Why Do We Call God a God of Love?

How do you view God? Is He indifferent to your pain? Is He impatient with your frequent failures? Is He waiting on your every decision in order to catch and punish you? Is He always threatening you, warning you that if you do or don't do this or that, He will make you suffer? Is there room for love in your view of God? Is there room for mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness, or understanding? Is He a God of love?

Though some Christians paint a portrait of God as an angry being who dangles your hated soul over the fires of hell as one would some loathsome spider over an open flame, Martin Luther comments, "Anyone who regards Him as angry is not seeing Him correctly, but has pulled down a curtain and cover, more, a dark cloud over His face."1 "Anyone who regards Him as angry is not seeing Him correctly," admits Luther. But is not God angry?

"The wicked (foolish, arrogant, boastful) shall not stand guiltless in your presence; you cannot abide but hate all evildoers" (Ps. 5:5 my translation); "God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day" (Ps. 7:11 NRSV); "The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence." (Ps. 11:5) Given that there is "no one who is righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10), we through sin have made ourselves enemies of God. God has wrath, or expresses wrath, but is not wrath by definition or attribute.

Note God's ability to love His enemies (as He calls us to do, cf. Matt. 5:44). "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life." (Rom. 5:10) "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ" (2 Cor. 5:18) ... "that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." (2 Cor. 5:19, emphasis added) Had God continued to "count our trespasses against us," then He would not have begun the reconciling process through Christ.

But because of His love for sinners (His enemies), He gave His only Son, so that "everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16); "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them." (2 Cor. 5:14-15) When forming our view of God, we must in systematic or biblical fashion take into consideration all that Scripture teaches us about God, especially as He is revealed in and through Christ. (cf. Heb. 1:3) We are not permitted to view God as merely angry without also balancing that righteous anger with His love and pity and compassion on fallen humans whom He created in His image (nor vice versa for that matter).

Yes, sinners are in the hands of an angry God, as Jonathan Edwards insisted, just as much as they are in the hands of a loving God, a God who sets aside His just wrath in lieu of His desire for their salvation. (1 Tim. 2:4) He willingly sacrificed His only Son for their salvation (John 3:16-18), and enables helpless sinners (Rom. 5:6) to trust in Christ by grace. (John 6:44, 65; 12:32; Phil. 1:29) If we see God through the face2 of Jesus Christ, as Scripture insists we do (2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:1-3), then we may rightly conclude that God is not angry with sinners, at least, not as some portray.

As a matter of fact, the people at which Jesus was perpetually angry were the religious leaders who distorted the truth about God! To the contrary of the opinions of some, Jesus is a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34), a compassionate King,3 not someone in whose angry, retributive hands is held in a tight grip all the "loathsome" sinners of the world.4 Are you loved? Even if no mortal on earth or in heaven ever loved you, God through Christ loves you immensely. Should you have been the only person that God would ever have saved (by grace through faith in Christ), He still would have sacrificed His only Son just for you. "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16) You are loved, friend; you are deeply loved.

For all that can rightly be said of God's wrath against guilty sinners (cf. Ps. 5:5; 7:11, 12-13; 11:5, 6; Matt. 10:28; Rev. 6:15-16; 19:11-15), God's anger is tempered by His compassion. Otherwise, no one could be saved from His wrath. (1 Thess. 5:9) Still, God is a just judge, and He is "angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11 KJV); or, He "has indignation every day." (Ps. 7:11 NASB)

God "has indignation," zaam, daily, says the Psalmist. This Hebrew word connotes becoming enraged, angry, to abhor, to denounce; it is a primitive root, expressing a foaming at the mouth (link). A cursory look at several passages of Scripture informs us how serious is God with regard to sin: "If the wicked do not turn from their evil deeds, God will sharpen His sword; He will bend His bow, stringing it in readiness. Yes, He has prepared His deadly weapons with His arrows flaming hot" (Ps. 7:12-13 The Voice); "On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup." (Ps. 11:6 NRSV)

If any think that Jesus has a different view of the seriousness of sin, look no further than the following passages, referring to His return and what He will do to the disobedient: "the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful" (Luke 12:46; cf. Matt. 24:51); "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty." (Rev. 19:15, emphasis added)

"Well," you say, "these passages of Scripture do not appear very loving and compassionate." That is because all of the wrathful passages are placed on one side of the scales, tipping it only in favor of that side. That scale is balanced, however, when we consider the compassion of God in Christ, who is "the express image of his person." (Heb. 1:3 KJV) We understand, then, that though God is angry at sin, we can come to Him because of His compassion (racham: deep mercy, love, pity; cf. as cherishing the unborn, link) for sinners. Consider the following truths:

