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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.

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Dec

14

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.”

Posted in 2009 under Open and Relational Theology

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Comments

Paul DeBaufer

12.14.2009
11:04am

I really like the questions. I really think that most Christians don’t adequately challenge their beliefs, and too often rely on someone else’s faith to get them by, albeit unconsciously (but I digress).

I believe that love IS God’s nature, love within the three persons of the Trinity as well as love for His created order, including creatures (flora and fauna). I, also, believe God acts with integrity, as that is part of His nature (truth). Too act outside of His nature would violate His integrity. Could He stop loving? Could He act outside of His nature? I can force myself to act outside of my personality type and basic psychological nature. However can I project that possibility upon God? I don’t think so as I exist with dual, conflicting natures-the fallen nature of the flesh and, as a Christian, a restored nature. But there is no evidence that God suffers such as we do with this conflict.

Bottom line, I fully believe that God’s nature includes love of creatures and that God cannot act outside of His nature, because truth-including integrity-is part of His full nature.

 

Chuck Wilkes

12.14.2009
11:39am

I understand your approach…but I have a related question that I think precedes your three questions. It is this: How can one know whether one is loved by God or not? Unless we retreat to the corner of saying God necessarily loves all of this creation (which I understand is where you are going), I think it’s pretty difficult to apply any doctrine of “knowing” in such a way as to be able to know that one is loved by God. If the human condition (perhaps even extending to the condition of creation) is the data base, it raises the question How strong is God’s love? And what effect does it have on us?

 

Ron Hunter Jr

12.14.2009
2:00pm

Help me Tom to reconcile the Biblical O.T. narrative in light of this or direct me to readings on the matter. As presented in the O.T., the Israelite people are chosen in a manner where they were enemies of their neighbors as obedience to God.
The necessity for God to Love without external coercion or internal compulsion in what way encounters the many neighbors whom the godly view as enemies? Is there a shadow side to God’s love that would Hate something/one or are the OT people merely opportunistic tyrants?
I have been asked about God “hardening the heart” of O.T. figures at times that result in the Strong arm of God. I am wondering on the openness discussion on these considerations. Thanks.
Ron

 

Paul DeBaufer

12.15.2009
6:47am

Last night I presented your questions to our men’s group. Very interesting discussion followed. We did not reach any consensus, but honestly engaged the questions. One question was raised that seems fitting and appropriate: Does God love those who ultimately wind-up in hell? I suggested that He really does and that He suffers grief when anyone ends up there, but ultimately it is their choice. We left this question mainly in the air when we departed.

 

Thomas Jay Oord

12.15.2009
1:32pm

Paul, Chuck and Ron,

Thanks for your responses!  I’ll make a few brief comments…

Paul - One of the classic theological positions that I affirm is that God’s nature is eternal and unchanging.  Because I think love is an essential aspect of God’s nature, I agree with you that God cannot not love. Just as a square must have four sides, God must love.

Paul 2 - I agree with your response to the men’s group you mention.  I don’t think God ever gives up loving us, even if that means loving us despite our choice to experience hell.  God’s love (chesed) is everlasting, as many OT writers proclaim.

Chuck - Great questions!  As you guessed, I think one can rationally know that God loves them, because they can know that God’s nature is love for all creatures. But as you rightly suggest, there is a difference sometimes between cognitive knowledge of God’s love for us and our deeply felt experience of God’s love. John Wesley thought that our feeling God’s love deeply was of paramount importance for our having confidence, or what he called “Christian assurance.” I agree with him. One role of the Church is to foster situations in which Christians are more likely to experience this deep feeling of being loved by God.

Ron - You raise a number of good questions.  First, I don’t think that God considers anyone an enemy, in the sense of God being essentially opposed to them. But, second, some people are enemies of God because they either 1) declare themselves as enemies or 2) act in opposition to God.  I also think, third, that God hates sin. God hating sin is a secondary consequence, however, to God’s essential nature of love. For these reason, I take very seriously OT statements about God’s wrath.  I just don’t think divine wrath is arbitrary. And I don’t think wrath is essential to God’s character.

Thanks again to all of you!

