As many of you know well, the predominate Western view of God is that he loves everyone. Though he might get angry at people like Hitler, Hussein, or Bin Laden, he loves the rest of us. Many pulpits echo this sentiment. Preachers will not talk about God’s justice, wrath, or holiness, but they will remind everyone God really loves them, so it’ll be OK if they do their best (because, after all, God will do the rest). Don Carson discusses this modern notion very well in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God:
“…We live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved. I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God – to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.”
“The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. This process has been going on for some time. My generation was taught to sing, ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” in which we robustly instruct the Almighty that we do not need another mountain (we have enough of them), but we could do with some more love. The hubris is staggering.”
“It has not always been so. In generations when almost everyone believed in the justice of God, people sometimes found it difficult to believe in the love of God. The preaching of the love of God came as wonderful good news. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me; he’s like that, isn’t he? Besides, why shouldn’t he love me? I’m kind of cute, or at least as nice as the next person. I’m okay, you’re okay, and God loves you and me.”
“Even in the mid-1980s, according to Andrew Greeley, three-quarters of his respondents in an important poll reported they preferred to think of God as ‘friend’ than as ‘king.’ I wonder what the percentage would have been if the option had been ‘friend’ or ‘judge.’ Today most people seem to have little difficulty believing in the love of God; they have far more difficulty believing in the justice of God, the wrath of God, and the noncontradictory truthfulness of an omniscient God. But is the biblical teaching on the love of God maintaining its shape when the meaning of ‘God’ dissolves in mist? (p. 11-12).”
Carson is dead on; the quote is worth reading a few times. It also makes me think once again of the pulpit. If a preacher never mentions the holiness, wrath, and justice of God in more than a cursory way, is his emphasis on God’s love even a biblical one? Or, to move the discussion to the pew, if a person is never pointedly confronted with God’s righteous wrath against sin and the sinner, does he really know what God’s love is? This is one reason we need a biblical balance in our preaching, teaching, learning, and our faith. If we emphasize God’s love at the expense of his justice, holiness, and wrath, the love of God becomes as mushy as a line in a Hallmark card. And though that kind of love can make a person feel good, it cannot save a wicked sinner from everlasting misery.
Get this book: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson.