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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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God is Love

God is love

by Dennis Pollock

One of the most encouraging thoughts in the Bible comes from that simple three-word declaration found twice in John’s first epistle, which tells us that God is love.  Here is a concept which nearly everybody can embrace, from the theological conservatives to the liberals, from the Bible-reading, praise singing evangelicals to the Hollywood celebrities. Almost no one would try to argue that God is not love, or suggest that love has little to do with Christianity. And if after reading John’s writings we are still not sure of the love of God, we can go to Jesus’ famous announcement that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”

The doctrine of the love of God is undeniable, but in practice things get a little sticky. As we look around the world, or as we look within the history of our own lives and struggles we may be tempted to see a disconnect. And in fact many have. Our problem has to do with those age old questions that always begin in the same way: “If God is a loving God, then why…” Some of these might go something like this:

  1. “If God is a loving God, then why did He allow my child to die?”
  2. “If God is a loving God, then why is there war, poverty, and racism in the world?”
  3.  “If God loves me, why did He allow my husband to leave me for another woman?”


The questions come in many flavors but they all essentially revolve around the problem with God being completely loving, all-powerful, controlling all things, and yet allowing all sorts of miseries, sufferings, pain, cruelty, tragedy, and struggle in the lives of nearly all the inhabitants of the earth. If He is really all that powerful and all that loving, why doesn’t He instantly remove all misery and make us all happy all the time?

Central Truths

All these questions cannot be answered in specifics, but there are some general guidelines and understandings we need to see that will help us. Some of these basic truths are the following:

  1. Our starting point is, as always, faith in God as He is revealed in the Scriptures. And this means believing that God is indeed a loving, compassionate God who desires the happiness and well-being of all people. Regardless of what we see in our lives, or what tragedies and miseries we observe in this world, God does not change.
  2. A second major truth we must embrace is that the love of God in no way suggests that He is unwilling for His children to experience pain, suffering, or struggle.
  3. A third truth is that God has given human beings free will, and the ability and opportunity to hurt one another. This, by necessity, means that suffering is inevitable in this world.
  4. A fourth point is that our world is a fallen world. It has been spoiled, tainted, and twisted by sin. Such things as poison ivy, hurricanes, tornadoes, malaria, cancer, and so forth are in a sense unnatural, and yet in our sin-saturated world which is “in the sway of the evil one” these things seem perfectly normal and natural.

 

Suffering in the World

At the tender age of thirteen the lad who would grow up and become the founder of the tech giant called Apple, Steve Jobs, was troubled by a picture and article in Life Magazine which showed two African children who were starving due to a famine. Steve could not seem to reconcile this terrible misery with a God of love and power. So he went to his pastor for answers. He held up one finger and asked his pastor, “Did God know that I would hold up this finger before I did?” The pastor (correctly) replied, “Yes, God knows everything.” Then Steve produced the Life Magazine cover photo and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?” The pastor told him that although he couldn’t understand it, surely God knew about this as well. Jobs was instantly indignant and declared that he would not have anything to do with such a God, and never went to church again.

But those two starving children were just the tip of the iceberg. Had he done more research Steve Jobs could have produced far more pictures and stories of suffering and misery than that. How about Russia in the era of Stalin when millions were purged to satisfy their leader’s paranoia? Or all the innocent young women and girls who have been raped and abused in every generation? How about the wives whose husbands beat them and cheat on them continually? Or the children in the cancer wards whose lives will be cut terribly short by this horrible disease? What about the families who lose loved ones and sometimes their houses and property in hurricanes and tornadoes? Where is God in all of this?

The short answer to this is that God is on His throne, as He always has been. He does not take naps nor does He ever put the world on “automatic pilot.” Yes, He could remove all pain and misery from our world. He could instantly remove all suffering, do away with natural disasters, end all sickness, and stop all wars. But this He refuses to do. Because in order to put an end to all these sufferings and miseries, it would be necessary for Him to stop everyone from sinning and instantly return us to the place Adam and Even enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. He would have to remove free will from us, and would be required to manipulate all of us, puppet-like, directing our every thought, word, and deed. Free will would cease, and robotic, mindless obedience to God’s laws would be the norm. And this He will not do. It is still true today, as it was in Joshua’s day, that the word of the Lord to the human race is: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” As long as men and women still sin and cheat and lust, misery will be with us. And somehow even nature itself is affected by this.

