Friday, October 3, 2008

God Is Love.

Note: This is my latest editorial for my magazine, New England Pastor. All feedback is appreciated.

It seems like a simple statement. And yet I was challenged recently by the idea that God is, in fact, love. While having a conversation with a friend of mine who is from another faith, it suddenly dawned on me that many sincere Christians have a perverted understanding of God’s character. For my friend, and many, many others, God’s chief objective is to “win praise.” As Reformed theologian John Piper writes, “Everything He does is motivated by His desire to be glorified.” Piper goes on to admit that this idea is a hard pill to swallow in this “me-first” generation that we live in. But his explanation as to how this jibes with God’s apparent love for, and interest in, humankind leaves a lot to be desired.[1]

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time reconciling such an idea with what the Bible teaches. Perhaps we take it for granted sometimes, but the apostle John quite unequivocally declares that “God is love” two times in his tiny epistle (1 John 4:8, 16). Agape love is the very essence of His character. It is who He is, what He does, why He acts. It is His raison d’ĂȘtre. All of His movements stem from this supreme motivation and principle.

Incidentally, the idea that God is love is also one of the best arguments for the doctrine of the Trinity. If God’s very essence is love—and love necessarily has to have another in order for it to be love, since love is other-centered and not self-centered—then there had to have been more than One person from eternity past. As Skip MacCarty writes, in his magnificent work on the Everlasting Covenant:

Before creation existed, God existed, love existed, covenant existed—everlasting God, everlasting love, everlasting covenant. This everlasting covenant expresses the heart of the everlasting God manifested in the sacrificial love that existed among the Trinity before the beginning of time. The term “everlasting covenant” can never be invoked without calling to mind the love bonds that existed from eternity past within the divine, triune heavenly council, each seeking the happiness of the other.[2]

Proverbs seems to give us a small glimpse into this symbiotic relationship that the Trinity enjoys. Describing the relationship between Wisdom—which Jesus ultimately personifies[3]—and the Father, we read of the creation account, “I [Christ] was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Proverbs 8:30).[4] With love as their very essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always acted with complete other-centeredness towards one another, and They have enjoyed infinite fellowship from eternity past.

I can only imagine the heavenly counsel that took place when the plan of salvation was first discussed. Knowing that humankind would sin, I can see the Father volunteering to give up His life for the world, only to have the Holy Spirit insist that He would be the one to die in our place. And then, finally, Jesus, the Son, steps forward and says, “No, I will die instead of You two. I will give My life for the world.” Each wanted to die in place of the other, and thus, when Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Christ tasted death “for all,” Christ didn’t just die for humankind, but He died for the other two members of the Trinity as well.[5] Out of complete self-disinterest and love for the Father and Holy Spirit, Jesus was allowed the opportunity to die in Their place, and ours as well.And this is what love is. And this is who God is. Completely other-centered. Completely self-sacrificial.

Completely the God I want to serve.

[1] See John Piper, “Is God for Us or for Himself?” Desiring God, (accessed 11 Sept 2008). Piper has coined the curious phrase “Christian Hedonism,” which seems to be an extreme contradiction of terms.

[2] Skip MacCarty, In Granite or Ingrained? (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2007), 5, 6.

[3] See 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30.

[4] All scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version.

[5] The Greek phrase in Heb 2:9, huper pantos, does not have to limit Christ’s sacrifice to only human beings. It does not say that He tasted death “for all men,” but simply, “for all,” or “for everyone.” Compare this to Col 1:20, where Paul says that Christ “reconciled all things to Himself . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Evidently, Christ’s death on the cross reconciled, not only humankind to Himself, but the whole universe, including the other members of the Trinity (to some extent). Thus, Ellen White can write that God loved Jesus more and that Jesus was “endeared to [His] Father,” as a result of His sacrifice. See The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), 483.


Alison said...

I have never thought about that!! Jesus died so God and the Holy Spirit did not have to - that is awesome!! He loved us AND them that much!! Very cool to think about...

greenchickadee said...

I'm reading Desiring God right now and it's an amazing concept. One that we SDA's don't often glorify. Great post! Thanks!

Shawn Brace said...

Alison, glad I could stretch your mind a bit.

Greenchickadee, thank you also for your thoughts. I have not read Desiring God, but based on my readings of other Piper stuff, I am not sure I would be in complete agreement with what he probably says there. The term "Christian Hedonism" seems to be a contradiction of terms - which I am sure he addresses. But I just cannot go where Piper - and my friend - wants me to go!

Micaiah said...

Shawn, where Piper and I want you to go is absolutely essential. I think you practice it without even knowing. Read "Desiring God" (free online if you like)

I also wanted to caution you and your readers not to add to the revealed text. The Bible does not say that the Son died so that the other two members of the Godhead would not have to. Logically there is perfect fellowship within the Godhead, but we must be careful not to make three Gods out of the Trinity. That would be a Triad. In the Trinity there is only one God,just one. And there are three distinct persons within the Godhead of the same essance. (We must honor Son just as we honor the Father John 5:23)

Dingo said...

This question of God's desire to be glorified came up for me a while back too. There are some texts that seem to say clearly that this is His objective in dealing with us. that lead me to begin a study on exactly how God, in His word defines such concepts as glory and being glorified as they relate to Himself. I'm not far enough along to really comment much, except to say that I am surprised how other-centered and unselfish God's idea of God-glorification is.

We might feel glorified if everyone praised us as the greatest thing since music downloads. We might accept as satisfying glory people bowing and acknowledging our might. But although on the surface these come up in many Scripture texts, when one gets behind the surface statements to look at other things that bear on them, the entire rationale for the glorification so far seems to be to resolve the question of whether or not God is fit to be God, fit to save people, fit to be trusted, fit to be loved and to give unconditional love to us as well as to give perfect justice to the universe - or on the other hand if Satan was right when he claimed he was fit to "be like the most High" and be god instead.

It is turning out to be a startlingly other-centered concept of glorification - very unlike human concepts of glory.

Shawn Brace said...

Micaiah and Dingo,

Thanks for your thoughts. Micaiah, I have already responded to some of what you have said, via e-mail, but I would like to suggest you listen to a sermon of mine on this subject that I recently preached. It would probably be helpful for you to understand the "paradigm" that we Adventists subscribe to. Without understanding that paradigm, you may not be able to really know what we're getting at. You can listen to the sermon, entitled, "Mere Adventism: God on Trial," here.

Dingo, thanks for your thoughts as well. I'm glad that you have grappled with this issue, and I think your point about God's glory is very appropriate. It may also be helpful to mention that we, as Adventists, place a lot of emphasis on glorifying God and bringing honor to Him. We do believe that this is our supreme obligation. We may have a little different slant on it, but we ultimately are in agreement that it is our Divine Imperative to glorify God. We have no problem with this concept. Where we differ is discussing what God's divine imperative is.