The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Seeking a definition of 'God's love'

Hello to all.
I am brand new to this forum and have a question. I have been reading a number of books on anhilationism/universalism and I can’t remember if any universalist has offered a definition of God’s love. This seems important to bring up as univeralsts and anilationists alike seem to start with the argument that a loving God would not be loving if He punished someone eternally. It strikes me that one’s definition of God’s love, or more specifically how His lovng nature relates to His other attributes, would affect the way one approaches the issue of univeralism.

Can anyone offer a definition of God’s love?

Darren J. Clark

personally, i go to 1 Corinthians 13 for a definition of how love ought to behave.
for me, it seems that as John has said that God is love, and Paul has shown us how love behaves, we can almost substitute the word “God” for “love” in 1 Cor 13, which can give us a great idea about how God loves.

Hi Darren,
A very good question. I am no theologian and I am not sure if this is a “definition” as such but it is a few thoughts I have on the subject of “God’s love” to keep the ball rolling.
The way I see it is fairly simple. God wants us to love like He loves, so the love that He tells us to do must be like His love eg Mt 6:43-48 1 Jn 4, 1 Cor 13. He tells us He wants us to be kind, patient, benevolent, look out for others interests, be willing to put ourselves out for the good of others etc etc. So God’s love is like that, and is especially shown in giving Jesus for our salvation.

I go to a Sydney Anglican church that would call itself Reformed or Calvinistic. They are not 5 point Calvinists though - they are 4 pointers - they do believe that God loves everyone and desires everyone to be saved - but He has only elected some for salvation. For them, the doctrine of the love of God is very complicated because God loves people whom he has not elected to eternal life. He “loves” people whom he has created, and has the power to save, and wants to save, but has chosen to let them go to hell forever. So God is supposed to love people but He does not do what is best for them and well within His power to do. So God seems to act in a way that is not loving toward those in hell and so this system seems a bit mixed up to me. They have to alter the definition of love when they apply it to God, so as to make room for the doctrine of eternal hell.

With Christian Universalism, God’s love maintains what I would consider a fairly normal definition of love. He loves everyone in that way, and he wants us to love others in the same way.

Thanks for the input and great start.
Please don’t stop there, though. In my heart I feel there are other dimensions to God’s love that I have not yet put my finger on. Still searching. Anyone else have any ideas?
Darren J. Clark

just one more to add for now:
in Hebrews it says God chastises those He loves. so God’s parental love takes into account our waywardness and seeks to correct it. this to me indicates that when God punishes the wicked, He does so because He loves them…He loves them too much to leave them in their horrible cyclic behavioural patterns of destruction. sometimes that chastisement is painful, but the end result is not bitterness or fear, as you’d have with abusive parents, but love and a closer relationship.

Hi Darren
I agree with what has already been said. I also agree that it is an absolutely VITAL question so thank you for raising it.
I have considered the concept of love at some length and I have witnessed errors which can produce some shocking consequences.
For me, the definition should be plain and simple (childlike). If it is not, then it is usually because someone is wanting to fit their own theology into the definition.

Love is desiring and, as much as it is in one’s power, working towards the welfare of the other (the beloved).

I also believe that this is God’s essence and that all His attributes are in harmony with His essence. Divine simplicity.

As James says, Love may have to include some pain for the beloved. I remember having to extract a 2 inch splinter from the sole (not soul) of my youngest daughter. Ouch!

Hi Darren,
Perhaps you could let us know more of your own thoughts?
Are you thinking in terms of how God’s love relates to his wrath/anger, justice, holiness?

Hi Darren, I think this is a great question. Thomas Talbott in his book, The Inescapeable Love of God, builds much of his case around what love is and is not. I found it so compelling. He talks about how God cannot really love any of us if he does not also love those we love. I’m with Talbott that real love saves. I also agree with the others that 1 Cor. 13 provides a great definition.

I think 1 Cor. 13 is the best definition of love given, and one that URs embrace fully.
. suffers long
. is kind
. does not envy
. does not parade itself
. is not prideful
. does not behave rudely
. does not seek its own
. is not easily provoked
. thinks no evil
. does not rejoice in iniquity
. rejoices in the truth
. Bears all things
. Believes all things
. Endures all things
. Never Fails

I also believe that God’s love for us being revealed as that of a loving father is also very revealing. A friend of mine just a couple of days ago said he’s finally moved to being a convinced universalist. I asked him why and he replied that it was meditating on God loving him, us all, as a Father that finally moved him. A father would never give up on his children, and would seek to reunite with them forever. My son and I were just talking about this yesterday and I noted how that the more one meditates on the love and grace of God, the more one moves towards UR.

