Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Does God Love Unequally?

Does God love all of us equally?

Every man, woman, child, old person, evangelical, charismatic, atheist, convicted murderer, liberal, conservative, American, Russian, Nigerian, rich person, homeless person, New Yorker, Texan, Billy Graham, Joe Schmoe:  does God love all of us equally?

When He allows devastating tornadoes to wreak havoc on places like Moore, Oklahoma, is God making some sort of statement about how much He loves - or doesn't love - people living in Tornado Alley?  Or, when we Reformed evangelicals discuss the doctrine of election, are we asserting that God only loves those whom He saves?  Even if you believe in free will or Arminianism, which is the opposite of predestination, and you hear the phrase "God loves the saved and the unsaved equally," is that an accurate claim?

A New Command, But An Old Struggle

As much as I talk about how believers in Christ should minimize our differences and concentrate on our shared convictions, there's only so much we can smoothly share in utter unity with each other before we start running into some basic discrepancies of doctrine.

We believers should still love each other, since Christ tells us to do so.  That's a Biblical command, right from John 13:34.  But that still doesn't answer the question about how much God loves people.

Of course, the very concept of "love" has different manifestations, doesn't it?  You love your parents in a different way than you love your pastor, or your spouse, or even me!  Suffice it to say that when we're talking "love" here, you're going to have to work with me so this doesn't turn into a sprawling doctoral dissertation on the subject.  I'm no theologian, nor do I pretend to be, but there are some questions any run-of-the-mill follower of Christ should be able to answer without having a seminary degree.

And yes, the question does deserve an answer.  Frankly, it would be much easier to love each other if we could just gloss over areas such as this one where we may disagree, and sometimes, depending on the shared objective, we can.  Other times, however, we risk dishonoring God by trying to be so accepting that we're not judicious about the characteristics we accept as fact about our Heavenly Father.

One of these characteristics that keeps popping up is love, and specifically, whether God truly loves all mankind equally.  Some people say just that:  God indeed loves every human being in equal measure.  Others say God has greater love for people who are saved, and a lesser love for those who aren't.  Still others say God has no love for people who are not saved.  Which is right?

It matters because, regardless of which position you may currently hold, for better or worse, it likely shapes our faith practices.

Because the Bible does not explicitly enumerate love percentages, some of us may hope such an absence allows us to infer that this issue ranks low on the areas of agreement we believers are to share.  On the other hand, the Bible isn't a listing of hierarchies and rules, but God's revelation of Himself to mankind.  The degree to which we believe those things God tells us about Himself in His Word is the degree to which we can better know Him and serve Him.  Knowing how He loves, and whom He loves, should help to make our faith more honoring to Him and effective for us.

Love Without Confession

In terms of whether God can't love somebody, such as an unrepentant sinner, we can't apply our mortal perspective on His holy purposes.  Since God is love, and the creator of love, it's basically improper, if not modestly heretical, to evaluate God's love based on His incapacity for it.  In other words, it slights His holy character to say He can't love, or lacks love.  He created it, so He can't lack it.  Yes, this is flirting with semantic technicality, but it's important nevertheless.  God is love, so the corollary to that fact has to be that every person, throughout their lifetime, is in some way and to some extent a beneficiary of some measure of His love.

Besides, how can God completely, utterly, not love somebody?  Everybody on this planet benefits from what we call His "common grace," such as Creation itself, the sun and moon, gravity, breathable air, justice and laws, and even governments.  All of Earth's created order, including the value and dignity of human life, stands as a testament to God's love for all of us.  To a certain degree - a degree that is full and complete for everyone, regardless of their faith - America's Founding Fathers were right in saying that we have certain inalienable rights, and those rights come from God's loving care for all He has made.

Having said that, however, we need to recognize that the degree to which we're all entitled to basic human rights - rights reflective of God's love for all humanity - does not reflect the fullness or completeness of God's capacity for love.  Yes, according to Psalm 139, God has from eternity past loved every person even before they were conceived, and that is a powerful truth that we should all find immensely comforting.  But how do you reconcile the fact that, well, some people are reconciled to God, and others aren't?

