Does God Love All People?
A straightforward question.
But a straightforward answer is more difficult.
Because a simple yes or no falls short of God’s love.
In the past I travelled by city-bus and looked at the stickers on the windows.
For advertising and such. At times I could read there: “God loves you”.
I have learned that you cannot just affix that on a bus window, for every “John, Dick, and Mary”.
Because among all these people there are also those who do not want to bow before God.
Unbelievers, who have placed him (consciously or less consciously) outside of their lives. So you cannot just say: “God loves you”. For these people are under wrath, according to God’s own Word (John 3:36).
And yet, almost every day now I bike by a meeting place, where those words are plastered for everyone to see in a life-size font. And in Amsterdam, kiddy corner from Central Station, the neon lights shout the message to all travellers: “Jesus loves you”. And that makes you think, does it not?
It is an age-old question. Also because Jesus did not pray for the world, but only for those whom he had received from the Father (John 17:9). It is reflected on repeatedly as he said it in John 17. If He does not pray for all people, then he perhaps does not love them all, right?
We must consider election and rejection, as it is said. The love of God is eternal love. You can say that when you recognize it in truth. God loved Jacob, but he hated Esau (Rom. 9:13).
We cannot get around this. And indeed, this should make us careful.
A simple call to all people, like: “God loves you” does not give full credit to the deep content of God’s love. In John 3:16 we read: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is why we do not want, and we cannot bypass the Son. We do not want, and we cannot bypass faith in him. Without faith in him you cannot please God (Heb. 11:6).
His Revealed Will
And yet, I do not think that all has now been said. For the simple reason that we cannot know who the elect are. I profess the election of eternity, but I cannot handle it. It is a plan from God, great and good, in which lies the source of all God’s intervention with this damaged earth.
Not our supposed goodness, but strictly his free grace is the reason for his mercy. We must realize that very clearly. Though at the same time we ought to say: much of this belongs to the hidden counsel of God, the application of which is not for us to know. We ought to deal with his revealed will (Deut. 29:29).
And in this we suddenly encounter that God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). That is also true. That is (you could say) the side of truth that God gives to us. We know about election, but we ourselves may not elect. We must work with “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son”. We may not secretly change that into: “For God so loved the church, that…”.
And by the way, would that be a sufficient solution? When I stand on the pulpit and speak to the congregation, may I then proclaim to everyone, one by one: “God loves you”?
From the election probably not, but it is not up to me to settle that account. I must stick to the reality of God’s promises, which are sealed to everyone, one by one, in his beloved church.
“God loves you” is the first thing every child takes along in truth here, however this will perhaps be treated later on by that child.
Was that matter not the reason for the Liberation, that we were commanded by Synod, when standing by the baptism font, that we should take God’s election into account? So that not every baptized child would be truly loved by God, but only those who later on proved to be the true seed of Abraham?
Over against this has been correctly confessed, that we may not handle election in this manner. Not to deny the truth of God’s covenant, or to pitch those two against each other.
Covenant and election are not over against each other. The proclamation of God’s love to all people and election not either. In his Word and in his covenant, God comes near to us, this is his way to reach us and all people. Subsequently, whoever accepts him in faith, may also look further in his heart. To discover in amazement, how deep God’s love is.
Election is as a keel underneath a ship. Everything is carried by that, but you can only enter the ship’s hold after you have entered the ship over the gangway. In the meantime, the ship lays there for all people, with all the love. That we may tell them.
Is wrath, by the way, not the other side of love?
Nineveh lay under the wrath of God. The people there had to be told that without delay. The whole city would be turned upside down.
And yet, God loved that city. He sent Jonah to them. A prophet who did not quite share that love. He passively watched the approaching judgment over so many people.
The prophet received a clear lesson. He himself loved a plant so much, for which he had not done anything. Jonah was sad that that miracle plant had suddenly withered.
Well, says the Lord, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons?”
That is how much God loved Nineveh. His intention was to keep and save the city. For that very reason they were informed of the impending judgment. God gave them time to repent. God wants to make that abundantly clear.
Now Christ makes his Christians into prophets. We do not have to journey anymore, the big cities of people surround us. If we have not written her off already, while being engrossed with our own house, garden, shed etc. The lesson of Jonah is written down for us. God has a big heart for this world, and we have been chosen to let all people know about this (1 Peter 2:9).
We encounter something similar in the second letter of Peter. Mockers ask, why is the Lord still not returning on the clouds? They receive as answer that the Lord has patience, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. (2 Peter 3:9). Yes, that is what it really says. And do not counter then, that he himself knows better, that not everyone lets themselves be saved. This is his will, which he makes known to us. He gives (us) time for this. Even more so, this is the reason that the world in her current state still exists, and why the great day has still not come yet. “The Lord is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
People mourn because of a loss of a job, their home, their money. They are so attached to these. May God then mourn over so many people, whom he himself has created? And up till the end, he cares for them, with love.
God Created With Love
God genuinely loves the world. He loves the people. Because he has placed so much of Himself in them.
We read in John that God created everything through the Word, his only born Son (John 1:1-3, compare with 1:14). It is hard for me to imagine how the Father created “through” the Son. But what I do hear in this, is that the Father made creation as close to him as his only Son. Truly as an expression of himself, familiar and trusted, just like the Son. That holds for everything and everyone, and for all the people, even when they do not believe it themselves.
God wants us to look around in this manner, that in everything we recognize him, and his love with which he called everything into being. The unbelieving people have also been created in the likeness of God (James 3:9). That is not the entire message that we have for them, but that is what it starts with.
Love As Motive
God’s love was there before our faith. He loved us dearly, before we believed. Therefore it is impossible to opine that he only loves those who believe.
Christ died with love for unbelievers, for sinners, yes, even for his enemies. He stayed hanging on a cross for those who mocked him. We regularly read these special words full of ground-breaking love at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Rom. 5:6-10).
This love is the motive for the travels and the words of Paul. He writes: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Cor. 5:14).
Note the power in these words: “if one has died for all, this message must reach everyone!”
The love of Christ now motivates us in that manner, toward all the people around us. It cannot be so that he gave his life for the people, but that they do not find out about that, while we live among them…
If God does not want people to be lost, if he continues to give more time to reach everyone, we face a huge question: “How do I spend my time, how do we spend our time, how does the church spend her time?”
People of faith can be so occupied with their own house, garden, shed, etc. Even on the church property there are sacred houses, which are nurtured with a lot of love. Sometimes one falls over, and people then complain bitterly. They are genuinely sad about it. Is it okay then for the Lord to be sad about so many people all around us?