 

Servetus

01.22.2010
10:38am

There is a tacit requirement that you have not made explicit, and that is:

“It was necessary that a loving God creates His Creation, including beings to be loved”

IOW, you tacitly assume that Creation is a NECESSARY product of God’s love.

If, OTOH, you consider Creation CONTINGENT, if God was not NECESSITATED to create His Creation, then, of course, He would NOT be necessitated to love something EXTERNAL to Him.

 

Kellie Miller

02.10.2013
11:40am

I have never been asked if God could stop loving us. When I first read the question my initial thought was, “Of course not!” As I thought about it a little more, my belief began to change a little. If God is all powerful, He can choose to do whatever He’d like, He could choose to not love us. That brings us to the next question, though. I don’t think that he ever WOULD stop loving us. Though He sent the flood and some may say that is not a love for His creation, I would have to disagree. He didn’t like what was going on in the world, but He did love His creation enough to keep the world going. He didn’t destroy it completely. I believe He will continue loving us, and that He always will.

 

Sara Butkus

02.11.2013
2:22pm

I’m not sure if I agree with you when you say that it is necessary for God to love the world to be God. Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but this statement says to me that humans are entitled to God’s love. It’s almost as if God has to love the world. To me, this limits God and puts him in a box. We will never be able to understand God fully while we are here on Earth. I believe God is powerful and can, in a sense, do whatever he wants. I think he could stop loving us if he really wanted to. But I don’t think he would stop loving us. It’s like a parent with a child. The parent could stop loving the child; we certainly hear plenty of stories that support that. But, in most cases, a parent won’t stop loving their child. We are God’s children and he loves us even more than a human parent loves their child. So if a parent could but won’t stop loving their child, so can God.

 

Alicia

02.12.2013
8:42pm

After thinking through those questions and considering your conclusions, I come to agree with them, especially the one about God has chosen freely to love the world. The way I would put it is that it is God’s choice to love the world and he can stop at any time, but it is not in his nature to do so because we mean so much to him. It is like the situation of a parent and his or her child. The parent has the choice to love his or her child, but whether they feel they do or don’t, truly inside of them they do because it is a built in emotion. It is a natural thing for them to do. God is proud and loves his creation more than anything because he created it and made it in his own image just as he wanted it.

 

Darci Curtin

02.13.2013
12:52pm

This was an interesting post, and although I cannot pinpoint exactly how I feel on this topic, it got me to do a lot of thinking.
Believing that “God’s eternal and unchanging nature includes continual love for creatures” does seem to be the correct answer to the question of whether or not Gods love can change. However, it is difficult for me to say “God can’t”, as in God can’t change the fact that he loves every creature. I have always believed that God can do anything and everything that He wanted but that He is a loving God who would not make a decision that would damage his children.
I would, of course, not like to think that God could change the fact that He loves everyone and everything, but limiting God makes me very uncomfortable. I have always understood God’s nature as loving and perfect. A perfect God would love always and hate would go against God’s perfection. I believe that God has loved, does love, and will love us for eternity. Knowing that God is love and God loves without condition makes it seem to me that it is unchanging and therefore He cannot change it.
In answering the two questions stated, I conclude that God cannot and will not stop loving us. I agree that it is in the nature of God to love His children and although I am uncomfortable with “God cannot”, I believe that because God wouldn’t, then he couldn’t.

 

Shanna Rippy

02.13.2013
1:24pm

In regards to the questions of could and would God stop loving us, I think this puts God into human constraints in the way we think about God’s freedom and choices. Human minds are very linear and things need to have an explanation or a beginning and an end.  So I feel these questions put god into the human context and freedom of choice. I would agree that God cannot stop loving us because then God would not be acting like God. I believe in the statement that God is love and if God could stop loving us, then He would not be God.

 

Nicholas Carpenter

02.13.2013
6:45pm

Coming from a Wesleyan background, the concept of “free will” and “being loving” have always been core beliefs for my life and faith. Yet once we place these “human ideas” on God, they seem to not fit as well. I would think that freedom (whether fully or partially) is linked very closely with love, in that we are free to love and love sets us free. But if love is such a direct aspect of God’s nature, is He free to love instead of just “acting on instinct”? And if God has to love us or it is necessary for Him to love us, is that really love if it’s necessary?

