5 – Questions of Love
will sing of the LORD
great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever”
Reviewing the Previous Chapter
The Love of God declared in the O.T
But what is love?
More Questions about God's Love
Heart of Chapters 4 & 5: The
Bible is uniform in declaring that God is a God of love. When
we realise that we then need to look at all that happens in
the Bible and see it in that light. As we look at the beginning
and end of the world according to God's design, we see all the
hallmarks of His love in it.
Reviewing the Previous Chapter
Chapter 4 we introduced the concept of God being a God of love and
then went on to lay out a Biblical world view and noted that:
designed and made the world and it was perfect.
gave free will to man and the first man and woman exercised that
free will to ‘sin' – to reject God's instructions.
has effects so that the world no longer ‘works' properly and things
God still reached out to individuals to make Himself known and
to draw them into a relationship with Him, starting with Abram,
Isaac and Jacob.
Jacob (Israel) became a nation
through whom God sought to reveal Himself to the world.
this nation two thousand years ago, God brought His Son, Jesus
Christ, who died to take the punishment for our sins so we can
be reconciled to God.
is the Biblical world view that shows that, though we reject God,
He constantly seeks to reach out to us to draw us to Himself and back
into a life of peace and harmony and goodness.
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The Love of God Declared in the O.T.
previous chapter started by very briefly observing one reference
in the Old Testament and one in the New that speak of God's
need to look at more.
we are aware the accusation might be made that these are just rare
references and so we include the following which are just some of
those references that point out that God is a God of love. What is
interesting to note, is that they often give a reason why the writer
is declaring this.
among the gods is like you, O LORD? …. "In your unfailing
love you will lead the people you have redeemed.”
His love for Israel
has been revealed by the way He redeemed them from slavery in
the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the
sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who
hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations
of those who love me and keep my commandments.
is part of the 2nd of the Ten Commandments and this is God's declaration
that love is tough and He will punish or discipline those who
hate and oppose Him but will always be there expressing His love
positively to those who love and respond to Him.
will indeed look at this distinction in detail in a later chapter.
is reiterated in Ex 34:6,7, Deut 5:10, 7:9, Num 14:18,19
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful
God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations
of those who love him and keep his commands.”
now on this love is connected with His ‘covenant'. This is the
agreement that He has with Israel,
established at Sinai, based on His love.
- This reference to the 'covenant'
is highly significant because a critic could say that all these
references to God's love were wishful thinking, hollow desires
proclaimed, but what we find is that they are linked with reasons
why the writer makes the declaration. Here it is that there are
visible expressions of God's covenant with Israel being worked
out and these reveal His love for them. We will see this even
more in this chapter.
there is always balance in that there is mention of punishment
for disobedience, the emphasis is on being loved and the goodness
that comes with that love.
“If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them,
then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love
with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and
bless you and increase your numbers.”
‘covenant' or agreement simply required Israel's obedience to
the laws that God had given them to bring them back into the way
of life that He had designed for mankind – to receive His goodness.
if they didn't go with His leading, He could not bless them. It
is like a doctor offering a treatment to a patient for cancer.
To receive the goodness of the treatment and to receive healing,
they must ‘obey' the doctor and take the treatment. We would not
criticise the doctor if the patient was foolish enough to reject
the treatment. This is how it was with God,
and the Law.
His love to His covenant also seen in 1
Kings 8:23, Neh 1:5, 9:32
praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: "He is good; his
love to Israel
love was at the heart of Israel's praise when they returned from
“But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to
anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not
was part of a declaration before the people how God had been so
good to Israel
despite their appalling responses to Him so many times.
was this familiar declaration that formed the backbone of it.
(We will see this passage in more detail in the next chapter.)
me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your
plea is based on God's love
O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing
prays on the basis of God's UNFAILING love.
also Psa 13:5, 17:7, 21:7 etc. etc. throughout the psalms. (Over
it also in the Prophets.
the sake of space we have limited the number of references in the
Old Testament to God's love. It is a constant and recurring theme.
