It is easy to say “God is love” when there is no war and everything is going well. But it is not so easy to say when everything that happens seems to prove otherwise; for instance, when a man realizes he has an incurable disease or a severe handicap in life, or when all that is dear has been taken from him. If that man says, as he faces these things, “God is love,” it means he has gotten hold of something the average person has missed.
Love is difficult to define. But the working definition I would like to give is that “love is the sovereign preference of my person for another person, embracing everyone and everything in that preference.”
Run your idea for all it is worth. People say they are materialists, or agnostics, or Christians, meaning they have only one main idea—but very few will run that idea for all it is worth. Yet this is the only way to discover whether the idea will work. The same thing is true in the idea of the Christian religion that God is love.
Nature of God’s Love
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (romans 5:8).
The love of God is different from the love of everyone else. “God demonstrates His own love toward us”; it is not the love of a father or mother, or a wife or lover. It is of such a peculiar stamp that it has to be demonstrated to us. We do not believe God’s love.
The Foundation of God’s Love
The foundation of God’s love is don’t think of it again—“without which no one will see the Lord” (hebrews 12:14). God’s love then must be the justification of His holiness. Remember our definition—love is the sovereign preference of my person for another person, embracing everyone and everything in that preference. If God’s nature is holy, His love must be holy love, seeking to embrace everyone and everything until we all become holy.
The Features of God’s Love
The features of God’s love—that is, the way His love as revealed in the Bible shows itself in common life—are unfamiliar to us. The average, commonsense man is completely puzzled by such a verse as John 3:16. The revelation of Christianity has to do with the foundation of things, not primarily with actual life. When the gospel is proclaimed, it is proclaimed as the foundation. The features of God’s love are that if we will commit ourselves to Him, He will impart to us the very nature of His Son. “The gift of God is eternal life” (romans 6:23, italics added).
The Fact of God’s Love
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 corinthians 5:18–21).
These are subjects that carry no weight with us in our ordinary way of looking at things. They do not live in the same street—because they are not in the street, but in the foundation of things. When war or some other tragedy hits us hard and knocks us out of the commonplace, we are prepared to listen to what the Bible has to say. Then we discover the Bible deals with the foundation of things that lie behind our commonsense life. The Bible does not deal with the domain of commonsense facts; we get at those by our senses. No, the Bible deals with the world of revelation, facts which we only receive by faith in God.
Nature and God’s Love
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God (romans 8:19).
Does nature exhibit the creator as a God of love? If so, then why is nature a scene of plunder and murder? Does the Bible have anything to say about that, any revelation that explains it?
Try to weave a concept of God out of Jesus Christ’s presentation of Him and then look at life as it is. You will find that God, as He is revealed in Jesus Christ, is flatly contradicted in the natural world.
When we touch the natural world apart from the blinders of intellect, there is a problem in it. Nature is wild, not tame. Modern science would have us believe it is tame—that we can harness the sea and the air. That’s true only if we read scientific manuals and deal with successful experiments. But after a while we discover that there are elements which knock our calculations on the head and prove that the universe is wild and unmanageable. Yet God in the beginning created man to have dominion over it!
The reason man cannot gain mastery over nature is because he has twisted the order and become master of himself, instead of recognizing God’s dominion over him. Jesus Christ belonged to the order of things God originally intended for mankind—He was easily master of the life of the sea and air and earth. If we want to know what the human race will be like on the basis of redemption, we shall find it mirrored in Jesus Christ, a perfect oneness between God and man. In the meantime there is a gap, and the universe is wild.
The apostle Paul says that creation is out of gear and twisted. It is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. The New Testament view of nature is that it is subject to bondage; it is in a disorganized condition, out of gear with God’s purpose; it is twisted and will only be right when God and man are again one (see romans 8).
God is responsible for the established order of nature. So if God created nature and we don’t have the Spirit of God, we will never interpret the order of nature as God does.
The Indifference of Nature
“Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (genesis 3:18–19).
This needs an explanation that no person can reach by common sense. The Bible says the reason nature is indifferent is because it became disorganized through the disobedience of the very first man. The indifference of nature hits us sorely when our hearts are stirred by bereavement—the inscrutable sadness of nature on the human spirit. The early mornings, the late nights, sea and mountain scenes . . . all awaken in the sensitive human spirit not in touch with God an indescribable sadness. They point to the fact that God is amazingly remote from man because man has externalized himself.
The Iniquity of Nature
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea (revelation 21:1).
There is nothing more cruel than the sun, or more blasting than the desert. And there is an element of twisted spite in the sea; a sailor’s wife, for instance, has reason for deep fear and hatred of the sea. In the jungles of vast continents the most cruel and unspeakable horrors take place. These are some things that make it the height of impertinence to say glibly, “God is love.”
The Infidelity of Nature
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (isaiah 11:6, 9).