 

April Kerbyson

02.14.2013
7:34am

The main point I took away from this blog is that God is love.  Love is not something God tries to live out each day, like humans do.  Instead, it’s who God is, always.  However, isn’t that the same as saying love is a part of God’s nature?  Therefore, I would have to say that love is innate in God.  However, I believe God could stop loving creation if he so chose, which would accompany my belief that God is all powerful.  However, I also believe God would not choose to stop loving creation, because love in its purest form cannot contain anything but love.  I agree it makes a better argument to accept both views instead of making a case for only one.  While trying to write a response to this post, for example, I was first agreeing that God could stop loving creation.  However, as I thought about it more, I came to remember my other belief that God is love.  Therefore, I came to the conclusion that God couldn’t really stop loving creation if love is innate.  However, by arguing just for that side, that love is innate, then I take some power of God away.  Therefore, I choose to have the best of both worlds, and firmly believe God is all-powerful and all-loving.

 

Kendria Werner

02.14.2013
1:10pm

In general most people love something in their life. Usually for the average person the thing they love the most is usually something from their own creation. We are like God in this way. God created mankind and all of creation. With creating us he loves us and will not stop loving us. Even though we are creatures of a sinful nature we are still loved by God because he created us. The questions asked above, Could God stop loving us, and would God stop loving us? I would have to say no. God will always love us because he created us.

 

Korri Dobson

02.14.2013
5:37pm

After reading these two questions I feel that God has free will to love us and I agree that it is part of his nature to do so.  And I also agree that how he loves each creation is up to him.  I like these blogs because it raises questions that I have never considered and I think that they stretch us in our faith and ultimately strengthen it.  I know there have been times where I have made mistakes and been thankful that God does love me but I have never thought to myself “could God stop loving me?”

 

beth castro

02.14.2013
9:32pm

God is Love.  I do not think that God could or would stop loving us.  He created us; he created all things great and small.  He created the earth and the creatures first, and then created mankind.  He loved his creation so much that he needed to add more love and he created mankind.  Why would he stop loving us?  I guess my question would be, why would you ask the question, “Could/would God stop loving us?”  It does not “seem” like a Christian should ask that question.  Maybe it a question we need to ask ourselves to make our faith stronger, or confirm our belief in God.  Because you would need to be confident in your answer in order to stand your ground if asked the question by someone else.

 

Elora Drake

02.14.2013
10:31pm

God’s love for us is a concept that I personally focus on quite frequently. I believe in the trinity for the purpose that to love and love others perfectly God had to exist in a perfect loving relationship that could only occur in Him and through Him therefore the trinity is necessary. I like your questions that asks the difference between “could” and “would” God stop loving us. I found that when I initially read this my initial reaction was to say of course not to both and found it surprising that people were apt to think that He “could” but not that He “would”. I agree with and I like your point that God’s love has the freedom of how He loves the world from moment to moment. I relate that to the love of a parent I dont think good parents “could” or “would” ever stop loving their child though how they love my change and vary from moment to moment.

 

Steven Coles

02.14.2013
10:43pm

I think you have a few good points here. I do believe that, as Christians, we are inconstant with how we view God’s love for us and the rest of creation. I also think your alternative is a great solution to the inconstancy. It gives Christians, like me, the safety in saying that, “I am loved by God,” but it also leaves God to love me, and others, the way that God chooses to love creation. With that being said, I think that we are trying to but God into a box. I think this because, we are trying to understand this, ‘love’ that God has for us in such a way that i do not think we can fully grasp. What I mean is, by making the statement that, “God loves us,” we put weight upon the word, ‘love’ when there is no clear definition of love (in this context of God loving us). I think be trying to define how God loves us, we are putting God into this metaphorical box (this is, however, unless we are using your definition of love).

 

Christabel Leonce

02.14.2013
10:54pm

I don’t think that God could stop loving us or that He would ever stop loving us. I love the point made about loving being God’s nature, God is love and therefore he cannot act outside of His nature. Everything thing He does, He does it out of love. God’s love goes beyond what we a mere human can understand. As I read the blog I flipped my Bible to Genesis, the beginning the place where it all began where God was purposely creating something that He would love but something He would not force love upon.

