How could a loving God condemn…?”
The email inquiry came from a concerned mother. It was not at all a new question but the subject matter stilll caused me to bite my lower lip as the angst of that mother is shared deeply by this father. In a culture that adores, preaches, and rationalizes from “love,” the concept of a God who would judge, indict, and damn seems alarmingly and tragically far from loving.
I do want to answer this question – not only for this mother’s sake but also, again, for my own – but first a simple reality has to be plainly stated. Truth is: love as we know and embrace it has been more so defined by culture, society, and our own emotions than it has by Scripture. Here we sit, in close proximity to Valentine’s Day where men desperately scramble for flowers, chocolate, and reservations. Not that I’m capping on V-Day, but if we are honest the 14th of February has been designated as a consumeristic holiday of getting if you’re loved and being discouraged – cause you didn’t get – if you’re (seemingly) not. In essence, the day of roses and hearts is clearly indicative of how our culture views “love.”
However, Scripture paints a differing definition. When the Bible speaks of love – particularly the love of God – is uses the Greek word agape. This is an intense term carrying with it the idea of volition far more than emotion. Agape is a choice to love and as depicted in Christ is carried out in devotion, steadfastness, and sacrifice. It is not dictated by feeling but by appointed favor. In other words, God’s commitment to His children is not in flux but rather is fixed. He does not love me less when I screw up and He does not (can not) love me more when I read my Bible, spend an hour in prayer, share the Gospel, or choose Fireproof for my family movie night. His love is not conditional or consumeristic. He continues – in the face of our faithfulness and flailing – to give us what we desperately need: Himself. All the good gifts of this life – including breath in our lungs, children to hold, relationships to foster, accidents avoided, and – on a deeper level – reconciliation to God, peace for eternity, rescue from sin (the list keeps rolling) – all flow to us as testaments of Divine presence. In commonality, humanity receives temporal “gifts” as a product of God’s benevolent presence. Specifically, Christians receive not only “common grace” but the very presence of God’s favor upon us.
The love a parent has for a child typically depicts Divine, salvific love more closely than anything else in this life. Which brings us to a statement raised in the email from the young mother… I have children…I would never condemn them for not choosing me… To which I reply, neither would God. Not one child of God has ever been condemned. In fact, Scripture and the Reformed tradition teach us that God loved his family so much that He actually, actively persuades – by His Spirit – His kids to love and follow Him. Having been convinced of the worth of God Himself, by God Himself, all the “brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus” do freely and willingly, by faith, choose the presence of God and the pleasures found in His good, Redeeming grace.
However, obviously (though unpopularity stated) not everyone is a member in God’s family. All humanity enjoys, to some degree, the temporal blessings of God’s common presence. However, death will eventually bring an end to temporal blessing and then the haunting question will be: did you take (by faith) God – not just His gifts but His Person – while you enjoyed His temporal blessings, or did you reject Him. If an individual brushed off Christ in this life now in an effort to worship His gifts to them, in essence declaring, “I don’t want God,” then when this life is over they will actually receive what they wished for: the removal of God’s gracious presence and good gifts. That – while in no way being trite – is the condemnation justly deserved for all those who say “no” to the Divine’s invitation to join His family and experience intimacy with Him.
God does have a general affection for each individual, but His unrelenting, continually pursuing, constantly giving agape is reserved only for His sons and His daughters; and for those whom He has brought into His home there is no condemnation.