The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Seeking a definition of 'God's love'

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.

Thanks Darren for your “thumbnail sketch”. I think there could be many Christian Universalists who would agree with much of what you say here. I am still a little unclear as to why you think your thoughts here on God’s holiness are necessarily an insurmountable problem to God’s determination to reconcile to himself all things Col 1:20, Eph 1:10 2 Cor 5:19 and restore all things Acts 3:21 and bring life to all people Rom 5:18, 1 Cor 15:22. Cannot God be holy as you say and still accomplish His purposes as stated in these passages and many others?

I haven’t read the entire thread, so please forgive me if some of what I say is redundant . . .

God’s holiness is (as Pog pointed out) a thing that destroys wickedness. I think of silver. Silver is a biblical symbol for redemption, as I’m sure you know. I find it radically cool that silver does in nature purify things. We use it in eyedrops for infants who may have been exposed to gonorrhea during the birthing process; we coat water filters with it; we even make mop heads and dusting rags infused with it. Silver destroys poisonous forms of life without destroying the host. Interesting. We know from scripture that “Our God is a consuming fire.” I personally think this is a picture of hell. If the Israelites had been willing to be the priests of God as offered in Exodus, and to stand before and in the presence of God regularly, the fire of His presence – the silver – would have purified them, as it does us when we spend time in His presence. But they said, “Let God not speak to us any more, lest we die.” They did not want to die. Taking this symbolically, this fear of dying was precisely the problem. The way to purity, purchased by Jesus/won by Jesus/ trail-blazed by Jesus, is through death. We die to sin, to the ruler (slave master) of this world and are reborn into His Kingdom of grace. God’s solution for sin is for US to die to it so that it no longer has power over us.

As has been pointed out from many scriptures in another thread ([Evidence of Post-Mortem Repentance/Salvation)), this does not necessarily need to happen before our physical death in this world.

I agree with you that God will not forever endure and put up with sin. But that does not mean that any part of God’s good creation must be put to eternal conscious torment, or even destroyed. Sin is NOT a part of God’s creation and will in time be destroyed by the confirmation of all to righteousness – NOT by destroying or imprisoning all who are enslaved to it.

The former (destroying) is impossible as death is to be destroyed (and that must by definition include the second death), and the latter (imprisoning) is untenable as that would leave sin within God’s creation, and by so doing, leave sin within God, for in Him we live and move and have our being. There’s no place else for hell to BE but in God as He fills all in all. However infinitesimal one makes hell, however close to nothing at all, it would still have to exist within God, and that is not acceptable, for He is holy. CS Lewis saw this, I think, and that is (imo) why he made hell so nearly non-existent in The Great Divorce. But subatomic is not non-existent, and any existence for a hell filled with evil within God who fills all in all and in whom all exist, is impossible.

I’m told Barth called evil, “nothing.” It makes me wonder whether the person who wrote The Never-ending Story might not be a fan of his, since the enemy in that book is “the Nothing.” I’m fond of that picture, and maybe I got it indirectly from Barth, as I’ve only read a tiny bit of his work and didn’t understand even that. But I have this picture of God opening a place within Himself for us to be, and taking the “nothing” and wresting it into a “something” (creation), and the “nothing” always fighting to return to its original “form,” and that wrestling as the fight, the battle for creation. In the end (so I suppose) all the “nothing” will be destroyed by having been made irretrievably into the “something” of God’s creation.

BUT, that aside, God cannot lose that which is His (including His creation) and God cannot lose any part of Himself (if we are ultimately made of parts of Himself) and God cannot countenance evil forever dwelling within Himself (and there’s nowhere else to dwell), so God MUST at some point convert all the evil (nothing?) into good. The evil is destroyed by making it into something – into that which is good.

Just my thoughts – I hope they speak to your heart in some small way.

Love in Him, Cindy

Why is it so important to come up with a special definition of “love” with reference to God? Does God’s αγαπη differ in any way from man’s αγαπη? Is it essentially different in some respect? Or do we mean basically the same thing when we say “God loves” or “Man loves”?

To begin with the fact that a God of love would not punish anyone eternally, seems rational to me. It is presumed that some “deserve” eternal punishment since they have broken God’s law.

By way of analogy, consider a human parent. Let’s say his child has broken the rules of the household. Would a loving parent lock the child in a room for 5 years, and come in every day and apply a hot poker to the child’s body because that’s what the child “deserved” for breaking the rules? Such a parent, if found out, would have to spend a few years himself in a penitentiary. So if God punishes eternally probably over 95% of the human population in the fires of hell, would He not be an even worse criminal?

Yes, if we want to claim that such a “God” is LOVE as the apostle John proclaimed, we are going to have to drastically alter the usual understanding of “love”, and define it in such a way as to include such cruelty.

I think that God’s love does differ from man’s love, but not in the sense that it is LESS loving – rather that He IS love and therefore can credibly be expected to be MORE loving than we are. (Which I think is most likely in agreement with you, Paidion. :wink: )

I was reading this morning and came across something I just had to share. The book is “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus” by Lois Tverberg. Here is the excerpt:

(I added the color to that Lamentations quote.)

There’s more, and it’s very good, but out of fairness to the author I’ll stop here. This is in chapter 3. Alas, I can’t tell you the page number; it’s on my Kindle. :unamused: But, I think it adds to the conversation. As far as I know Lois Tverberg isn’t a universalist. Maybe she is – could be – but she never says anything on the topic at all unless she does so later in the book or elsewhere. I’m not sure how anyone could read that verse in Lamentations and not start wondering about ECT, and how that could possibly fit with the text.

I hope this helps – I thought it wonderful. :smiley:

Love, Cindy