February 2007

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This question came from a study group. The issues are large and personal. This is simply an eagle’s view of the biblical terrain …

Does God love everyone?

Do you love everyone? The question immediately raises the question of what you mean by “love” – it can mean a number of things: warm affection, respect, goodwill, passionate commitment – it depends on the nature of the relationship.

That God has a measure of good will towards all mankind is clear in that he continues the blessings of common grace during our rebellion (Matthew 5:44-45), and offers a full pardon and eternal blessedness to anyone who believes in his Son (John 3:16-18; 1 John 2:2).

It is also clear in Scripture, however, that God has chosen those whom he will love redemptively before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-12; John 6:37-39; 15:16; Acts 13:48, etc.). Since his judgment of a multitude of humanity is taught in Scripture, it is obvious that the Lord has not determined to love all humanity in this way. While it is certainly true that everyone who chooses to believe is saved, it is also true that the gospel has not been heard by everyone (cf. Romans 10:9-15), and the initiating work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in order to revitalize the dead human spirit to embrace the gospel (John 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1-7). God’s redemptive love is only for those in Christ, and is a matter of intense loyalty to his promises.

Does God hate anyone?

Similarly, do you hate anyone? More questions. Does that mean disapprove of, or despise with unreasoning rage?

God hates in the sense of being absolutely opposed to evil. In that sense, God hates people who sin (Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 6:16-19) – he doesn’t just hate sin, he hates people who sin, in the way that you not only condemn firearms, but those who use them to commit crimes. God hates humanity enough to swear our collective destruction (Genesis 2:16-17; 6:5-7; Revelation 19:11-18). This is not the sort of blind rage we often experience, however, since God takes no enjoyment or delight in our judgment at all (Ezekiel 33:11). He is simply determined to oppose and in time remove those who embrace and worship evil.

Loving the Unlovely

The message of the gospel is that God chooses, for the sake of his own glory, to redirect his hatred away from a multitude of sinful humans, and redirect his love for Jesus to them, all through the cross of Christ. Through the cross, Jesus’ reputation was exchanged for ours. On the cross, God hated us – Christ represented us, and God “saw” us receiving his just and aweful wrath. In a judicial sense, we died on the cross. At the same time, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us, so that God “sees” us just as righteous as Jesus, therefore loving us eternally, warmly and completely.

So, the answer to your question is complex, but pondering it takes us right through the gospel message: God offered his love to all mankind (through Adam); God swore his hatred against all mankind (through a fallen Adam); God revealed his self-sacrificial plan to love an undeserving multitude (through Christ); God patiently offers mankind a taste of his love in this broken age as he offers the gospel to the world.

Two related questions:

Does God love me?

God has treated me well (I exist, for instance!). But my assurance of his love will not be found in my current happiness. My moral shortcomings make it clear that my confidence in God’s eternal love can only rest on his grace and forgiveness, and the moral transformation he works within me. The gospel of Jesus tells me how that grace is available.

Does God love [that particular person over there]

God has already been very good to them. Moreover, he offers to love them eternally as his child. But that requires that they turn from the self-centered ways of humanity and embrace his offer of grace in Jesus and the new lifestyle that will arise out of it.

Last night I watched part of the Academy Awards. I make myself do that every couple of years. The spectacle touches my heart.

I always marvel at how this most secular of events tries so desperately hard to emulate the heavenly reception so few of the participants seem to anticipate. The wonderful clothes, the appreciative onlookers, the praise and often false modesty. I am particularly moved by the obvious deep need that many apparently have to win an Oscar before they die, as if it would justify their lives and affirm that their lives were worthwhile. I always leave the Oscars impressed with how I am aiming for a much, much higher prize.

I also leave with a renewed appreciation for how much it means to all of us to be recognized for a job well done. There are hard working, creative people all around us who deserve such recognition. An appropriate praise in private or in public can mean as much to many of us as an Oscar. It encourages us to press on in hope of the highest reward of all – our Lord’s greeting of a good and faithful steward.