 

Erin Rickart

02.15.2013
9:06am

This was a very interesting topic and not something that I ha really thought about before. I do think that it is important to understand the nature of God’s love for us in order to have a more complete relationship with Him. For me, all of the questions asked and the message conveyed in this blog can be summed with these quotes from it:
“…they should say that God necessarily loves the world. To love creation is part of what it means to be God. But how God loves the world is freely chosen in God’s moment-by-moment relationship with creation.”
That quote explained the whole argument for me. No one can deny that God loves us; it’s the details about the love that gets muddied up. After reading this blog I realize that God does have to love us, but He chooses how to how that love to us, and that is just as important as His love. I also think that it’s important to keep in mind that to love us is what it means to be God. Therefore, He can never stop or start again because it’s always there. That is a very comforting thought.

 

Benjamin Messmer

02.15.2013
9:28am

This leads me to the question of even though God loves us, why does he allow suffering.  Does suffering allow us to love God?  Would we love God without suffering?  Does God punish us when we do wrong?  Is that part of his love as well?  A parent does not allow their child to walk blindly into something that will hurt them so would God?  God does always remember us and love us that I do agree with, but what does this mean, and why do I not live like it?

 

Caitlin Bauder

02.15.2013
10:22am

After reading this blog I spent a lot of time thinking about the questions. I honestly feel like I just keep going in a circle with my answers. I find myself thinking about parent child relationships. I think about how anything is possible with God, therefore, God could stop loving us. To be honest the only conclusion I came to after reading this blog is that I need God to love me, I don’t know why He does, but I need Him to love me.

 

Taylor Watson

02.15.2013
10:43am

Although I had never thought of God being “forced” to love humanity by His very nature, after reading this post I am starting to think I might agree with Oord’s statement. At first I really did not like the thought of God being forced to love us, but after much contemplation I found that it was not so much that God was forced to love, as it was that God’s nature is LOVE. Because of that, although He is not forced by anything to love, it is His very unchangeable nature!

 

Kindra Galloway

02.15.2013
10:58am

God is the definition of love. I know that He will always love His creation because his love is unconditional.The Bible says “God is Love.’ He promises that He will always love us. Since He is perfect, He will not go back on His word. He is unchanging. I don’t think that we can bind God by His loving nature. I would not say that He HAS to love us, rather He created us and His creation is good. He can’t not love us, and He will never abandon nor forsake us.

 

Priscilla Cuevas

02.15.2013
10:58am

I thought this blog was very interesting cause I have found myself questioning sometimes Gods love for me yet there is always a reminder in my head that he loves even through my faults. I think Gods love is everlasting and truly believe that God would never choose to stop loving the very things he has created. I have faith that love is one of the most powerful things that symbolize God and agree that God would not be God if he didnt have this lasting love.

 

Diane Vander Hulst

02.15.2013
2:10pm

You ask some very interesting questions that I have never really thought deeply on. My answer is no, I do not think God would or could stop loving us. I do not think God would create this world and than say, “No I don’t want to love you anymore.” The world would be worse off than it already is. The only love in this world exists because the “good” nature from God. I sometimes have a hard time when I am asked these sorts of questions because I can honestly say I do not know the answer. I want to say no to the questions that were raised, however I know that God is God, and he is unfathomable. I do not think we are supposed to know all of these answers. We all know God is a loving and gracious God, either because we have experienced God’s love first hand or this believe is supported by the Bible. I think it is okay to not know all the answers. I have always believed that were reason ends, faith begins. If we knew all of these answers, where would our faith be?

 

Abbey

02.15.2013
3:27pm

Overall, I agree with the main premise of this post – that it is a part of God’s nature to love his creation, but he is free in the expression of this love.  However, I had a couple of questions as I thought about God’s loving nature.  Generally I think that God is God and always has been God – he is who he is and his nature is unchanging.  If that includes loving his creation, what did he do before “the beginning”, or before his creation existed?

