On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. – C.S. Lewis
Who can commune with an angry God? Is God not ‘angry with the wicked every day’? (Ps 7:11) Does God’s justice not find us all guilty, and loathe our corruption? A crushing sense of accusing guilt, with the consequent fear of judgement, destroys the ability to love God. No one can enjoy God who worries that God remains his adversary. No one can love God ultimately unless he knows he is out of debt with God and no longer under condemnation (Rom 8:1). When faith grasps the love of God for us in Christ, communion is possible.
There is no condemnation, There is no hell for me,
The torment and the fire Mine eyes shall never see;
For me there is no sentence, For me death has no sting,
Because the Lord who loves me shall shield me with His wing.
No angel and no devil, No throne, nor power, nor might:
No love, no tribulation, No danger, fear, or fight,
No height, no depth, no creature That has been, or can be,
Can drive me from Thy bosom, Can sever me from Thee.
– Paul Gerhardt
Crucial to our communion with God is the knowledge that the same Father who shall judge the world in righteousness, chooses to set his love upon us. It is true that God the Son took the just wrath of God the Father on the cross, but it is equally true that it was the Father who sent the Son to bear that wrath (1 John 4:14). It is the Father’s love that is spoken of in the verse that has brought so many to faith:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (Joh 3:16)
Here is our problem: we find it hard to square statements of God’s love with the truth of our sinfulness before his holiness. If he is displeased to the point of sending people to a lake of fire, can he simultaneously delight in us? Is his love not conditioned upon what he finds in us?
Here is where the doctrine of election comes to our rescue. Instead of causing cantankerous debate and hostilities, election ought to free us from our fears. For election teaches us that God could see us in Christ, while we were still in sin, and love us. God could love us long before we had been born, and had begun offending him. Ages before we could accrue merit or demerit, the Father set his love upon us.
For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6, CSB)
How was this possible? The plan of redemption was worked out in the Trinity before the creation of the universe. The Father could put on the ‘lenses’ of his Son’s atoning work, and see us and delight in us. In this sense, God could freely, unconditionally, and unreservedly ‘set’ his love upon us long before we were even on the scene, and able to mess things up. This is what Paul refers to when using Jacob and Esau as an illustration:
For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand– not from works but from the One who calls– she was told: The older will serve the younger. (Rom 9:11-12)
Certainly, the plan of salvation would involve the Son’s dying, and the Spirit’s drawing, and man’s believing, but none of this would have happened without the Father’s loving. The Father, before He announced “Let there be light”, chose to seek our good, identify himself with us, and take pleasure in us.
When we say the Father’s love is unconditional, we do not mean it is groundless, baseless, or arbitrary. God’s love is not whimsical, or irrational. God, of all beings, has the best reasons for loving what he loves. What the doctrine of election does is free us from thinking that his love for us is contingent on our worthiness. This is precisely what Paul is exulting in in Romans 8:29-39, a passage which Spurgeon called the greatest passage in the Bible.
When God loves, he loves as only he can love: immutably, and eternally.
The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3)
For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)
[That you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
If God sets his love upon you before all worlds, then two things follow: nothing you can do can increase his love for you, and nothing you can do can decrease his love for you. Certainly, you can please him and displease him, but you cannot alter his desire for you – for it excludes you as the basis for his love.
Here is a strong basis to keep communing with God: the Father’s love for us gives us boldness to keep approaching.
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)
When we believe in the Father’s love, we know we can always come to God, have direct access to him, and grow in love for him. We can meditate on the truth that God is overwhelmingly for us, and we should approach, not retreat.