When the NFL intimidated an Indiannapolis church concerning its superbowl party, I sent them this response. I am rarely negative or confrontational, but I thought the NFL’s interpretation of copyright privileges was a threat to free speech and free exercise of religion.

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An open letter to the NFL,

Our church just cancelled its participation in a Super Bowl party that 60 of our teens were looking forward to, having discovered your surprising objection to people viewing your telecast in a church context. Many young people are obviously quite disappointed.

I suggest that trying to police what people can and cannot think about when viewing a football game is ludicrous. Your policy to prevent “messages” that coincide with public TV broadcasts is offensive in a nation that is guaranteed freedom of speech by law. And then to specifically target people of faith. What are you thinking? Dispersing church groups to send young people to bars (which you have exempted from your rule) may be good for your sponsors, but it displays a shabby and tawdry NFL.

In years past, many viewers have been discouraged by lewd halftime exhibitionism and a Super Bowl engine that seems to be fueled by alcohol. But this year, it is the NFL itself that has left a bad taste in our mouths.

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You can read about the matter here: http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=54081. The key issue continues to be the NFL’s implied restriction of coordinating any sort of “message” with its public broadcast.

Titanic director James Cameron’s claim to have found Jesus’ tomb just could be the biggest challenge to Christianity since the Scopes trial.

This is because, if his material is genuine, it will be used to attack the very foundations of the Christian faith. Initial reports of his find make it clear that there is no way it can prove or disprove the claims of the Bible, but it will be hailed as an attack against the virgin birth and ascension of Christ. It also adds archaological fuel to DaVinci interest in Jesus’ supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene (with a child), and Mary’s status as an apostle. However, the greatest challenge by far is the attack on Christ’s resurrection.

A perusal of web thoughts already demonstrates how this could be a lightning rod for all the frustration and hatred people harbor – not only against the gospel, but against what is perceived as an arrogant church that has offended people for centuries. While I believe most everyone will continue to think and speak respectfully about Jesus himself, I expect that this debate will be desperately muddled by a mass of spiritual baggage, meaning that how the church responds to this will be important.

The challenge for Christians is three-fold …

First is the direct challenge to our personal faith . Speaking for myself, I could not follow Christ if I believed the biblical gospel were untrue. Cameron is therefore attacking everything that holds my life together. If I were to believe that Jesus never rose, not only would I quit my church, I would quit my job and think about quitting life. This issue is personal in the extreme. Do I think Cameron’s find will disprove the Bible? No. But the nature of my faith demands that I take this issue seriously, and I expect that will be uncomfortable. I am not ashamed of this; in fact, I find it exilerating to discover afresh how central faith is to my life. I do not believe in a pretend Jesus just to make me feel good. I am committed to the Risen Lord Jesus. There’s no getting around it: if he’s dead, then so am I (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

Second, the personal intensity of this attack challenges the practice of our faith. I must take care how I conduct myself in this public debate. For us, Cameron’s allegations are not only intellectual arguements; whether intended or not, they are intensely personal attacks on our faith. The temptation will be huge to react in anger. Frustrations may also mount as every fault of the church is used (however illogically) to tear it down, using this “proof” that the gospel is a fabrication. Will I be able to face these attacks with spiritual integrity, enabling me to press on in grace, glorify God and love my enemies?

Third, Cameron has joined over-the-top Gibson and novelist Brown in providing golden opportunities to discuss the gospel. Past movies have highlighted the suffering of Christ and the validity of the biblical narrative, and now a very bright spotlight has been thrown upon the resurrection. We must not lose this opportunity. I expect to see some non-Christians rejoice, some in the church decide they really don’t believe in Jesus after all, and whole branches of the church exposed for the theological heresies they have embraced for some time. But I also expect to see many people come to Christ.

As a result, we who are Christians had better:

* face the evidence squarely and rediscover the centrality of the resurection for our own faith,
* prepare to engage what may be an ugly and hostile debate with a good will that is prepared to turn the other cheek many times,
* and gear up to explain the true gospel clearly, boldly, lovingly and often.