For me though, it was studying what scripture affirms concerning judgment and the punishment of sin that freed me to believe in UR. I started the study thinking ECT/Hell was a rock-solid castle of a doctrine only to find each block of “stone” crumble between my fingers like “sand”. And the more I studied, the more I came to see judgment and the punishment of sin flow out of the love of God for us, being meant for our good, not meant for our bad. And the more I began to take note of the passages that affirm the positive purposes of judgment and the punishment of evil. This ultimately freed me to believe that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, that the cross was meant as a revelatation of God’s love, as a means of reconciling us all to himself.

Very interesting question,

apart from what has already been shared, one way in which I see God’s love as being related to His other attributes is that love is giving of itself for the benefit of the truly other - and sees the other as an end in themselves, not as a means to an end.

This, in God terms, would mean that God would have to see other beings (us) as having intrinsic worth (so not just for His glory) and that God would have to give up to a large degree His own powers and privilages for the benefit of the other (even His enemies) - ie the kenosis/ incarnation. I would also add that love always seeks the best for the other, so this may relate to the divinization and elevation of the human (incarnation and glorification of Christ and others).

Jesus. :slight_smile:

Hi Craig
I will eventually turn my attention to how God’s love relates to His holiness, wrath etc but am trying to nut out a definition of His love because I feel something is missing the way I understand the issue. As a non-universalist at this point the last thing I want to do is become a combatant on the issue so I have held back on my thoughts, prefering to let the ideas from others flow. I never want to sound too pushy. Having said that, I will reenter the discussion by noting Wayne Grudem’s very simple definition of God’s love is as follows “God’s love means that God eternally gives himself to others.” This sounds quite fine to me but raises the question of how this giving has been eternal. There is the love shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which can be seen to be eternal. But then I wonder in what way the three have given themselves to each other. I also ask myself how this love may be different from the love God shows to the church or the world in general. Are there different dimensions to God’s love that we have not covered yet.

I am really looking forward to any ideas or questions. I appreciate the acceptance I have recieved. :smiley:

God bless you all
Darren J. Clark

Good to hear from you again Darren.
My first thought as I read of Grudem’s definition of love as “giving oneself to others” is that it lacks an ingredient that I think the bible emphasises and is important. Grudem may think it is obvious, but love is a giving of oneself for the good of others. Some give themselves to doing harm, seeking revenge (or what they think is justice?), plotting evil etc but this would hardly be called love. I believe God gives himself for the good of others eternally and this is why I think ECT is problematic.

Hi Darren,
It sounds like you are wondering things like
1 if love is defined in relation to “others”, e.g.

“love is giving oneself to others” (Grudem) or
“love is the giving of oneself for the good of others” (my modification) or
“Love is desiring and, as much as it is in one’s power, working towards the welfare of the other (the beloved).” (Pilgrim) or
" love is giving of itself for the benefit of the truly other" - (Pog)

what did it mean for God to be “love” before he had created any “others”?

2 How does love exist within the trinity?

3 Is this love that the Father, Son and Spirit have for each other essentially different in definition to his love for the church and the world?

I am sure there are deep thinkers in this group who have thought about such questions more than I have, but my own brief thoughts are that the Father, Son and Spirit have always worked toward, and given of themselves for the benefit of each other, and that this love that exists between them is essentially the same in definition as God’s love toward all of His creation.

Hi Craig
When I was studying at Bible College one of my NT lecturers offered the definition of the NT use of ‘agape’ (love) as being ‘meeting the needs of another at cost to oneself’. The idea is that the Father’s action in sending the Son to the cross to emphatically deal with our greatest need - the need to escape the consquences of our sinful state. And this the template for the way believers ought to demonstrate their love for others. I believe you are heading in this direction and I am in agreement with you.

I guess the problem I have had as I have explored Evangelical Universalism has been the argument that this means that God will save everyone, eventually. I admit that I struggle with this because of my understanding of God’s holiness, which I can somewhat define as His ‘absolute qualitative distinction’ (thanks Barth) from His creation. My understanding is that his Holiness means that he can never tolerate sin or uncleaness in His presence and with always react (eventually) to remove the presence of sin/uncleaness from His presence. Please understand that I am only bringing this up as this is a sticking point for me. I am hoping that the discussions I have with everyone can help bring clarity to the issue for me.

I initially only brought up the question of what the inter-Trinitarian love might be like becuase of Grudem’s definition led me to ask those questions. I am not sure how well we can answer that question. But I think that it wouuld have to be different in some ways from His love for His creation. Can we say that any one member of the Trinity Has a need the others need to fulfill? This is one reason I feel I need to sharpen my understaning of God’s love.

Earnestly looking forward to further input.

