Monday, August 7, 2017

God is Love . . . But God is Not ‘Nice’

One manifestation of God's love is the beauty of creation.
We often hear people saying, “God is love.” When you hear that, what comes to mind? Do you envision a celestial Teddy bear that longs to be hugged – and to hug back? Or a divine, grandfatherly figure with beard flowing white, peering down from a remote post in heaven, observing the foibles and failings of His creation, smiling and shaking His head as He thinks, “Those silly people – they do the darnedest things”?

It’s true that God is love. The Scriptures say so. I like the translation of 1 John 4:16 that reads, We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

The question is, what does “God is love” mean? Is it like the nice grandma who loves everyone – family, friend and stranger – with nary a negative or critical word toward anyone? Is it a love that says anything goes, blind to wrongdoing and offering full acceptance – even approval – of any and all behaviors?

If we study the Scriptures, we realize neither is true. The Greek language, in which most of the New Testament was originally written, is much more exacting about “love.” In English, we “love” dogs and goldfish, jobs, cars, spouses and partners, children, favorite music, pizza, sports teams – and sometimes, God – using the same word. Obviously, our meaning isn’t the same for each.

The Greek, however, distinguishes forms of love – friendship love, sexual love, selfless love, and others. When we read “God is love,” it conveys benevolence but also expresses His sacrificial love that cost Him more than we can comprehend.

Because in Romans 5:8 we’re told, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s not a warm, fuzzy kind of love. Certainly not a casual, cuddly type of affection toward us. As Jesus said in the days leading up to His crucifixion, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13). How many of us has experienced love like that on the human level?

At the same time, while contemplating the truth that God is love, we must do so within the context of understanding He also is holy, and righteous, and just. The notion that the Lord’s love requires Him to condone anything we do, without question or judgment, reflects a gross misunderstanding of a perfect, pure, holy God who cannot tolerate sin in any form. We see that throughout the Scriptures.

Someone has said, “God loves us as we are – but loves us too much to leave us that way.” That’s why Jesus put great emphasis on being “born again” in the third chapter of John, and the apostle Paul writes about becoming a “new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and being “crucified with Christ (so that) Christ lives in me.”

I’ve learned something about this by being a parent. My love for each of my children – as well as my grandchildren – is unconditional and unwavering, but that doesn’t mean I’ve supported or approved of everything they did. Even being aware of my own imperfections, in my love for them I still desire that they not only to know right from wrong, but also to do, think and be right – and not wrong.

God’s love pours out of His perfection. We love (there’s the word again) to read passages like, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him (1 John 3:1). This asserts that God’s love does not mean He must consider every human His “child.” Only those who truly know Him.

As 1 John 1:5-9 explains, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Our God, in His love, wants us to walk in light – and not darkness. And to acknowledge our sins, confess them, and seek His forgiveness, restoring us to proper fellowship with Him.

If there’s anything “God is love” means, it’s not that “anything goes.” He’s love, but He’s not “nice.”

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