Frequently I receive questions from those seeking out truth. A while ago, I received the following query from a young pastor…
“The one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the idea that God only loves some. I feel like I love people more than that and that confuses me. How would you explain this declared reality?”
So I believe it is extremely clear according to Scripture that God loves all people. Of course websites online that want to bash Grace Theology or Calvinistic belief would like to claim otherwise but Reformed folks certainly believe that God loves all people. John 3:16 speaks clearly to this matter as you have pointed out. There are two issues that all Christians must face though.
(1) The first issue to face is the reality that God loves different people in differing ways. No doubt you and your wife love all children in the world generally; but you love your own kidos far more than you love other children and out of the depth of that love you sacrifice, serve, and live in relationship with your kids in ways you would not do for other children. That normal human behavior is an echo of the love of the Divine for us. God loves all people in a benevolent or general sense, showing common kindness to all by gifting them life, breath, and a legitimate opportunity to trust in Jesus. However, he has a far deeper love for his children, whom he lives in relationship with, sacrifices for, and serves in ways that he does not do for those who are not His children. This would be called his special or familial love. 1 John 3:1, Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 2:4-5, and 1 John 4:19 all testify to this reality.
(2) Second, God loves differently than we love, both in a benevolent and in a familial sense. God loves in a benevolent sense but he permits horrible things to occur that He has the sovereign power over and knowledge to stop. With a word of His mouth He could put to flight all infanticide, famine, sexual assault, and on the despicable list rolls. Yet all of these things continue to exist. Biblically we understand that God has a purpose for all suffering and all wickedness but that does not alter the reality that if we could be God for a day then we would vanquish all blatant transgression off the face of the earth forever. He doesn’t do that which simply means that He loves differently and from a different vantage point and position of power and plan than we do.
My little girl had open heart surgery when she was six months old. Her heart would not recover so they had to perform a second surgery on her and insert a life-preserving device. It was a miserable and draining 15 days in the hospital. I met several families in the CVICU whose children were dying. I can unashamedly declare that if I were God, loving as I do, I would heal every single one of those little ones. Yet He doesn’t. Now that reality can and will produce one of two responses in people. First, people will cry foul at God’s allowing suffering or even wickedness to continue, become angry with Him, and ultimately turn away from Him. Or alternatively, they can understand rationally and Biblically that God loves differently than we do and allows suffering and wickedness as a part of human will and ultimately His eternal plan of redemption.
These realities are stated in Scripture, supported throughout church history, and affirmed in various confessions of faith. I hope this helps.