God's World-Sized Love

When I think about the love of God, I think not just about God sending His Son into the world, in the form of a human being as a baby in a manger, but that God, from eternity past, out of His loving nature, decided to demonstrate His love: He decided to tell us that He loved us by the sending of His Son to rescue us from ourselves, our sin, and God's wrath. This love for us all -- yes, all -- already existed in the heart and nature of God. In spite of our resistance, regardless of our sin and rebellion, out of His loving nature He loved us. He willingly and freely desired our forgiveness, our reconciliation and renewal, and our eternal well-being. But what about God's hatred?

The Psalmist declares: "The boastful will not stand before your eyes [or in God's presence]; you hate all evildoers." (Ps. 5:5) God "abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful." (Ps. 5:6) Yet, the Psalmist also confesses that he himself can enter God's presence by the abundance of His faithful love. (Ps. 5:7) Evildoers who experience God's hatred, then, are distinct from those who enter God's presence due to His faithful love (Ps. 5:11), for God blesses the righteous, and surrounds them "with favor as with a shield." (Ps. 5:12) Does God love those He hates -- His enemies?

The apostle Paul states that he was once an evildoer by practice, by habit, a man of bloodshed (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6). Did God hate Paul during this time in his life? St Paul admits that he was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. (1 Tim. 1:13) Yet he also admits that he received mercy from the Lord because he "acted out of ignorance in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13) Does not every unregenerate person also "act out of ignorance in unbelief"? Could God possibly hate and love sinners -- the hatred stemming from the sin that offends His holiness and the love originating from His being or nature? Yes, God loves His enemies. (Rom. 5:8, 10)

God genuinely hates the deeds of evildoers (Ps. 5:5-6; 7:11; 11:5-6), and out of love for them, genuinely desires their repentance and salvation (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11). Does Scripture demand that we believe God loves those whom He has unconditionally elected to love and save, and hates those whom He has not unconditionally elected to love and save? Calvinists need to be reminded that all human beings still retain, marred though such may be, the very image of God. That God hates sin is no secret (Habakkuk 1:13): sin brings the wrath of God. (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18) But God is also love by nature (1 John 4:8), though He is not an easily-fooled stooge, either. Still, God longs to restore completely the original design of His image in all of His fallen creatures. This is accomplished by grace through faith in Christ and motivated by God's world-sized love.

God demonstrated His love for rebellious Israel. When He punished them, He also healed them if they asked for healing. When God sent serpents among His people, Moses interceded for those who were bitten, and God provided healing for anyone who would look to the serpent Moses fashioned and placed upon a pole (Num. 21:8). Many of the Israelites to whom God demonstrated His love would never enter the promised land, nor were they saved from hell (Heb. 3:11; 4:3), yet loving provision of atonement was made and offered for their salvation (Matt. 1:21; cf. 2 Pet. 2:1). Jesus confesses: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so [in like manner] must the Son of Man be lifted up, that [to the effect that] whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14, 15, emphases added) Dr. Andreas Köstenberger comments:
The phrase "everyone who believes" strikes a markedly universal note. Although looking at the bronze serpent in the wilderness restored life to believing Israelites, there are no such ethnic restrictions on believing in Jesus. Everyone who believes will, "in him" (Jesus . . .), receive eternal life. . . .1 (emphasis added)
Therefore, where Scripture does not place a restriction, or a special qualification, then we are not permitted to place one, either. Jesus continues: "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 HCSB) Jesus begins his discussion using the word "for," which connects what He was about to say with what He had just stated: Oὕτως γάρ ήγαπησεν ὁ θεός τον κόσμον: lit. "So," or "In this way, for, loved, the God, the world." The issue here is not degree but scope.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible prefers the reading "in this way" rather than the traditional "so" (i.e., For God so loved the world). Traditional scholars (the majority) prefer to render oὕτως ("so") as intensive: God loved the world "so much" that He gave His One and Only Son. This is, certainly, a viable context. Again, Dr. Köstenberger writes:
While the Greek introductory construction oὕτως γάρ ( ... for thus), stresses the intensity of God's love (contra Kruse 2003: 113-14), the result clause, speaking of the giving of God's μονογενής υἱός ( ... one-of-a-kind Son), stresses the greatness of that gift (Carson 1991: 204).

What is the reason ... that God made eternal life available ... ? It is his love for the world. This much-loved verse is the only place in John where God the Father is said to love the world (cf. 1 John 4:9-10). The OT makes abundantly clear that God loves all that he has made, especially his people (e.g., Exod. 34:6-7; Deut. 7:7-8; Hos. 11:1-4, 8-11) ... Just as God's love encompasses the entire world, so Jesus made atonement for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).2
Whether one takes oὕτως as "so" or "in this way," however, the significance of the object is not changed in the least. This is why I write that the main issue of the passage is not degree, i.e., the so-called intensity of that love, but scope, or the breadth or extend of that love: worldwide. The point remains that God gave His One and Only Son as a solution to the problem of every individual in the world; namely, sin, out of His eternal and redemptive love for each one of them. Jesus is God's demonstration of His love for the world. Hence, in the same manner that any Israelite who had been bitten by a snake in the wilderness could look to the snake on the pole and be healed of a fatal bite (provision was made for all), so anyone3 may now look to Jesus Christ by grace through faith and be healed of the bite of sin, which has affected all (John 3:16; Rom. 3:23).

Some wax eloquent about God's alleged electing love, i.e., that God has unconditionally chosen to set His love on some people, not loving the rest (the majority) with His "electing love." They admit that God loves all people "in some sense," by granting them life and temporal blessings (food, clothing, pleasures, etc.). But the greatest love of all, which Jesus admits is laying down one's life for another (John 15:13), the way that He laid down His own life for the world (John 6:51), is reserved solely for those who are human objects of God's "electing love."

This novel theory was produced very late in the history of Christ's Church, and it was constructed in an effort to explain how God could unconditionally elect some to heaven, bypassing or electing the rest to hell, and still retain any semblance of genuinely loving the world. These philosophical musings still ring hollow. What God wants us to know -- else we could not find this truth scattered throughout His word -- is that His love for us is as eternal as He is Himself; that His love extends even to those who reject that love; and that, though His anger at sin may flare, His Son has borne that divine anger for any who will by grace trust in Him.


1 Andreas J. Köstenberger, John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 128.

2 Ibid., 128-29.

3 By "anyone," we mean not an alleged unconditionally elect person, but genuinely any person. Dr. Terry Miethe comments:
Again, this is an important assertion. The question is Where does the burden of proof lie? Douty mentions the following works: Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Robinson's A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, Thayer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Souter's Pocket Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Berry's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Arndt-Gingrich's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Abbott-Smith's Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Tasker's New Bible Dictionary, Everett F. Harrison in Baker's Dictionary of Theology, and John D. Davis in his Dictionary of the Bible (both Harrison and Davis list John 3:16 as referring to mankind, though both are Presbyterians). 
See Terry L. Miethe, "The Universal Power of the Atonement," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Publishers, 1995), 73. Not one lexicon listed here (nor any other) offers "the world of the unconditionally elect" as a definition for "all," "everyone," or "the world." The burden of proof belongs to those who advance such a notion to prove the contrary, but what is usually offered in rebuttal tends to be implications from their philosophical doctrine of Unconditional Election rather than proper exegesis of Scripture. 


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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.