Does God want to keep us from pain and suffering? Of course He does. And because He is love, He is doing all He wisely can to prevent these things. In fact, to ensure that this suffering does not extend forever, He has sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, to die on our behalf and then be raised from the dead. God has declared that whoever puts their faith in Jesus will inherit a new world where all the beauties of this world will be retained, but all the misery of this world will be absent – permanently!

What About My Suffering?

painAnother dilemma we find, relating to the love of God, has to do with why God does not immediately answer our personal prayers for relief from major suffering. As His children, we know we are loved by God, we know we are the apple of His eye, and we know that He cares deeply for us. And yet sometimes we find that even in our most heart-crushing experiences, there is seemingly no response, or at least no immediate response, when we cry to our Heavenly Father for deliverance. And why should we be going through all of this anyway? Surely God saw what was coming, and could have headed it off through divine intervention. Why did He just sit back and allow things to come to this?

We must recognize that God’s primary objective for His children is not a pain-free, stress-free, struggle-free life, but rather that they might be conformed to the nature of His Son Jesus Christ, and pain, difficulties, and struggles are some of His chief tools in bringing this about. The Bible tells us:

  1. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
  2. We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3,4).
  3. Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings… (1 Peter 4:12, 13).

Tough Love

Imagine seeing a five-year-old little boy in the store with his mother. He sees a candy bar and immediately asks her to buy it for him. Momma, knowing that they will shortly eat dinner, and recognizing that the sugar in that candy is hardly the best thing for her son, tells him no. The boy asks again, this time in a louder voice, “Momma, buy me this candy.” Again Momma tells him no. Now he really loses it and stomps his feet, screaming at the top of his lungs, “Momma, you must buy me this candy – if not, I hate you!”

How shall Momma respond? What would you think of Momma if she immediately backed down and said in an apologetic tone, “I’m sorry, my sweet little boy. Of course I will buy you the candy.” Any mother who responded that way to such a hateful, selfish, demanding request would be guilty of a form of child abuse. She would be working effectively to turn her son into a monster who will grow up to be selfish, abusive, egotistical, uncaring, and who will experience a lifetime of broken relationships and failed jobs.

A wise mother would not only refuse to buy her son the candy, but would apply a little discipline that involved the sting of pain. This would serve as a wise counselor to the little fellow for future reference. She would apply this discipline and administer some pain-therapy, i.e. a spanking, not because she hates her son, but because she loves her son. But in her mature love for her little boy, she prefers that he experience temporary pain in the present, in order that he might experience far less pain and suffering in the years to come.

God is not so different. The Bible says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24). So the answer to the question: “How can a loving God allow His children to experience pain and struggle?” is “very easily.” He does not enjoy seeing us suffer, but sometimes He knows that a dose of pain in the present may provide a remedy for more severe pain in the future. Sometimes the pain is a chastening for our disobedience, but at other times, it is simply a divine training course to produce maturity and patience in the lives of His children.

God’s Unchanging Love

But all of this does not change the fact of God’s amazing love. If the love of God does not result in keeping us and our world from pain and misery, then just what does it mean and how is it manifested? God’s love means that, first, He is doing all He wisely can to prevent misery in the world. No, He will not negate free will and the consequences of sin, but He has given us His word to show us how we may live in “righteousness, peace, and joy” even in a world where struggle is common and tears flow freely. He has “so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son” so that we can live forgiven, justified, and with a vibrant hope of eternal life in a place where all pain and struggle are nothing more than dim memories.

One of the things I have noticed in my own life is that the greater the measure of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that rests upon me, the more love I sense for people. This is especially true when I am ministering in missions in Africa. I often have a very keen sense of the love God has for my African audiences, and His great desire for their salvation. But God’s love is not just for people living overseas in third-world countries. It touches Americans of every stripe and color and financial status – from the plumber who fixes your pipes to the professor of that difficult journalism class.

We may have our struggles; we may have tragedies and difficulties which we cannot explain. But still we know, from both the Scriptures and our walk with God, that neither life nor death nor failed marriages, nor cancer, nor bankruptcy, nor joblessness, nor the death of our dreams, nor unpaid bills, nor wayward children, nor the death of loved ones can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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