Of that there is no doubt.
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But what is love
Wrestling with the meaning
have come this far in these two chapters about love and we have
not yet defined what it is. It is a word that has been so bandied
about in modern culture that it has probably lost any real meaning
to many of us.
have already quoted the apostle John declaring "God
is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). Now this doesn't mean that
all love is God but it certainly does mean that everything about God
IS love, so however He expresses Himself, through word or
deed, it is an expression of love.
may not understand it, but it is and that is why so much of
the latter part of this book is spent trying to understand how
certain things that happened in the Old Testament period ARE
actually an expression of God's love.
Key: Whatever God does IS love
will also repeat this a number of times throughout this book because
it is so crucial. (I have to warn you that I feel that I am only paddling
on the edge of understanding of many of these things, but at least
I hope that something of what I write may be helpful to you.)
some theologians suggest that love means different things. I would
suggest that it always means the same thing in respect of
God BUT the way it is expressed to different people and in
different circumstances may vary.
to an ordinary dictionary and you find much space given to 'love'.
But what are the basics, what do we mean when we usually use this
word in a proper way?
- warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign
when that is applied to God in the Bible we find it is strengthened
and so it may be expanded to 'loving kindness' emphasising quality,
or 'steadfast love' emphasising its enduring nature. A broader definition
of love might be:
sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others"
Love expresses itself
the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, Hesed, has these senses
together with the sense of mercy, faithfulness and goodness, again
emphasing the 'enduring benevolence' found in the general definitions
the New Testament the Greek words, agapao (verb) or agape
(noun), usually have a strong sense of a deep and constant expression
of wellbeing and goodness towards others.
is both an attitude and an expression, in respect of God at
least, that is unchanging. This last point
is vital for the Bible emphasises in various ways that God does
not change. Thus His love does not change or vary. It is always
there - always!!!
love NEVER changes
whatever way He expresses Himself is this deep sense of benevolent
goodness. It IS always there and our task is to look for it and understand
Observing it in human parenting
try and understand how love is there but may be expressed in
different ways. Let's think about a loving human father. Some
of us may be turned off because we haven't experienced a loving
father, but stay with me if you will as we consider how a loving
father might express his love for his child or children.
way love is expressed DOES vary
Here are a variety of ways, and they are ALL expressions of
works long hours to earn money to provide for the needs of the family.
It often means he is not there for them - but it is an expression
of the strong love he has for them.
Gentle listener and encourager
sits with his children, reading to them and listening to them, and
encouraging them. He is there for them and they feel secure with
they ask for things that are harmful, he withholds them and gently
says no. They don't understand and think him mean, but it is an
expression of his caring concern for their protection and wellbeing
that makes him say no.
time to time he brings necessary correction for he can see destructive
traits growing in his child and so he brings correction to try to
encourage them to not go in that direction. Sometimes that
correction appears hard and painful, but he only brings it when
it has become obvious that his wilful child will respond to no other
he stands back and simply watches his child from a distance. He
has conveyed his wisdom but his child needs to learn it for himself
or herself, sometimes by the hard way of failure. Yet he is always
there in the shadows watching them, ready to come the moment he
is called and always there for them.
Observing it in God
we may see God doing things that perplex us, but we must realise that
they will always be expressions of His love.
He provides, and sometimes He seems to be there for us and encourages
us, and those times seem good to us.
then sometimes we ask for things and He either says no or remains
silent, for He knows that either now is not the right time or there
is something better He wants for us.
bad things seem to come into our lives and for a time we can see
no good reason for them. Yet in the fullness of time we see how
they benefited us, or what God was able to bring about and
achieve through them.
God seems distant and we wonder why, and it is only later that we
come to realise that He was teaching us to stand on our own two
feet, or to appreciate Him more.
in the fullness of time we come to realise that God's love is
expressed in many different ways - but it is always ultimately
for good. It may be for an instant good, or it may be a long-term
way God's love is expressed varies
It may be the good of one person, or it may be for the good of many.
Yes, these are some of the things we would do well to learn and to
remember as we work our way through the latter part of this book.
Please do go back over this section if you are unclear about these
things, and then remember them as you read on. It will make it so
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More Questions about God's Love
main premise of this book, is that God is a God of love. We have just
reminded ourselves of this by means of the many verses in the Old
Testament that declare this and of a brief consideration of what love
means. Now, by the use of questions and answers, and referring to
the structure or ‘world view' set out in the previous chapter, we
will seek to emphasise some of the indicators of God's love that appear
in that cursory overview. Our purpose here is to take the general
declarations that we have just been considering, and see how that
‘worldview' we laid out in the previous chapter matches that declaration:
indicators are at the very beginning that God is a God of love?
earliest chapters of the Bible reveal God creating the world that
we know (before the Fall) as a place of abundant provision for mankind.
Now one of the facets of love, we have said, is that it always desires
good for others. In fact love and goodness are tightly wrapped up
together. Real love always desires the best for another.
an aside, we need to state that we are NOT stating HOW God created
the world – He could have created it over millions of years of gradual
evolution, or He could have created it in a much shorter period. The
distinction that we obviously make from that of atheists, is that
the world did not happen by chance, but was made at God's direction.]
the book of Proverbs, Solomon, with a burst of revelation, personifies
wisdom (which may refer to the Son of God) and has wisdom declaring:
I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after
day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.”
is within that a sense of goodness that confirms the declaration of
Genesis 1:31 “God
saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
This was not an unfriendly world; this was a world of utter goodness,
of abundant provision and of peace and harmony. When God brought it
into being it was a good experience and He delighted in mankind as
they originally were.
in the Bible there is a glimpse of an age to come:
wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child
will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will
lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant
will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his
hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on
all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge
of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
else it says, it says that there will come a time of peace and harmony
that will result from everyone and everything knowing God, i.e. the
knowledge of Lord brings peace and harmony. It may be a picture that
is so far from what know and experience today that we find it difficult
to accept, but it is, nevertheless, the claim of prophetic Scripture
– this IS how it will be one day, because God is working through mankind
to make it so!
in the very last chapter of the Bible, near the end of the incredible
vision of John in the Revelation, we find:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. And I heard a loud voice
from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men,
and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself
will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear
from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying
or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
we find a picture of complete peace and harmony in the presence of
God, where there are no tears and there is no death, mourning, crying
or pain. Whereas these are all characteristics of the present time,
they are obviously not God's desire for they were not there at the
beginning and they will not be there at the end.
2: But why do you maintain that these are signs of a loving God?
an answer might be to suggest that we consider the alternative to
such a world – at the beginning and the end. The description
that we have observed so far of the world as God originally made it,
has been one of a world that is “very good”, that has abundant
provision, and is completely free of any form of upset or pain or
illness or anything that we might describe as 'unpleasant'.
is far from what it is now, but we have explained the past that has
brought it to what it is today. In a later chapter we'll examine the
development of our past in more detail. As to the future, how God
will bring about that level of peace and harmony is more a matter
of speculation and so I'd rather not even make suggestions, simply
to note that the Bible says the future will be restored to what it
if there is a personal God, then any characteristic that might be
contrary to love, would not create such a world, or be working to
bring about such a world again. If God had been impersonal and indifferent
to the human creatures that eventually appeared on this world, then
He would not bother with such extravagant and abundant provision that
brings so much pleasure.
a human race that sees only shades of grey, is tone deaf, has only
very basic taste buds, has only a very basic sense of touch and procreates
like an amoeba. How staggeringly different from the incredibly rich
variety of experience that we know.
God had been spiteful then He could have made us so that all we ever
felt was fear, tension, and upset, where the laws of nature were volatile
and entirely unpredictable and we all lived with constant pain, illness
or dysfunction so that we never developed, and thus lived with constant
of these negative things described in these last paragraphs are entirely
missing from the Biblical pictures of the very beginning and the very
end in God's plan of things. Indeed, the struggles of atheism in the
twenty first century are a desperate endeavour to try to convince
us that the logical outcome of a world with no God does NOT end up
like this! The writings of such people as Richard Dawkins cannot help
but expose the horror of a world without meaning or purpose, that
is purely mechanistic and devoid of the God of love who is revealed
through the Bible.
3: But why would a loving God give free will to the human race
if He knew that it would turn from Him with all the consequences
that you speak of?
answer has to be twofold.
What's the alternative?
first answer has to be, what alternative is there? Twice in discussions
I have heard people asking why God couldn't have made us so that we
just couldn't do wrong and thus Eve and Adam couldn't have succumbed
to Satan's temptation. However the moment you say that you deny the
very concept of free will. You either have complete freedom to choose
or you don't!
what, I hear someone saying, is so important about free will? The
question suggests that you have never thought about this before, because
our entire lives are based upon choice. When I first encountered Economics
I was taught that the fundamental economic problem is that of limited
resources and so economics is all about making choices. From the moment
we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night, we are
making choices. That is true of every aspect of our lives.
from God's point of view, I suspect that the most important choice
we can make, is either to ignore Him or enter into a loving relationship
with Him. Near the end of the Bile, the apostle John makes the astute
observation that “We love because
he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) meaning that Christians
are those who have come to love God because they have come to see
how much He loves them.
starting place for that is perhaps the most famous verses in the New
Testament: “For God so loved
the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes
in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send
his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world
through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) Christians are those who have
learned what this means and who have responded positively to it.
put all this another way, if I was God I would find it most unsatisfactory
if all the creatures on the world I made HAD to respond to me just
as I wished. So, if I wanted some people to become my children and
to love me, I just commanded them, “Turn to me, surrender to me and
love me” – and they did! That would be utterly meaningless because
love is a freewill choice.
you are loved you know it is a wonderful thing, and it is utterly
different from the experience of people submitting to you because
you are their superior (e.g. a teacher or an employer). Love flows
out of relationship and the more we understand of the Bible, the more
we realize it is all about relationships. Robots, who have no free
will, cannot enter into relationships and, more importantly, the owner
of the robots cannot experience the robots loving them.
An Alternative Outworking
second answer to the question, why would a loving God give free will
to the human race if He knew that it would turn from Him with many
negative consequences, is to do with the process and eventual outworking
that we see in practice, as a result of what we have just been considering.
in its simplest form, we might say that God deemed the risk of us
exercising our free will and choosing to go away from Him worth while
when He saw the possibilities of us being sinners and yet choosing
to turn back to Him – which is exactly what happens when a person
becomes a Christian. The end product of God's plan is redeemed sinners.
God has simply allowed free will and then left us to live with the
horror that follows, that would have been terrible (the onus of guilt
would still have been upon us however!) but that is not what happened.
The Bible is clear in its teaching that appears again and again, that
before God made anything, He knew what the future would become and
planned for His Son, Jesus Christ, to come into our time-space history
two thousand years ago.
than that though (and Christians are often slow to realize this),
God had been working throughout history to restrain sin and to reveal
Himself through the nation of Israel.
He did not just abandon us to our sinful ways; He worked to bring
us back to Himself.
4: But why didn't this loving God make Himself more obvious to
us, so that we could realize His love more easily and turn back
to Him as you say?
are at least six answers that ought to be considered here:
The Existence of God as Spirit
first one is that the Bible says that God is spirit and spirit cannot
be seen. My own definition of ‘spirit' is ‘energy with personality'.
I may be completely wrong but that is my answer to satisfy the materialists
among us. He is energy with personality, i.e. living,
purposeful energy, if you like. It is the nature of His personality
that raises the questions in us, and which this book seeks to address.
The first answer, therefore, acknowledges the impossibility of Him
being visible simply because He is spirit. Yet we are about to see
that He has made us in such a way that there are ‘signposts' within
us and around us, that act as strong guides when we want to see.
