How much does God love us?*

My latest internal conversation:

Does God love me so much that I am free to choose or NOT choose God?

...Or...

Does God love me so much that I'm free to be saved, regardless of my decisions?

This is the most important question I've asked myself in a long time. On the face of it they seem to be mutually exclusive. I don't know if my free will can exist within, or even after, God's final redemptive act.

I've always told myself that the greatest aspect of my creation (as I am made in the image of God) is the ability to choose. I am supposed to participate in God's creation as Adam did. Through my choices I can bring the Kingdom of God here or push it back. God doesn't want robots and all that. I'm a good Wesleyan... even my ability to choose is couched in God's great prevenient grace. I love because he first loved me. So, I am created in love, by love, and for love. Prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.

But does that mean God loves me so much I can say “God, I don't want your salvation” and he's cool with that? And by cool with that I mean that I am so respected that God's will won't negate my will. Or does he love me so much his response is “Jack, it doesn't matter if you want your salvation because I do” (in which, God's will overtakes my own).

Grace is always a tricky proposition. As Jesus said, he didn't come for the righteous but for the condemned. Weird. It is not the healthy who need help but the sick.

And for this I can't help but think the flip side of the argument. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, does that mean that even I cannot separate myself from God's love?

Some would say that God's love is available for all who accept it. So while God sent his son for the world, the world must accept him to make that salvation complete. A lot of ink has been spilled explaining how one really accepts him. But still, it remains there.

Certainly repentance is necessary for salvation right? But does this turn into conditional love? The biggest “but” in the world: “God loves you, buuuuuut you have to accept that love yourself.”

Some would say God's love knows no “but” - it is unconditional. And the “but” is a HUGE conditional. God's love simply is. It cannot be spoiled by any condition – height, depth, angels, demons, life, or even death can separate us from God's love through Christ.

Certainly God's love never ends and is completely sufficient, right? But... does that mean there is no such thing as hell or that all my platitudes towards “free will” will simply be negated to “God's will”?

How much of a difference is there between a repentant sinner and an unrepentant sinner? Does God love them differently? When Jesus says he came for sinners, which kind of sinner was he referring to? Does the condition of the sinner change the unconditional love?

The obvious conclusion of this line of questioning results in two Jacks:

One Jack believes that God loves all to the point that we can reject him.

Another Jack believes that God loves all to the point that we cannot reject him (ultimately).

The bottom line is this: God's grace is sufficient. And I'm choosing God (or trying to), so I guess it doesn't really matter. Because I know he's already chosen me. Christ is counting on me, and I am counting on Christ. But if I didn't choose him? His grace would still be sufficient to bring me to that choice.

Yeah, that sounded as weird in my head as it did reading it.

*This post is not about whether or not God loves us. I take that as a forgone conclusion but it would make for an interesting post later. This post is simply to invite you into conversation regarding a Christian “splitting of the hairs” and my salvation or ministry does not hinge on this discussion. I would say that our approach to others (Christian and not) does hinge on such a conversation. But I would love your thoughts and you can help me be a better person. :)

Comments

  1. God is love.

    I love astronomy, I love the elements, I love that what we are, is ultimately the same substance as the stars. In their astounding, explosive beginning- what I am now, was present. My humble beginning, as I know it, was already there.

    That is to say, I cannot escape what I was first part of, and to (star) dust, I shall return.

    I cannot escape god, and to him I must return.

    That may not be sufficient for some people's doctrine. They tend to like god tidier than that.

    I'm not worried. Have you looked at the stars lately?

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  2. Jack, fun conversation you've started. Just to add a bit of fun I thought I would include another option.
    You asked the question of whether it was a matter of us accepting God's grace or not, you didn't mention the possibility of it resting upon rejecting God's grace.
    I know you'll want some scripture to back it up, so I'll offer a couple. One, Jesus on the cross asking that God forgive the people for they don't know what they are doing (they aren't repentant, not asking for forgiveness yet he offers it anyway). Two, the parable of the prodigal son. Now, you're first thought may be that he did repent when he came home, and that could be true. But it simply says he came to his senses, the word for repent does not appear here. And the father was there the whole time waiting, running to him, not even allowing him to apologize. He doesn't let the son go through his rehearsed speech. In his book The Orthodox Heretic Peter Rollins has a great parable where the son only repents after receiving the grace and forgiveness from the father. He makes a case that grace and forgiveness must be a prerequisite for true repentance, which is quite interesting.
    So, there is also the possibility that salvation doesn't rest upon going out of our way to accept God's grace, but merely in our not going out of our way to reject God's grace (which in and of itself seems more gracious).

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  3. I think on the whole, our ability to choose (freewill) is over rated. What is your favorite color? Blue? Why? It looks nice? Why do you think it looks nice? It’s soothing to the eyes? Why does it look soothing to your eyes? and so on. Ultimately, you don’t know why you like blue as your favorite color and yet you do. In many places in the Bible, God makes it clear He does the choosing, Romans chapter 9, Ephesians 1:1-11, John 15:16, and others. I have spoken with many people who report that they have made a decision for Jesus. When I ask them to tell me their story, it frequently comes down to something like “God was after me until I finally gave in….” And yet they will tell you that they made the decision. And of course, there is the wonderfully true statement that I love because He first loved me (1John 4:19). While I was still a sinner Christ died for me. While I was yet a sinner God did what was necessary (not me because I was still a sinner) for me to have a relationship with Him (Ro 5:8). The bottom line to all of this conversation is: to God be ALL the glory. There is nothing within me that warrants salvation. He is the all Love, the all Grace, the all Mercy. I agree with Jonathan that even my repentance or lack thereof has nothing to do with it. I can repent only after God has moved within my being (prevenient grace?) to give me the wherewithal to do it. I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be, how marvelous, oh wonderful is my Savior’s love for me. Amazing Grace!

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  4. The Church has always taught that God's grace is required even to have the disposition to have faith in Christ, but that there are those who will perish because of rejecting Christ. I believe that there is truth in the fact that God's grace predestines his Church but that also we must cooperate in that grace in order to accept it. It is a sort of mystery as how the two are fully compatible, but that shouldn't be too hard to accept, since most of the truths of God are tough to totally comprehend the same way we comprehend algebraic formulas (the Trinity, Jesus' death and resurrection, Salvation, the Eucharist, etc). I don't see where God's grace brings all to full salvation despite their response to it; that sort of universalism has been widely rejected throughout Christianity, though it occasionally pops up occasionally. That does not mean that God is the only one who truly knows who is part of the enduring Saints and that it is he whose grace does the work of salvation.

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