Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, is causing a significant stir at the moment. At Cor Deo we are really concerned that people will fall into one of two extremes – either buying into the distorted kind of love emphasis that Rob Bell offers, or reacting against it and ending up in a loveless emphasis on wrath as a distinct and more emphatic attribute of God. We want to see the love of God rightly presented and so have invited this guest post from Dave Bish. Dave is a good friend of Cor Deo and the leader of UCCF’s team in the South West. We really appreciate Dave and thank him for offering us this, our first guest post on the Cor Deo site!
Debate has raged on twitter over those two words. Devout voices have rung out that we must not forget to speak of wrath, hell must be upheld, in mercy let us not forget judgement. This post isn’t entirely about that book, I’ve reviewed that elsewhere. (Click here to see the review on thebluefish.org).
This is about the love of God.
I’ve found myself standing in the cross-fire wondering what’s going on.
My great concern is Bell’s observation that:
“Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting ‘the gospel’ is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn’t safe, loving or good.” (Love Wins, p175)
Not because I disagree, but because I think that’s exactly the problem. I’m not sure that Bell or his critics (seemingly) are quite sure what the alternative is.
Many of Bell’s most vociferous critics revel to uphold the bigness and greatness and powerfulness and holiness of God who has many impressive attributes that are apparently to be held in tension with his love and personhood. Bell doesn’t like the tension, and I’m not so sure either.
Now, I believe that the Triune God judges and I believe in the existence of hell as a place of active and eternal judgement, and I weep, though I confess not yet with the apostle’s anguish (Romans 9:1-5) over it. And I believe in the love of God. Am I holding together contradictions? Is our God both Jekyll and Hyde?
John wrote that God is love; that God loves in sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sin. In one phrase love and wrath stand together and John feels no contradiction. Want to talk about God? Start talking about the beloved Son who loved us and was sent by the love of the Father for the world. He’s always been the subject of the Bible? Who is God? Don’t worry so much about how he gets badly represented, check in with the Son of God.
Everything is implied from the question of ‘who is your God?’
Is love the nice side of an angry God? Is our problem that deep down we think God isn’t very nice but thankfully Jesus loves us, and this we know for the Bible tells us so? The question concerns the nature of love. Is love God’s somewhat reluctant and dispassionate acceptance of us because Jesus died for us, or is it stronger than that?
Turn to Exodus. How great is the love of God that rescued his people out of oppressive slavery in Egypt – salvation on a scale and depth second only to the cross. What of love there?
We see the LORD introduced as Father, demanding the freedom of his son Israel (4:22-23). He will not have this son oppressed and harmed, and because of this great love he burns against the Pharaoh who will release them. This is wrath, this is passionate love that is jealous for the one loved. Wrath is not love’s opposite. Love’s opposite is indifference. Wrath is love’s passion for the good of the one loved.
Having rescued his son out of slavery, at Sinai the LORD reveals himself as Jealous, 20:5
“I the Lord your God am a jealous God,”
And again in Exodus 34:14.
“you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
His love is such that he will not let his loved one go, he will not have her harmed, he will not tolerate her being seduced away into adultery (Revelation 2:20). This is true love that will not let me go.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comically capture the difference between indifference and love in their Psychiatrist sketch. Moore’s patient falls in love, and it transpires that he is in love with his Psychiatrist’s wife. Rather than being angry Cook’s Psychiatrist character is permissive and delighted. He displays a dispassionate indifference to his wife that is anything but love. The love of the Triune God is not like this.
True love burns for its beloved, and draws out a passionate love in return.
Hell happens when the LORD stops restraining his jealous love from those who have persecuted his Son and his Son’s bride, though they were invited to come and enjoy his love in his bride they distained and dismissed the invitation, giving their hearts to other lovers instead. The Triune God is all love, and his love will burn for us or against us. But in any case, love wins.