In a world in which the expression of true love is lacking in so many areas and perverted in others, it is understandable that some unbelievers would struggle to understand the love of God. This is also the case for Christians especially for those who may have grown up with an absent father or who suffered various forms of abuse from the ones who were supposed to love them. Further, there are certain parts of the world in which it is very hard to convey the concept of the love of God to unbelievers simply because the current god(s) they believe in do not love them. This can especially be the case for women.
But God’s love should not be a foreign or confusing idea for His children. In fact, it should not be merely an idea at all. It should be an experience that we live everyday as we see the many ways in which God loves His children. This is the focus of R. C. Sproul’s new book God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children by David C. Cook (2012). This book is part of the Classic Theology Series. The thrust of this book is that love is not a theoretical concept to be discussed in relationship to God but rather it is an attribute of God, something He possesses, that He displays to us in various ways. Sproul explains the difficulty in understanding the love of God:
The problem we face is exacerbated when we realize that our interest is not limited to defining love in the abstract but defining it specifically as an attribute of God Himself. If we confess that love is an attribute of God, then our understanding of the nature of God is only as accurate as our understanding of the love we are attributing to Him. (p. 12)
The same of course can be said for any other attribute of God. Since love is an attribute of God it is of perennial importance that we understand it as properly as we can so that we understand God as properly as we can. The two are joined together.
The key verses Sproul employs in describing God as love are John 4:7-11 in which John tells us that “God is love.” This is not an equative statement such that when the phrase is turned around to say “love is God” it is equally true. This would be to place love above God and therefore me we should worship love and not God. Rather, to say “God is love” is to attribute something about God that He possesses. “To say that love is of God means that love belongs to or is the possession of God.” (p. 16)
With the establishment of love as an attribute of God, Sproul then dives into the many ways in which God displays this love to His children. Three of these ways could be said to be foundational to the rest: (1) the eternal love of God, (2) the loyal love of God and (3) the electing love of God. The foundation by which God can and does love His children is first and foremost seen in the love God showed before creation. That is, since God is eternal and love is an attribute He possesses, the love of God has existed eternally with God. This love was first poured out on His Son Jesus Christ through the covenant of redemption which all three persons of the trinity took part in. This covenant of love, or eternal love, in eternity before creation finds its expression in the Father and Son’s relationship when the Son was on the cross. The next foundational expression of God’s love is His loyal love as the covenant of redemption is acted out in history. While the forsakenness of the Son by the Father is a hard doctrine to comprehend it is nonetheless biblical and worthy of our attention. Sproul helps the reader when he states:
The Father’s willingness to subject His beloved Son to forsakenness was matched by the Son’s willingness to be forsaken on behalf of His people in order to secure their salvation. It is ironic indeed for parties to a covenant to agree on forsakenness, but that is the basis for our salvation. (p. 74)
The third of the three foundational expressions of God’s love is His electing love. This is the love of God as it is specifically directed towards and applied to certain people in a salvific manner. While the Calvinistic understanding of election has been met with great hostility by certain Christian groups, Sproul believes that without it there is no salvation. That is, without the Father graciously and mercifully loving some of mankind by means of choosing them to receive the benefits of the accomplished salvation of the Son no one wold be saved and Christ would have died in vain.
From here Sproul discusses a number of other related expressions of the love of God such as how God can be said to hate. Sproul also briefly tackles the impassibility of God (153-56), goes into depth with the agape love of God as seen in Christ (chap. 8) and closes out the book focusing on how God’s children, who are receivers of the love God, are to love others as discussed in 1 Corinthians 13 (chap. 9)
God’s Love is a great book that expounds on what is at times for some a perplexing attribute of God. Admittedly, Sproul approaches this doctrine from a Calvinistic perspective but Christians of all positions on election can greatly benefit from this book. For the kind of book this appeared to be, Sproul certainly surprised me with the depth at which he goes into this doctrine. Granted, there were limits due to the size of the book but Sproul tackles it with his usual intellectual rigor, exegetical basis and eye for the layman reader. I recommend this book for Christians who wish to gain a foundational understanding of the love of God.
NOTE: This book was provided for free from David C. Cook in return for an honest and unbiased review. The words and thoughts expressed are my own.
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