Gal 3:19), Charles Spurgeon made a poignant comment regarding our tendency toward imbalance in theology: “Generally, when men believe one truth, they carry it so far as to deny another; and very frequently, the assertion of a cardinal truth leads men to generalize on other particulars, and so to make falsehoods out of truth.”
This has never been truer than of the modern church’s view of the love of God. This attribute is by far the most comfortable, and to some, the most comforting aspect of the divine character. But it is becoming more apparent all the time that this one attribute has been absolutized in the church so that, by and large, the love of God is assumed to be His most fundamental and defining quality. It has been sentimentalized to such an extent that it is portrayed outside of the context of His holiness, wrath, sovereignty, etc. The god who is now preached in many a pulpit, aired on many a broadcast, and sold in many a Christian bookstore is a man-centered, man-serving, man-shaped, only-loving, caricature who in no way resembles the God of the Bible.
How do we know that this only-loving god does not resemble the God of the Bible? Because when the full counsel of the Word is taught regarding the attributes of God – including His holiness, wrath, self-sufficiency, and absolute sovereignty – He is rejected by the mainstream churchgoer because “that’s not the God I know.”
When a believer does finally accept these more difficult teachings about God’s character, recognizing their undeniable truth, he or she is many times left wondering what to think about the love of God. That sentimental, rainbows-and-gumdrops view of God’s love is recognized to be incompatible with what the Bible teaches about the other aspects of His character. That old definition of love, whether stated or not, includes the concept that God’s highest goal is my highest happiness and comfort. But the Bible shows that God’s highest goal is His own glory.
Disillusionment then sets in. I talked to one such person not long ago. He said, “I’ve totally accepted the truth that God is sovereign over all things, including evil and the Fall and all that. I’m just having a hard time seeing how He is loving. How is He loving?”
Here is an important principle for those who may be in that same place right now: rather than discarding the notion that God is loving, we need to discard that old faulty, error-ridden definition of God’s love, and replace it with a biblical one.
I praise the Lord for Don Carson. In his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, he addresses this very issue. The title itself can only be understood by someone who has wrestled with and embraced the other attributes of God that conflict with a sentimentalized understanding of His love. The love of God is a difficult doctrine, but it is made much more understandable by Carson’s book.
Here is the description on the back cover: “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God seeks to restore what we have lost. In this treatment of many of the Bible’s passages regarding divine love, noted evangelical scholar D. A. Carson not only critiques sentimental ideas such as “God hates the sin and loves the sinner,” but provides a compelling perspective on the nature of God and why He loves as He does. Carson blends his discourse with discussion of how God’s sovereignty and holiness complete the biblical picture of who He is and how He loves.
“In doing away with trivialities and clichés, this work gets to the heart of this all-important doctrine from an unflinching evangelical perspective. Yet it does so without losing its personal emphasis: for in understanding more of the comprehensive nature of God’s love as declared in His Word, you will come to understand God and His unending love for you more completely.”
The truth is that the God of the Bible is far more glorious than my former conception of Him and His love. This book helped me to realize that. It is essential that in our embrace of the doctrine of God's sovereignty we do not reject the doctrine of God's love, and the key is to arrive at a thoroughly biblical view of God's love. If you’re struggling with this issue (or if you’re not), this book could be a blessing to you.