I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Love of God

with 4 comments

love-of-godCarson, D. A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.

Carson presents a brief and beautiful affirmation both of God’s transcendent sovereignty, but also the genuineness of God’s love as an affection, both to the elect in particular but also to mankind in general.

Often we tend to force God into convenient little boxes and categories, forgetting that He is far above and beyond our understanding. We know that the doctrines of grace guard against universalism; Carson shows that we must also have a full understanding of God’s love, guarding against the hypercalvinist tendency to see the world exclusively through the lens of God’s decrees.

I recommend this book very highly.

Quotes

For my own purposes I’ve kept an outline and some quotes of this book:

Chapter 1, On Distorting the Love of God

Why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult:

  1. Love is the least doubted of God’s attributes, but often understood in an un-Biblical light. Christians must understand and present it rightly.
  2. So many other attributes (justice, holiness, …) of God are disbelieved today. Christians must understand and rightly present how God’s love relates to his other attributes.
  3. Postmodernism emphasizes a sentimental, syncretistic God. This presents a particular challenge to those representing a Biblical understanding of God’s love.
  4. Within confessional Christianity, how do we understand God’s love relating to evil in the world? How do we understand God’s love relating to his justice?
  5. Christians tend to over-simplify God’s love compared to the Bible’s portrayal.

Five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God (not exclusive):

  1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (p. 16).
  2. God’s providential love over all that he has made (p. 16).
  3. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world (p. 17). Comments on sense of “world” in John 3:16.
  4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect (p. 18).
  5. Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience (p. 19). Comments on “remaining in God’s love”, and on texts expressing conditional aspects of God’s love.

Three preliminary observations

  1. If we absolutize any one of these ways of understanding God’s love, we will lose sight of vital aspects of God’s character (p. 21). “In short, we need all of what Scripture says on this subject, or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous.” (23)

    1. Intra-Trinitarian love -> lose redemption
    2. Providential love -> lose God’s personality
    3. Common grace love -> lose force and power of saving grace
    4. Salvific love -> lose common grace love
    5. Conditional love -> fall into merit legalism
  2. God’s love is unified, not compartmentalized. All of God’s attributes stand in relation to one another.
  3. Many evangelical cliches about God’s love are true in some sense, but not generally true. “It is pastorally important to know what passages and themes to apply to which people at any given time.” (24)

“Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love.” (24)

Chapter 2, God is Love

Carson argues against the consideration of agape as a mere willed altruism.

He is concerned that we not argue from God’s impassibility to his lacking emotion. Quoting Charles Hodge:

Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, there can be no love. . . . We must adhere to the truth in its Scriptural form, or we lose it altogether. We must believe that God is love in the sense in which that word comes home to every human heart. The Scriptures do not mock us when they say, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13).” (29)

Carson is concerned that we not pursue “methodologically flawed word studies”, but rather pay attention to context, and broad themese of redemptive history.