Isaiah is speaking of a time when all the indifference, iniquity, and infidelity of nature will be gone, when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” Then, a relationship will exist which is now inconceivable—at present, the lamb lies down inside the wolf! Earth is man’s domain, but the Bible talks about a “hereafter” without the sin and iniquity, when there is “a new heaven and a new earth” (revelation 21:1). We are going to be here, in this wonderful place which God made very beautiful, which has been played havoc with by sin . . . but which will have been marvelously redeemed.
Nations and God’s Love
“The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (revelation 11:15).
We talk about a Christian nation—there never has been such a thing. There are Christians in the nations, but not Christian nations. The constitution of nations is the same as that of a human being. There is a difference between individuality and personality: individuality is all elbows and must stand alone; personality is something that can be merged and blended. Individuality is the husk of the personal life; when personal life is emancipated, individuality goes.
So with nations. The kingdoms of this world have become intensely individualistic, with no love for God or care for one another. The insistence of nations is that they must keep the national peace—and look how well they have been doing it! In the confused rush of nations, such as is going on now, many people have lost not their faith in God (I never met someone who lost that) but their belief in their beliefs. For a while they think they have lost their faith in God. But they have lost the concept which has been presented to them as God, and can now come to God on a new line.
The Origin of Nations
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. . . . Therefore its name is called Babel; because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (genesis 11:1, 9).
According to the Bible, nations as we know them are the outcome of what ought never to have been. Civilization was founded on murder, and the basis of our civilized life is competition. There are grand ingredients in civilization—it is full of shelter and protection—but its basis is not good. We each belong to a nation, and each nation imagines that God is an almighty representative of that nation. If nations are right, which is the right one?
The Object of Nations
Where do wars and fights come from among you? . . . You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask (james 4:1–2).
The question is on the lips of people today: “Is war of the devil or of God?” It is of neither. War is of men—though both God and the devil are behind it. War is a conflict of wills, either in individuals or in nations. As surely as there is will versus will, there must be punch versus punch. This is the object of nations. They will assert their rule and independence and refuse to be downtrodden. If we cannot by diplomacy make our wills bear on other people, the last resort is war—and it always will be until Jesus Christ brings in His kingdom.
There is one thing worse than war and that is sin. The thing that startles us is not the thing that startles God. We are scared and terrorized when our social order is broken, when thousands of men are killed. Well we may be, but how many of us in times of peace and civilization bother one little bit about the state of men’s hearts toward God? Yet that—not the wars and devastations that so upset us—is the thing that produces pain in the heart of God.
The Obliteration of Nations
And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (revelation 11:15).
In these last days there is an idea that humans are going to dominate everything by a perfect alliance. Many express a view of the future that says we are heading into a federation of religions and nations when distinctions will be obliterated and there will be a great and universal brotherhood. That is a revolt which is a mental safety valve only.
The apostle Peter says that God is “longsuffering toward us” (2 peter 3:9). At present He is giving humans an opportunity to try every line they like in individual life as well as in the life of the nations at large. Some things have not been tried yet, and if God were to cut us off short we would say, “If You had let us go a bit longer we could have realized our ideal of society and national life.” God is allowing us to prove utterly that brotherhood cannot be achieved in any other way than Jesus Christ said. It is only by a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ, who is God and Man—One. Sooner or later, when we reach the end of our rope, we hear Jesus Christ say, “Blessed are the believed that the sign of the blessing of God was material prosperity in every shape and form, and yet Jesus said, Blessed are you for exactly the opposite.””]poor in spirit” (matthew 5:3). If you ask God, He will give you the Holy Spirit, an unsullied heredity through Jesus Christ.
That is how the love of God comes in. It has to be such a long way round because He is “bringing many sons to glory” (hebrews 2:10). God is not making machines, but men, clear-eyed and sensible all through. Jesus Christ never used a revival meeting to take a man off his guard and then say, “Believe in Me.” He always puts the case to people directly. Jesus even seemed to spurn men when they wanted to follow Him (see luke 9:57–62). Did Jesus celebrate, “Another convert to My cause”? Not a bit. “Take time and consider what you are doing,” He seems to say. “Are you ready to hear what I have to tell?”
The love of God is going to embrace everyone and everything in the sovereign preference of His person, which is for His Son. God purposes that every one of us shall participate in the essential nature of Jesus Christ and stand in complete union with Himself, even as Jesus did.
Faith in God is a terrific venture in the dark; we have to believe that God is love in spite of all that seems to contradict that truth. Every soul represents some kind of battlefield. The great point for the Christian is to remain perfectly confident in God.
The apostle Paul says that when the sons of God are manifested and everything is in a right relationship with God (expressed in devotion to Jesus Christ), all the wildness and contradiction in nature and in nations will cease. The love of God will be the great reality.