Is that an odd question: What if God were the only one who loved you? If you have ever experienced the feeling of being unloved, even if from a cognitive distortion, you more fully identify with the question. But there is more to this question than may meet the eye. When we discuss the love of God we too often attach romantic notions of love to the subject of God’s love for humanity and misunderstand and misappropriate His love. By “love” I am not suggesting feelings, or emotions, but action. Particularly, I am referring to redemptive actions, which we also associate with grace. However, I am also by no means dismissing the love of God on an emotional level, quite the contrary. I merely want to ground the love of God not in feelings only but in redemptive action.
Notice how the apostle John frames the subject of love: “We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). How can we know for certain and actually experience the love of God? The apostle insists that we know love by the historical fact of Jesus dying for us on the Cross of Calvary. So, we can at least know intellectually, by the historical fact of the Cross of Christ, that God loves us. But is there more? How do I experience the love of God for me? In essence, I can know intellectually that God loves me, but how does that knowledge relate to me on an emotional level? After all, knowing that one is loved is not always synonymous with feeling that one is loved.
Let me be transparent and state the matter clearly by way of a question and then an explanation: If no one in the world loves me then how might I know that God loves me? What I mean is that we know and experience the love of God through the love of others. The same apostle writes: “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sins.” (1 John 4:9, 10, emphasis added) This echoes his earlier statement quoted above, except for his stating here that God’s love was revealed among us, referring to the corporate body of Christ-believers.
He also states: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) But then comes the clincher: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) Another translation states: “No one has ever seen God with human eyes; but if we love one another, God truly lives in us. Consequently God’s love has accomplished its mission among us.” (The Voice) I appreciate that latter statement. But there is still a truth not made clear in this passage among most translations. Because no one among us has seen God with human eyes, when we love another, we are seeing God (i.e., “God truly lives in us”). Thus, we know and experience the love of God through the love of others.
Perhaps we can properly view the love of God as also deriving from His justice. Arminius suggests that God is justice.1 William den Boer writes: “The key to a proper understanding of Arminius’s theology is the interplay between different positions and developments in Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic theology in Arminius’s time, and the way he processed them. Two closely-related themes show themselves to be of fundamental importance: the knowability of God’s justice, and the question as to the cause of sin.”2 Contrary to Calvin, Arminius argues that God’s justice can be known, and believes the duty of the faithful theologian is to safeguard God’s justice.3 Why? Because in safeguarding the justice of God — God’s own nature being just — one is also safeguarding God’s own freedom, freedom to love, freedom to demonstrate that love, as well as to demonstrate grace and mercy and compassion without compromising justice.4 Moreover, safeguarding the justice of God is to also safeguard the innocence of God regarding sin and evil. Since God is just then He has no vested interest in decreeing sin.
Here is where the justice of God intersects with the love of God in Arminian theology. God’s unshakeable justice “requires that all contact between sinful humankind and God pass through Christ. The ordo of just mercy, and of the merciful justice of God, determines the necessity of Christ and of faith in Him.”5 We are not to think that the Father hates us, that the Son loves us, and therefore the only reason the Father loves us is because of the Son. Oddly enough this concept is somewhat popular among folk religion advocates. The reason God’s justice and love are centered in the Person of Jesus Christ is because of Christ’s Mediatorial office: Jesus mediates between the Father and human beings (1 Tim. 2:5); Jesus is the Advocate between the Father and human beings (1 John 2:1).
This is also why Jesus Christ is the Center of the Christian religion. Each miracle of salvation has Christ at the center: the condition for the Father graciously saving a sinner is in union with and through faith in the Son of God. God lovingly acts in grace through the Holy Spirit in the mind and heart of the sinner toward faith in Jesus Christ for the saving of the soul. In Christ is found the love of God; in Christ is found the justice of God; and all who are found in Christ are both loved and pronounced justified by God.
The communication of that love, however, flows from a community named the Body of Christ. We are called to a unified oneness and to love one another, so that the world at large may know that God the Father sent God the Son into the world (John 17:21, 23), and that God the Father loves them as He loves God the Son Himself (John 17:23, 26). Jesus confesses that if we, as disciples of Him, love one another then the world will know that we belong to Him. (John 13:35) When we fail to love one another, as well as our enemies (Matt. 5:44), then the world fails to understand and experience the love of God. If we are to have revival in any land, or a Reformation, then such will begin when we, as disciples of Christ, experience and let others experience that the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us who believe. (Rom. 5:5)
1 William den Boer, “Jacobus Arminius: Theologian of God’s Twofold Love,” in Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius (1559/60-1609), eds. Th. Marius van Leeuwen, Keith D. Stanglin, and Marijke Tolsma (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 35.
2 Ibid., 25-26.
3 Ibid., 31.
4 Ibid., 35.
5 Ibid., 39.