God’s Universal Love by Paul Ritchie (Guest Post)

Editor’s Note: Gospel Convergence is a network of Christians who are united around the gospel, writing in and for the context of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, our long-term goal is to expand to include the whole of Ireland because we do not want to contribute to the division that exists between North and South in our country, “For [Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
It is therefore with great pleasure that we introduce to you Paul Ritchie, Pastor of Limerick Baptist Church. Paul has kindly agreed to allow us to share some of his blog posts here at Gospel Convergence. If you’d like to read more from Paul he has his own blog: To whom it may concern.

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I am amazed that some people deny the truth that God demonstrates his love towards all people, elect and non-elect.  I have listed seven reasons why I believe God loves all people (even if he does not love all people in the same way and in the end does not save all people).

  1. paul2‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).  New Testament scholar Don Carson writes, ‘I know that some try to take “world” here to refer to the elect.  But that really will not do.  All the evidence of the usage in John’s Gospel is against the suggestion … The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture.  However, much God stands in judgement over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all humans to repent’ (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God)
  2. ‘As surely as I live … I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn! Turn! Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11; see also 18:32).  The fact that this verse is addressed to the house of Israel does not diminish the argument because not all of the house of Israel were finally saved; in Ezekiel’s day many died in judgement.
  3. ‘God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the on the righteous and the unrighteousness’ (Matthew 5).  We could add to this Psalm 145:9 and Acts 14:17.  Our God is kind and grants to all certain joys in life.  These truths are the basis of Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  During his earthly ministry Jesus would have fulfilled this command.  Has he stopped obeying the command to love his enemies now that he has ascended to the Father’s side?
  4. Before the flood we read that God was grieved in heart (Genesis 6:6).  God was going to act with great judgement against human wickedness but this was no vindictive tyrant at work, this was a God whose heart was breaking.  Similarly we can see the sorrow God feels when he acts in righteous judgement over the sinful people of Moab (Isaiah 16:11 and similar in Jeremiah).
  5. Both Peter (2 Peter 3:9) and Paul (1 Timothy 2:4) tell us that God desires the salvation of all people.  I am not at all convinced by those who try to make ‘all people’ in these verses means something other than ‘all people’.  I realise that these verses are difficult to reconcile with a God who is entirely sovereign in salvation (e.g. Romans 9 and Ephesians 1), but do we have to be able to understand everything about our mysterious God?
  6. ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’ (Mark 10:21).  In the story of the rich young ruler we read that Jesus looked at this man and loved him.  Yet this man was not someone who was going to respond to Jesus’ challenge.  As one writer points out, ‘We see here that Jesus loved this man even though, by what we read in the Scriptures, the man never repents of his unbelief.  Jesus obviously loved this man, an open, non-repentant sinner.  He loved him.’
  7. In  a moving scene in Matthew 23, Jesus looks over Jerusalem and anticipates the judgement that will soon befall theme.  He quotes the prophet Isaiah, ‘How I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing.’

But then how do we deal with those texts that say that God hates the wicked.  For example, fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar etc.  Do we have to chose between those texts that expound God’s love towards the sinful and those that speak of his anger, and even hatred, towards the same?  Carson explains:

‘God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage.  However, emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offences against his holiness.  But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved.  Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed towards the same individual or people at the same time.  God in his perfections must be wrathfully against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God’ (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God).

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