God bless you all and please ecuse my spelling mistakes.
Darren Clark

Interesting points Darrenclark, though for me understanding the love of God (and even His holiness) leads me to universalism rather than away from it.

Can you explain why Gods holiness means He cannot abide sin in His presence? I don’t really get that. god is omnipresent and doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. Jesus partied with sinners, but I don’t think he was thereby somehow defiled. What threat to God is sin? I might just be being obtuse here, but I’m not sure I understand the problem.

Thanks for your honest and thought provoking comments Darren.

I agree that this is the right direction and is certainly shown in the supreme example of love in God giving his Son for us. I wonder though whether “love” could still be an appropriate word for doing something good for someone even if it was not necessarily at great cost, and not necessarily to fulfil a need . Some acts of kindness are really easy to do, even a pleasure, but they could still be called “love” because they benefit someone.
Also we can serve God in “love” but not because he lacks anything or has great need. So maybe the important part is seeking the good or benefit of the other - not necessarily the cost or the need?

I agree. But something you will come across a lot as you talk to more Christian Universalists is that they will emphasise, (and you say something similar later on so you no doubt agree) that the work of Christ was not just for us to escape the consequences, but to completely* cure* us from our sinful state.

Just thinking aloud here Darren. One possible approach if this were true would have been for God to have immediately cast Adam and Eve into hell forever and destroyed the world - end of story. It seems though that in love, He didn’t do this. Now if He saves just one person, is He any less holy? If He saves half of the world’s population, can He still be holy? What if he saves everybody? It seems to me that the number that are saved is not really the issue. The paradigm shift is that God does not give up on people after they die. God’s promises of salvation do not have a use-by date (- I think Johnny P said this). I don"t think God’s holiness demands that a certain number be in hell forever. But I agree that his holiness does mean that he will “always react (eventually) to remove the presence of sin/uncleaness from His presence”. Rev 22:14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”

Thoughts anyone?

God makes his pavillions darkness round about. He enshrouds himself in thick clouds (we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses). He does not dwell in temples built with human hands but within his very creation. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is before all things, through all things and upholds all things with His mighty word. The idea that God’s holiness separates Him from His creation is IMO impossible. Everything would cease to exist. The kingdom of heaven is inside. And don’t forget He subjected the creation to futility, for Him to do that then say I can’t be near this filth seems a little…futile.

Hello Pog
I can explain my position but I want to stress that I am merely making clear my viewpoint and am not demanding you adopt it. My understanding of God’s holiness is shaped by the theological idea that holiness is fundamentally about being seperated from (or for) something. When it comes to religious practice it involves the idea of being set apart from the world for the purpose to serve Him - or more positively to be “seperated to” Him. When it comes to God this seperation from the world is properly seen in absolute terms so that God is properly seen as being utterly unique and absolutely pure and good. As such, He cannot indefinitely tolerate sin/uncleaness in His presence. Something emphatic must be done to deal with the sin/unclean problem or God will eventually react to destroy or remove the problem. This notion became clear to me during my study of the Pentateuch (the 1st 5 books of the Bible) and Ezekiel at Bible College. In the case of Exodus to Leviticus a very strong case can be made for the idea that in drawing Israel close God placed them in danger of destruction as they could not stop their sin. The sacrifices described by Leviticus deal with this problem by giving the Israelites a way to cleans themselves so that they can safely remain in God’s presence. In the case of Ezekiel, it was the rather stunning revelation that the sacrifices had been so tainted by Israelite sin/uncleaness that they ceased to be able to do their job - and God left the Temple. He could not tolerate the presence of sin or uncleaness in His own Temple. The OT and the NT make it abundantly clear that while God will withhold back His reaction to sin/uncleanness there will always be a day when a reckoning will occur.

This is just a thumbnail sketch but I hope you will be able to gain some appreciation of my thoughts.

I look forward to what you have to say and hhope that we can sustain a productiove and fruitful dialogue. I will respond to other contributors soon as I am out of time now. As always please exuse my spelling mistakes.
God bless you all
Darren J. Clark

Hi Darrenclark,

I think I understand where you’re coming from, but I think it’s important to balance God’s transcedance with His imminance - He is separate from the world, but also He is omnipresnet in the world and upholds the world; He is holy yet cannot be contaminated by sin (rather sin is purged by His presence); God hates sin, but redeems the sinner.

Is this sense I see universalism as how God deals with the very sin that He cannot abide - He destroys sin and every work of the devil - but He redeems the slaves of sin and the victims of satan. Sin and impurity are finally removed, the sinner bedcomes the righteous. After all, it happened - and is in the process of happening - to the church, I think God does the same process with the cosmos.