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You stated that God loves each and every one of us. Can you help me understand that in terms of election? I had understood that He loves His elect, although it is His desire that each one be saved. I’m having trouble reconciling those two things! Thank you!

That is a super question. I love it when women dig into the deep questions of theology!

I’m not sure if I can help you understand that or not, because I’m not sure anybody out there has a complete grasp of that concept. God’s ways and His thoughts are much higher than our ways and our thoughts, and there are things He chooses not to reveal fully to us. This is one of those things. So if you ask this question of several different people, you’ll probably get several different answers. And anybody who thinks she’s got this completely figured out…well, I’d be a bit concerned.

All I can do is give you my perspective and the Scriptures (click the hyperlinks) I base that perspective on. My perspective isn’t based on Reformed theology treatises, but rather on my understanding – limited and flawed by sin as it is – of the nature and character of God as I’ve come to know it from the Bible. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of disagreement from both my Calvinist/Reformed brethren and my Traditionalist/Arminian brethren, and that’s fine. (I would just remind you to please review my comment parameters before commenting. In addition to those parameters, I don’t participate in debates over Calvinism in the comments sections of my articles or anywhere else. Ever. It’s fruitless.)

Let me start by saying that in the discussion of God’s love for people, my understanding is that people are talking about, for lack of a better way of saying it, God’s heartfelt feelings towards people. His emotional affections toward people. Not any way He might act toward them, position them, bless or not bless them, etc. So as I talk about God’s love in the remainder of this article, that’s what I mean, because that’s what I understand the question to mean.

Do I believe that God loves all people without regard to whether or not they’re elect? Yes. But I don’t believe God loves all people in the same way. Why? Because I’m a parent. And because God frequently and intentionally reveals Himself to us in Scripture as Father, and because we, being made in His image, demonstrate His communicable attributes, there are some things we can observe in our own relationships with our children that reflect – albeit through a glass dimly – God’s posture toward both sinners and saints.

My husband and I have six children. (For the purposes of the point I’m about to make, we will stipulate that he and I created all of them.¹) I love all the children I have created. Some of them are saved, and some of them are not, but I still love all of them regardless of their spiritual state.

But my love for my children who are saved is qualitatively different from my love for my children whom I know are not saved. There is a deeper bond between my saved children and me because we are not only familially mother and child, we are also spiritually brothers and sisters. We’re not just related by flesh and blood, we’re also related by the blood of Christ.

My unsaved children and I only have the love of familial affection between us. And not only that, while there is nothing in my saved children that wars against the Holy Spirit who resides within me, the sinful nature of my unsaved children does. Furthermore, there is the burden and longing in my heart for my unsaved children to know Christ. With my saved children, that burden and longing is replaced with joy that they are walking with the Lord. But none of that means I don’t love my unsaved children. It just means I love them in a different way than the way I love my saved children.

God personally created every human being in His image. So, strictly in that broad, creative sense – reflected in the way that when a man sires offspring he is their father and they are his children – God is the Father of all people, and all people are His children. And in the same sense that I love all of my children though in different ways, I believe God loves all of His created children though in different ways. Those who are saved (elect) are doubly His children, in the creative sense and in the spiritual sense, so there is a special bond and intimacy there that is higher and qualitatively different from those who are unsaved (not elect), because God is only “related” to them as Creator. Additionally, as with the way I love my own children, though God already knows who will and won’t be saved, the longing of His heart is for His unsaved children to repent and be saved, and the joy of His heart is His saved children who are walking with Him.

We see part of this idea a bit in the parable of the prodigal son (and remember, Jesus is the one who came up with this story). Let’s peel back the main spiritual point of the parable for just a moment and look at the structural elements of the story from an earthly perspective. Jesus intentionally chose a father and his two sons to build this story around. The father represents God. The older son represents “righteous” people, and the younger son represents “sinners”. Both boys are the father’s sons in the sense that he created both of them.²  Nothing in the story indicates that the father only loves the older, righteous son and doesn’t love the younger, sinful son. I would argue that this father loves the younger son in the same way I described loving my unsaved children, and I believe the father’s reaction to the younger son’s return (starting in verse 20) supports this. You don’t hate your own child for months or years on end and then, in a split second, show this kind of heartfelt love toward him. This is a dad – representing God – who loved his kid without regard to his spiritual state.

