The third verse of the hymn The Love of God reads as follows:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
I seriously doubt that any Christian could overstate the love of God for His creatures. While some Calvinists, such as James White, tend to focus on God’s love solely for His elect (a notion contradicted by Jesus at Mark 10:21), most Arminians tend to laud Him for His love for all people. And why not? We believe that He loved the world in such a manner as that which motivated Him to send His only Son into the world to die for their sins, so that whoever would trust Him would be saved from sin and hell. Is that not, after all, what the Bible teaches? Oh, what a Savior!
When considering the correlation between God’s love, providence (or governance), and sovereignty, Fritz Guy noted that “in the character of God love is more fundamental than control.” He added, “Thus the divine love is free, not only to will what is truly good for every created entity but also to create moral freedom with a potential for determining its own relationship to the love that is the character of God. Thus the divine love makes its experience of the world vulnerable to the possible misuse of the moral freedom it creates . . .
“If Christian theology really believes that Jesus the Messiah is the supreme revelation of God, then revelation ought to determine also its understanding of God’s governance of the world. To the person who takes seriously Jesus’ claim ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) it is obvious that divine power is expressed not by decreeing and controlling (in the fashion of an ancient despot or a feudal lord), but by self-giving and enabling.
“A great but seldom-recognized irony here is that some Christians who have, in principle, a ‘high Christology’ have nevertheless failed to let it guide their understanding of God. Jesus called his disciples’ attention to the radical difference between his own ~ that is, God’s ~ kind of governance and the kind of governance they had seen in the world around them (Matt. 20:25-28):
“‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
“Jesus’ recommendation of self-giving service is not merely a useful strategy for successful human relationships. It is also a revelation of the nature of the divine governance of the world . . .
“The heart of the Christian gospel is not the existence of God, or the eternity and omnipotence (that is, the ontological independence) of deity, or the triunity of the divine being. The heart of the gospel is the ultimate fact that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16).
“This means that God ‘exists in love,’ that is, ‘constitutes his existence in the event of his love.’ That is why ‘love’ is the one word that ‘the Christian tradition has been willing to apply unqualifiedly to God.’ Indeed, ‘God is the model of love. We learn what love is by looking at God.’
“Hence Christian theology has sometimes regarded love, not as a quality or attribute of God, but as the nature of God. Accordingly, loving may be regarded not simply as one of a number of divine activities, along with creating, sustaining, and judging; loving is what all of the activities of God accomplish . . .
“In the reality of God, love is more fundamental than, and prior to, justice or power. It is more important for God to give himself to his creation than to rule the world or to be worshiped by the whole creation. Divine love is the ground of divine justice, the motivation of divine power, the character of divine sovereignty. So love does not need to be ‘balanced’ or ‘kept in check’ by any other attribute or value, such as justice or holiness.”1
A Calvinist asked me whether or not I thought God’s love is a necessity. Is God forced to love people and give grace to all equally? That is the wrong question, isn’t it? I also ask, Is it possible for a being whose nature is defined by love not to express that love?
Calvinists treat God’s love much in the same way as they treat His grace: as particular. Because they view His grace as given to only a few, pre-selected people, then, for the sake of consistency, they are forced to concede that God’s love is also reserved for only a few, pre-selected people.
Thus when it comes to God’s claim to really, truly, genuinely love the world, and to His nature actually being love, it is really just His mask. You see, He must wear this mask (universal love) in order to hide the fact that He has only chosen to save some people. And, not only has chosen whom He would love, He has, by implication, chosen who would love Him. That is a bit odd. How did God go about choosing who would love Him?
Cheer up my friends! The mask is not real. It was given to God by Calvinism. The good news is that Arminianism has torn the mask from the Calvinist’s conception of God’s holy, loving face, so that the light of Christ Jesus may shine forth in the gospel, in the full glory and power of the Holy Spirit. God’s crowning accomplishment was the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for all. His grace is extended to all who hear the gospel, as the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins, enabling them to freely choose Christ Jesus as their Lord.
But God is no despot. He, though enables, does not force or coerce a person to believe in Jesus, for that is not grace at all! Rhetoric aside, I believe these things to be a pure representation which encapsulates the tenor of Scripture. It is consistent and God-honoring. He loves all (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), and desires the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:4). This is merely clear Scriptural teaching.
And what if all do not hear the gosepl? My friends, God has given us believers the privilege to share in His work by spreading the gospel. For, how shall they “call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:14 NKJV) They certainly cannot wait around to be regenerated. “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved'” (Rom. 10:13).
Let us not blame God for not saving all people through the gospel when He has commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Acts 1:8). He cannot be blamed for our negligence. And our negligence to obey His command (and thus a great number of people are not saved) does not mean that God does not love the whole world.
1 Fritz Guy, “The Universality of God’s Love,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 33-35.