Chapter 3, God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty

  1. God’s love has an affective element.

    • 1 Cor 13 — it is possible to have incredible altruism and be without love. agape is not merely “willed commitment to the other’s good”.
    • Hosea 11 speaks in very emotionally intense terms about God’s love and devotion for Israel.
    • God is not relenting per se; the judgment+exile will still come. But it will end.
    • Emotional expressions common in prophets. God is jealous, abounding in lovingkindness.
    • God grieves, rejoices, has intense wrath, pities, and loves with an everlasting love.
    • Our love to be modeled after God’s (1 John 4:7-11).
    • God is in some sense impassable, “without … passions” (WCF). But this does not mean that God is without emotion. Rather, God is unchangeable, not given to mood swings, nor dependent on his creatures.
  2. God is sovereign and transcendent.
    1. God is utterly sovereign (omnipotent and omniscient, over people and things) and transcendent.
    2. God’s sovereignty extends to election — of the nation of Israel, of God’s people, and individuals.
      • Acts speaks unashamedly of those “appointed to eternal life”.
      • Election extends even to angels (1 Tim 5:21), so is not limited to salvation.
      • God’s electing love is immutable; he will lose none of those he has saved.
    3. Christians are not fatalists.
      • We do not sacrifice either God’s sovereignty or our responsibility — compatibilism.
      • Both are affirmed, so fatalism is denied. We do not understand how they reconcile.
      • Though man intends evil, God is always at work through men’s actions for his good purpose.
      • Compatibilism is necessary, otherwise 1) the cross is an accident, or 2) there is no responsibility for sin, and no need for atonement.
    4. God is immutable, unchangeable. Ps 102:27, Mal 3:6, Isa 46:8-11, Ps 33:11
      • “God’s immutability . . . engenders stability and elicits worship.” (54)
      • God “is unchanging in his being, purposes, and perfections. But this does not mean he cannot interact with his image-bearers in their time. . . . Even the most superficial reading of Scripture discloses God to be a personal Being who interacts with us. None of this is meant to be ruled out by immutability.” (55)
    5. God’s sovereignty is under attack both by process theologians and open theists.
      • What of God’s repenting and relenting? “God relents over a step he has already taken . . . what he has said he would do or even started doing, sometimes in response to the prayer of an intercessor.”
      • The key is not an internal change in God, but an external change in what God is doing.
      • Still a mystery here how our responsibility and actions relate to God’s sovereignty.
      • We can somewhat imagine God’s sovereignty by extrapolating authority and power, and by thinking of transcendence apophatically.
      • God’s being personal is hard to understand because he never grows in his knowledge of us.
      • But it is clearly taught in scripture, and most clearly revealed in the person of Jesus.
      • Neither God’s personhood nor his sovereign transcendence must be elevated to the exclusion of the other (open theism vs. hypercalvinism).
  3. God’s impassibility is a personal, loving, emotional impassibility.
    • What space is left for emotions in a sovereign, transcendent, all-knowing God?
    • God “knows the end from the beginning, cannot be surprised, and remains in charge of the whole thing anyway.”
    • Cannot deny God’s emotions. Much biblical evidence to the contrary, and this leaves us “[resting] in God’s sovereignty, but . . . no longer [rejoicing] in his love.” His love is not an anthropopathism. “Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21).” (59)
    • Must not insist on impassable immanent Trinity but economic Trinity that is able to suffer.
    • Must not divorce God as he is in himself from God as he interacts with creation.
    • But impassibility is “trying to ward off the kind of sentimentalizing view of the love of God and of other emotions (‘passions’) in God that ultimately make him a souped-up human being but no more” (60). Not deny God’s sovereignty, power, authority, aseity, infinitude.
    • God’s love is real but exists in relation to his knowledge, power, will, justice, holiness.
    • So his emotion does not make him vulnerable to external contingency. But at the same time his will and power are never exercised independent of his love.
    • “God’s ‘passions’, unlike ours, do not flare up out of control. . ., are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections.” (60)
    • So God’s love is different from ours, but no less a real emotion.
    • Guards various truths. God doesn’t ‘fall in love’ with us, but sets his affections on us. He doesn’t predestine us capriciously, but in love.
    • God’s love is always exercised in concert with all his attributes; and it is dependent on his loving character, not our loveliness. This, then, is a model for Christian love.

Chapter 4, God’s Love and God’s Wrath

With a sentimental view of God’s love, people assume that God is bound to forgive sin.

  1. God’s love and wrath

    1. God is often represented in violent, judicious, angry, wrathful ways. Like love, wrath includes an emotional aspect, and this cannot be denied even for the sake of impassibility.

