God Can’t Help But Love Us
Many Christians believe God does not necessarily relate to creatures. God at one time (or before time) existed alone – albeit as Trinity. Yet these same Christians believe they can count on God to love them. I don’t think there are good grounds to believe both ideas.
If nothing external to God forces God to love creation (a belief I think wise to affirm) and nothing internal to God makes it the case the God must love creation (a belief I reject), God could and may easily decide to stop loving creation.
The solution is to believe that God’s eternal and unchanging nature includes continual love for creatures.
If God’s nature does not include love for creation, God could simply stop loving creatures at 7am tomorrow and start hating instead. There is no reason – not even belief in God itself – to think God will continue loving.
Denying that God’s nature includes love for creation also means that God may have not acted lovingly at various times in the past.
In short, those who want to argue consistently that God always loves creation need to change their view of God’s relation to the world. Instead of saying God’s relation to the world is entirely voluntary, arbitrary, or accidental to God’s nature, they should say that God necessarily loves the world. To love creation is part of what it means to be God.
I like to ask people two diagnostic questions about God’s love for us. The answers given these questions indicate, in my mind, that many people are inconsistent in their view of God’s love. The first question is this:
1. Could God stop loving us?
Most people answer this question with “yes” (although I do not). Most think God’s love for the world is freely chosen in all respects, and God could decide to stop loving creatures if God chose to do so.
God “sovereignly chooses to love the world,” my friend, Clark Pinnock, would say. The answer most people give this first question aligns with his words. God’s love is “free from every necessity in respect to its object,” Karl Barth would say.
I subsequently ask people this question:
2. Would God stop loving us?
Almost everyone answers this question with “no” (and I agree). But the people who think God could stop loving us have no justification for thinking God would not stop loving us.
If they believe God’s nature does not necessarily include love for creation, these friends have no grounds for believing God will continually love them.
To say it another way, there is no reason to think God will continue loving us and not start hating us if God’s eternal nature does not include love for the world.
Sometimes, I ask as a follow-up question,
3. Why are you so confident God would always love us?
Most people say something like this, “I am confident God would not stop loving me, because to stop loving me would mean God isn’t acting like God.”
This answer, in my mind, reveals that most people really do think God’s love for the world is an essential element in God’s nature. The phrase “God isn’t acting like God” (and its equivalents) suggests this.
People actually do think God’s love for us is a necessary aspect of what it means to be God: God’s essence. But they also want to account for a dimension of freedom in God’s love.
I think people are right to want to affirm both truths. But they need another way to do so.
My way is to say the fact that God loves the world is necessary as a part of God’s nature. But how God loves the world is freely chosen in God’s moment-by-moment relationship with creation.
My alternative does not mean we have to reject the Trinitarian theology of Pinnock and Barth. We can accept a social Trinity of mutual love. But we need to add the doctrine that God has always and necessarily related to creatures.
Instead of choosing either that God necessarily loves in Trinity or that God necessarily loves creatures, I affirm both doctrines. And this provides more robust support for the central biblical claim, “God is love.”