  • "Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, for they have been from of old." (Ps. 25:6 NASB) 
  • "Answer me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; according to the greatness of Your compassion, turn to me." (Ps. 69:16) 
  • "He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save." (Ps. 72:13) 
  • "But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not arouse all His wrath." (Ps. 78:38) 
  • "But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth." (Ps. 86:15) 
  • "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." (Ps. 103:8-10) 
  • "He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate." (Ps. 111:4) 
  • "Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them." (Matt. 9:36)
  • "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." (Matt. 12:7) 
  • "When He [Jesus] went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick." (Matt. 14:14) 
  • "And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, 'I feel compassion for the people.'" (Matt. 15:32)
  • "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt ... Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you? ... My heavenly Father will also do the same to you ..." (Matt. 18:27, 33). 
  • "Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes." (Matt. 20:34)  
  • "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort." (2 Cor. 1:3)
  • "... the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful." (James 5:11) 
Yes, God is angry with sinners. But that anger is tempered by His compassion for them -- sinners whom He created in His image -- sinners whom He foreknew would fall from their original, righteous state before He created them, and provided for them a way to avoid His wrath. Though He will not unconditionally acquit the guilty, God's compassion (mercy, pity, love) for helpless sinners (cf. Rom. 5:6) moves Him to grace them for salvation from His wrath through faith in and union with Jesus Christ. (John 3:16-18, 36) "It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." (Lam. 3:22 KJV)



Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior. The "whosoevers" in Scripture really do indicate that anyone who hears the gospel can by grace through faith in Jesus Christ be gloriously saved from the wrath of God. There is not one passage of Scripture which explicitly states that a certain person or a certain people group cannot be saved by grace through faith in Christ -- not one. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13 KJV) You are a whosoever.

This is the good news in Scripture that we proclaim. The apostle Peter, who had been raised to think of people in terms of Jew and Gentile, savable and unsavable, stated: "It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right." (Acts 10:34 The Voice) God "plays no favorites" is another way of saying that God is "no respecter of persons." In other words, He is willing to save anyone. If I were to say that God only saves (unconditionally) Asian people, you might rightly respond, "Well, saving unworthy sinners is His business, and He can save whomever He wants to save." I might agree; well, I might agree if God, in His word, declared to everyone, "I love only Asian people." But that is not the case whatsoever, not unless one is willing to relegate the word "world" to mean "Asian people." (cf. John 3:16; Ezekiel 33:11)

Scripture is clear that God loves all sinners -- at least to the degree that He is willing to save any sinner by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God has elected, if you will, to save those who will believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. (1 Cor. 1:21) Hence God is an impartial God with regard to salvation. This means that you, reader, are loved by God, are a recipient of the compassions of God, as well as a recipient of God's impartiality with regard to salvation. So that, you could never claim that God didn't love you -- for He does -- or that Christ did not die for you -- He did -- or that He is not compassionate toward you -- for He is -- nor that He is unwilling to receive you as His child by grace through faith in Jesus -- for He is. (John 1:12)

A Jewish-Gentile schism existed while the New Testament gospel was being presented to first-century hearers. But Christ came in order to make "both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility" between them. (Eph. 2:14 NRSV) The apostle Paul's message to the Romans was that the gospel was not merely for the Jew (those considered to be "the elect of God") but also for the Gentile: "For God shows no partiality." (Rom. 2:11 NRSV) But this message of impartiality is an Old Testament one as well: "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe." (Deut. 10:17 NRSV) God's willingness to save wicked Nineveh is proof enough of His impartiality. (cf. Jonah 4:11)

I have heard some so-called notorious sinners, as some of them prefer to call themselves, say that if they went to church the roof would cave in. I assure you that if it didn't cave in when I walked in then it won't for you either. If the roofs of first-century churches didn't cave in when the apostle Paul walked into them -- the notorious persecutor and killer of Christians, the chief of all sinners (1 Cor. 15:9; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:15) -- then it won't for you either. God won't unconditionally choose to save your neighbor but not you. Scripture does not lead us to support such a theory. He is impartial. He will save anyone who will by grace trust in Christ Jesus the Lord, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) If you have not already, I encourage you to trust in this loving, compassionate, impartial God of the universe.

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1 Luther's Works, Volume 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, eds. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 37.

2 Luther continues: "But in Scriptural language 'to see His face' means to recognize Him correctly as a gracious and faithful Father, on whom you can depend for every good thing. This happens [or, is fully realized] only through faith in Christ." Ibid.

3 Cf. Ps. 25:6; 69:16; 72:13; 78:38; 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; Matt. 9:36; 12:7; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27, 33; 20:34; 2 Cor. 1:3; James 5:11.

4 The truth of God's love and compassion, however, does not indicate that He will refrain from pouring out His wrath upon unrepentant sinners: "If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts" (Ps. 7:12-13 NRSV); "On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup" (Ps. 11:6). God is the one who casts unrepentant souls into hell (Matt. 10:28); yet He takes no delight in such (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.