      • Wrath is a product of holiness and sin, not a first-class attribute of God.
      • To depersonalize God’s wrath is to diminish his holiness.
      • To distinguish economic-trinity wrath from immanent-trinity wrath is to limit God’s holiness to dealings with man.
    2. Reconciling God’s love and wrath
      • God hates the sin. It is true hate is not his only posture to the sinner, but God’s hatred and wrath do rest on both sin (Rom 1:18ff) and sinner (John 3:36).
      • Human experience separates love and wrath.
      • But “God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love . . . wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God” (69).
    3. Misconceptions
      1. OT more about God’s wrath, NT more about his love. Perhaps main reason for this is that manifestation of God’s wrath in OT is more temporal, in NT more eternal. OT manifests both love and wrath in “experience and types”, and both become “clearer” and “ratcheted up” in NT. Both God’s love and wrath are perfectly manifested in the cross. “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross” (70-71).
      2. Father full of wrath, Jesus mollifies him. Some truth to this; Hebrews’ picture of Jesus as constantly interceding high priest. 1 John 2:2 — Jesus as advocate.
      3. Yet God loved the world (Jn 3:16). “Here it is not that God is reluctant while his Son wins him over; rather, it is God himself who sends his son. Thus (to return to Hebrews), even if our great high priest intercedes for us and pleads his own blood on our behalf, we must never think of this as an independent action that the Father somehow did not know about or reluctantly approved” (72). Picture is complex. Father and son both full of wrath, and both loving us so much that they sent/came.
      4. Revelation speaks of the “wrath of the Lamb”; full Godhead “is both the subject and the object of propitiation” (72)
  2. The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement
    • Limited atonement -> definite atonement. God’s intent for the cross was different for the elect than for the non-elect. Much scripture speaks of the specificity of Jesus’s saving work for his people. But Arminians cite texts indicating God’s love for the world, and it is stilted in many places to read “the world” in a limited fashion. This hearkens back to ch. 1 — neither of these understandings of God’s love (towards elect, non-elect) should be absolutized.
    • “Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God himself has not introduced them. If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of texts are accommodated” (76).
    • Has observed a gradual shift in categories of debate from Calvin forward that moves from conjunction to disjunction.
    • “God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that.” (77)
    • Unlimited effectiveness allows us to preach the gospel to all, extend invitation to all, assure all of God’s love.
    • Particular extent gives us pastoral assurance, since the ground of our salvation and our perseverance is not in ourselves.
  3. God loves the world in a compassionate way; we are to have this sort of love for the world. We are not to love the things of the world, nor desire to be like the world (1 John 2:15-17).
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. God loves us as a parent, disciplines us as a parent. This means that we are responsible in some sense to “love him and keep his commandments”. While his saving love and ultimate disposition to us are unconditional, there is some conditional sense in his face toward us.
    2. “The love of God is not merely to be analyzed, understood, and adopted into holistic categories of integrated theological thought. It is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt” (80-81). Eph 3:14-21
    3. God’s love is sufficiently powerful to save and transform anyone. Our love toward others should be full of hope in the power of grace.

Back to original 5 categories:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love “ensures the plan of redemption” (82).
  2. God’s providential love cares for us and preserves us even when wrath would destroy us.
  3. God’s inviting love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:14-15)
  4. God’s elective love gently draws us to him, opens our eyes, and secures our salvation.
  5. God’s fatherly love sanctifies us and preserves us, helping us to grow in obedience and holiness.

Our response is to love God with all our being!

Written by Scott Moonen

February 1, 2005 at 5:23 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. [...] the secret decrees of God to discern whether he loves us or has elected us unto salvation (see also The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God), nor does it consist of our subjective sense of nearness to God. It consists in placing our trust [...]

  2. [...] A. Carson addresses God’s love in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. This book is an outstanding treatment of God’s love and I highly recommend it. It is a short [...]

  3. [...] his excellent book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D. A. Carson has this to say about the debate between Calvinists and Arminians over the doctrine [...]

  4. […] I argued earlier, and as D. A. Carson develops in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, the fallacy here is Schilder’s insisting that God cannot be doing two things at once. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 131 other followers

%d bloggers like this: