooded the earth and now dwells in those who believe. So, even amid the horrors of this life — the pain, suffering, illnesses, disasters, wars, and persecution — we have never been left alone. The unbeliever could never understand how these evils only exist because of sin. Nor could they understand how much they reveal God’s love and goodness.
But you see it, right? Even before the fall, God already had a plan to restore the perfect union represented in the garden to an even greater capacity. He has never stopped pursuing His people. All of time portrays the message of Romans 8:35-39:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
My God is Love. He sent His own Son to die for me. He is faithful, merciful, and gracious to ensure nothing could separate us from Him. The God I serve is patient when I fall short. He is tender and kind. My God is sovereign and holds me in His righteous right hand. He walks me through the valley of the shadow of death. He keeps me afloat in the bottomless pool and unscathed in the middle of the fire. He disciplines and guides me when I go astray. Even when I ignore or disobey, He remains planted with arms wide open, ready to embrace even the most dreadful of sinners.
All of this is true because my God is love.
Sproul said no word is more stripped of its meaning than the word “love,” because there are no number of words that could do it justice. But this I know: If you really pay attention to the love of God and it doesn’t leave you starstruck, then you’re either reading it with too much of a secular understanding or you’re simply serving the wrong god.
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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