It doesn't matter if you believe in predestination or not; believers in Christ know for a fact that some people are saved, and some aren't.  If God loved each of us equally, then we'd all be saved.  But not everyone is.  Therefore, it's intrinsically incompatible with scripture to claim that God loves every person to the same degree.  Otherwise, we deny His purposes for salvation, and indeed, for Christ's sacrifice.  That makes God's "equal love" heretical.  It's a fallacy.

Even last night as I read in Psalm 111, the psalmist praises God for providing food "for those who fear Him."  God provides for His people, which, taken in the context of salvation, and as a corollary, means that He's not obligated to provide food for those who are not saved.  Indeed, the fact that many unsaved people have enough food to eat is an example of God's common grace, not His saving grace.  They eat despite their lostness.  Meanwhile, God's people may not like what God provides for their meals, but through His ordinary way of working, we will not starve to death (seasons of extreme persecution notwithstanding).

If God determines to make exceptional provision "for those who fear Him," then He loves "those who fear Him" more than those who don't.  Right?

Remember, however, that God still loves the unsaved.  But how much?  And how much more does He love those of us who are saved?  God never tells us, which likely means it's none of our business.  It's His.  He is sovereign over all, including His love.  What we do know, however, is that He doesn't love everybody equally.  But He does love everybody.  He had some amount of love for Adolph Hitler, but from what we know, it was not a saving love.  He has some amount of love for Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor, but right now, we don't know if it's a saving love, although we should be praying that it is!

Little Children

For those of us who are saved, we should rejoice in His salvific love expressed through His grace and mercy.  And we should also recognize the responsibility that comes with God's salvific love.  "To whom much is given, much is required" is a Biblical phrase I repeat often, and has significant application in this discussion.  As God's people, we have a duty to express His love to the world around us, even if such expressions run counter to, say, right-wing or left-wing political ideology.

It's also important to note that, within our body of believers, God does not discriminate.  Everyone whom He saves He loves equally.  We each may have different roles and abilities within the body, but not one of us believers is especially important to Him or loved any more by Him.  That's hard for us to understand, especially since we live in a culture driven to reward individual merit and accomplishment.  That's not to say some believers won't achieve a higher social status than others here within our earthly experience.  Or that some believers have more of a visible impact within our earthly experience for God.  Billy Graham, for example, has had a far more public ministry than 99.9% of other evangelicals, but God doesn't love him any more than He loves me, or anybody else who professes faith in Christ.

That's the joy in this truth about God's love, isn't it?  Good parents can't love their kids to different degrees, even though one may be a dot-com billionaire, another one a brain surgeon, and another one a politician (yes, that was a slam on my part).  Meanwhile, God assures us that we believers are His children, and He is our Father.

When other kids came over to play at your house when you were a kid, your parents likely looked after them like they looked after you.  Your mom brought out lemonade and cookies to all of you, and cleaned their cuts and scrapes just like she cleaned yours.  Your dad grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for all of you.  But while your parents demonstrated a level of love to your friends that we commonly call kindness, and even affection, your parents still loved you more.  That's just the way it was.  And that's kinda how God's love is for both the saved and unsaved.

Where the analogy kinda loses its punch is the point at which God, just like our parents, expects us believers in His family to get along with our siblings, no matter how successful, smart, misbehaved, or dim-witted we think each other to be.  Instead, however, we bicker amongst our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ just like we bicker with our earthly siblings.  Sometimes, we get along better with people outside of our family than people within it.

Um... OK, so maybe this analogy maintains its credibility after all, but God would prefer that it not!  He has bestowed upon us a love that is higher and greater than the love he displays to the unsaved, but that's not an excuse for us to abuse it, or take it for granted.  After all, it's not even like we know for sure those whom God may be calling to Himself, and those who will never accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.  This means that how we interact with people who don't share our faith shouldn't be any different than how we're to interact with those who do.

God, in His sovereignty, may love the saved and unsaved in different measure, but He never says we can, too.

That's the short answer (!) for the question of whether God loves all of mankind equally.  If you still want to believe that He does, you may not be saved.  Yet those of us who are saved, and know that He doesn't, should still act like He does.

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