Human Yearnings for Meaning
second answer is that there is something in us – is it our spirit?
– that reaches out and says there is more to life that mere meaningless
materialistic existence. Why is it that generations of students have
sat around speculating on ‘the meaning of life'? It is so well known,
this speculation, that it became a feature in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers
Guide to the Galaxy with the eventual answer enigmatically being,
this is an observable feature of humanity which Solomon spoke about
when he wrote, “He has made everything
beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of
men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to
end.” (Eccles 3:11). So, the second answer suggests that
we have been made by Him with an inner yearning to reach out for Him.
The very existence of that yearning should speak to us.
Human Yearnings for Right
third answer appears as another common human expression or experience.
When the apostle, Paul, was writing to the church at Rome,
he spoke about those who have not heard about Jesus Christ:
God "will give to each person according to what
he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek
glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for
those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil,
there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress
for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the
Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first
for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
that should not be taken out of context because he goes on later to
explain about Jesus Christ, but for the moment he was saying that,
essentially, where people have not been able to hear about Jesus Christ,
there is another measuring stick – their inner desire to reach out
for good. Now possibly Paul is subtly undermining our self-confidence
through these verses, because many an honest person might wonder if
anyone ever genuinely “does good” and seeks “glory, honour and immortality”.
it is a possibility and behind his words must come the implication
that there are people who do seek to be utterly good, and that then
raises questions within us why mere material beings should be like
this. There is the school of philosophy that maintains that no one
does anything for purely altruistic reasons. However, a third answer
suggests that we human beings struggle with these issues, issues of
right and wrong, good and bad, which point towards an ultimate absolute
which has to be a Lawgiver, the ultimate Lawgiver.
A World for those with Eyes to see
fourth answer can be observed when we see the apostle Paul when he
was in Athens,
speaking to the Greeks there about how God had made the world. He
wrote, “God did this so that men
would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though
he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27).
His suggestion was that the very nature of the world should raise
questions in any thinking person who would seek after the Creator.
is a comment that is made a number of times in the Bible. When the
apostle Paul, spoke about how people condemn themselves, he said:
may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain
to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his
eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood
from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
William Paley's watchmaker example may not be an ultimate proof but
it certainly confirms what the Bible says – for those with eyes to
see, the world is so complex and so wonderful that is must suggest
a designer. A fourth answer thus suggests that for those who have
eyes to see, Creation points towards God.
The Biblical Witness
fifth, overarching answer is seen when we see Jesus telling a parable
about life after death. In his parable he has two men who go to the
afterlife. One of them is a beggar named Lazarus and the other is
a rich man who has been rich and self-centred in this world. The beggar
is accepted into heaven by heaven's gatekeeper, Abraham (the man of
faith!), and the rich man is rejected. The rich man asks God to go
and tell his family what they might be missing so that at least he
could convey something of use to them. As he concludes the story we
find the following dialogue starting with the gatekeeper, Abraham:
“They have Moses and the Prophets;
let them listen to them.' `No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone
from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him,
`If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be
convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
the subtly of the parable Jesus declares there are three things that
God has given to point us to Him. The first thing is the Law
given by Moses (when Moses is mentioned like this it is
usually shorthand for a reference to the Law), then there are the
prophets who spoke God's word, and finally there will be
coming Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In other
words, says Jesus, if anyone has eyes to see, then in these three
ways they will see. If they have a closed mind, then none of these
things will help - but they are there as witness against them.
Response to Jesus
sixth answer is in the fact of Jesus himself being a measure of our
hearts. At one point Jesus said,
did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save
the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but
whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not
believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”
Barclay's commentary on this passage is worth repeating:
is quite possible to offer a man an experience in nothing but
love, and for that experience to turn out a judgment. It is quite
possible to offer a man an experience which is meant to do nothing
but to bring joy and bliss to a man, and yet for that experience
to turn out a judgment and a condemnation.