 

Christie

02.15.2013
11:41pm

Could God stop loving us? Would God stop loving us? My first instinct is to say yes to the first question and no to the latter. It is strange to think there might be something God can’t do, even if that is to stop loving us. However, when we dive a little deeper into that question, it doesn’t seem that crazy of a proposal. Something that bothers me though is that if I say God cannot stop loving us, it then seems to make Him dependent on us. I think God chose to make us because it pleases Him to love us. However, He already destroy the world once because things got so bad. If it had not been for the righteousness of Noah, God may have chosen to not save anyone. Perhaps then he would have created something else instead of humans. So, I think God wants to love us, He finds pleasure in doing so, however, if generation after generation turned their backs on Him and chose sin over His love, He might just get fed up with it. So why am I so confident that that won’t happen and God will always love us? Because He already told us how it ends. He already said that His people will live with Him in eternity.  Someday He will destroy the world again, but He will never stop loving those who choose Him.

 

Davis Halle

02.16.2013
11:55am

I believe that God is all powerful. I feel that He chooses to love us not because He has to. He wants to love us because in this way He shows us how to love others. We cannot love if He has not first loved us. I do not think God would ever stop loving us but I also feel that there is no option not to. He has chosen to love us and that was His choice in creating us. When the question is asked “could God stop loving us” I feel that He could because He can do anything but also He can’t because He chose to love and create us. I do not think there is any limitation on God and in this He could stop loving us but in the idea of him never wanting to stop loving us this means he couldn’t stop in a way. When someone has no desire to change in any way and there was no force that would make them change then it could be said that they could not change.

 

Laura Shacklett

02.16.2013
11:57am

Before reading this blog I never even thought about if God could stop loving me. I grew up learning that God continually loves you no matter how much you mess up. I feel like if you believed that God could stop loving you, there would be no reason to follow rules because everyone makes mistakes. I am sure God has the power to stop loving, I am not sure why he would, but all I do know is that I personally believe that God will never stop loving. God is so amazing and has done such wondrous things and you can see his love everywhere. I do not know why he would ever want to change that. God is love.

 

mike jaquess

02.19.2013
1:51pm

I believe that God cannot stop loving us and He wont stop loving us. To be God is to be unchanging and to have an abiding love for everyone. He couldn’t stop loving us because that’s not God or His nature, and He wouldn’t stop loving us because that’s changing who He is and what he said he’d do for us. He does get sad and hurt when we go against His word, but his plan for us to to always draw close to Him and He wants nothing more than to love us and to be close to us.

 

Elisabeth Pena

02.21.2013
5:27pm

I find this article to be interesting, because in my mind the idea that it is apart of God’s nature to love us doesn’t seem so awful to me. I know that most feel that it puts a limit on God, that it forces him into a corner, but I don’t. It simply just is a part of who he is. And it is absolutely true that just because this is an attribute of God does not mean He does not/would not choose it freely. This attribute does not need to take away the meaning of His love for us, but rather add to the essence of who He is.

 

Noah Chance

04.06.2013
3:12pm

God is love. These three words are one of the most basic descriptions of God, but at the same time this statement says the most about who and what God is. God expresses Himself through love, and he cannot exist outside of what He is which is Love. The main point is two terms love and God cannot be separated from another. It is also true that God would not stop loving us, but more importantly why would He want to stop going against His nature.

 

Teagan Cameron

05.01.2013
10:37pm

I agree with the idea that “God could and may easily decide to stop loving creation”; however, I do firmly believe that God will always choose to love His creation. After all, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He sent his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” God does not need us or anything He created for that matter, yet He chooses to continuously and unconditionally love us. The essence of Him as our Heavenly Father will always be love so I am fully confident that we will always be loved by someone, and that someone is God.

 

Tara McClees

05.01.2013
11:33pm

I agree that God can’t and won’t stop loving us. I think I’ve heard the possibility of God doing otherwise argued from some verse in the new Testament about God loving Jacob but hating Esau. I think this results from a poor translation. Nevertheless, this possibility seems to have added to a wedge between my younger brother and God for years. During this time, upon looking at this verse, he concluded that 1)it was possible for God to hate someone, 2) God hated some people, and 3) God hated him. It was a terrible situation and, as I perceive it, a very unhealthy viewpoint.

 

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Thomas Jay Oord is a professor, author, and theologian from the Northwest. Read more