There seems to be a line of thought among some Calvinists that starts with taking mainly Romans 9:13 – “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated” – at least a little bit out of context and understanding it to mean that God feels the emotion of hatred toward (detests, is passionately hostile toward, dislikes to the ultimate degree – that’s the way most of us define the word “hates”) everyone who isn’t elect. I have a few thoughts on that:

• If you read Romans 9:13 in context, it’s obvious that the “love” and “hate” mentioned in verse 13 are not about God’s emotional feelings toward the elect and non-elect. The whole point of the passage is that God is sovereign and He decides, based on His own reasons that have nothing to do with our behavior, who is elect and who is not, and that He draws a very clear line between the two. He uses the words “love” and “hate” for contrast very much like we would say, “this is a black and white issue”. What this verse means is “This group over here (Jacob), I have set apart and chosen. This group over here (Esau), I have not.” If you read the cross-references for this verse, it becomes even more obvious that God is not talking about emotions here, but about His right to set apart for salvation whomever He chooses, as well as the position of the elect versus the position of the non-elect, which He metaphorically compares to the positions of Jacob and Esau respectively.

• God chose Jacob and Esau to illustrate this point. Isaac was Jacob’s and Esau’s father. Isaac didn’t demonstrate any sort of feelings of hatred toward Esau even though he knew Jacob was the “chosen one”. In fact, Scripture tells us it was Esau, not Jacob, whom Isaac “loved”. (Remember, we’re still talking feelings, here.)

• Compare Romans 9:13:

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

with Luke 14:26:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

The same Greek word translated “hate”, μισέω (miseó), is used in both verses. Is Jesus saying that we have to despise our closest and most beloved family members and even our own lives in order to be His disciple? Of course not. Again, it’s a contrast statement He’s using to make a point.

The way this verse is usually explained is that the love we have for Christ is to so far eclipse our love for anyone or anything else that our love for them seems like hatred in comparison to our love for Him.

But the love we have for Christ involves far more than mere feelings of affection. Loving Christ enough to follow Him means your loyalties lie with Him regardless of the cost. You cast your lot with Him to the exclusion of anyone or anything else that gets in your way. It’s almost like the part of the wedding vows that says, “…and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him as long as you both shall live.” It’s not like you completely cut everybody out of your life except your husband and decide to feel hatefully toward them. It means your highest earthly loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for him. The same way our highest spiritual loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for Christ. Which is the same sort of way that God’s highest loyalty, love, dedication, priority, and commitment are reserved for His elect in Romans 9:13.

The question then arises, “But the Bible says God’s wrath abides upon the unsaved, and He is going to send them to Hell. Doesn’t that mean He hates them?”. Again, going back to our parent-child motif, my answer would be no. Let me proffer some examples: I can be extremely angry or wrathful toward my children for defying me and yet still love them. If I have a prodigal child who sins in every imaginable way, shakes his fist at me, curses me, and whatever other abominable behavior we could imagine, I could tell my child he’s no longer welcome in my home or at family gatherings unless he repents. But it would be heartbreaking to do because I would still love him. If I have a child who is constantly and unrepentantly breaking the law, and I have an opportunity to turn him in to the police, knowing that he’s going to go to jail, I’m going to turn him in. And I’ll do it with tears streaming down my face, because I love him.

I’m just a finite, sinful parent living in a fallen world. God is our perfect Heavenly Father. His heart is much bigger than mine. His character is much holier than mine. And He is able to be perfect in all ways simultaneously. He can be perfect in wrath and perfect in love, perfect in judgment and perfect in compassion, toward the same person at the same time. We may not be able to completely understand how He loves, but we can trust that however He loves, He loves perfectly.


¹For the purposes of being accurate, our two oldest children are my step-sons.
²Some will argue that both were sons in the sense that both were elect – the older son being saved at an early age, and the younger son saved later in life. I’m not sure we could use that argument because, while the younger son (the “sinner”) becomes a Believer in the story, the older son mainly represents the scribes and Pharisees, and when we see Jesus interacting with the scribes and Pharisees in the gospels, He generally regards them as unbelievers. And since Jesus is God, He knows whether or not they’re elect.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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