February 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of the suicide of my friend, Tommy. This is all too surreal. I still cannot wrap my mind around this. My brother from another mother, a preacher of the gospel, and faithful husband and father—gone at 54. Is this evidence of a loving God to permit this to happen?
In the summer of 2009, my wife was diagnosed with lupus, then three week later her father died of a heart attack at the age of 56. If God is a God of love, then where was He?
All of you have had hurts and heartaches happen that risk crushing you. The Scriptures’ teaching on the love of God bring comfort to many—and well it should. We immediately recognize God’s love in sending His Son into the world, bringing eternal life to those who believe (John 3:16).
Yet, for others, reading about a loving God brings difficulty. You hear it in sentences that begin, “If God is truly a loving God, then why __________?” Seeing so much poverty, sickness, famine, war, and all sorts of suffering does not seem to line up with a loving God that oversees all creation. Since God is good, why do bad things happen? Is there some defect or limitation in God’s love? Or maybe God is not loving after all? How we answer will show what we really believe about God and what He’s revealed of Himself in Scripture. For there are times when God does not simply permit suffering, but also sends suffering.
So when we speak of a doctrine of God’s love, we must realize how many (maybe even you) process this doctrine where it doesn’t make sense by what they see and how they process. So, given that this is the month where many celebrate Valentine’s Day (and it’s also the 17th anniversary of when Cindy said yes to my proposal of marriage), let’s look at a number of ways to process God’s love in a suffering world.
Before I continue, I’m grateful for D.A. Carson’s book on this subject called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God which you can get in pdf for free.
- We must see God’s love in conjunction with His holiness, His rule over all things, His justice, His providence, and His mercy. We must allow Scripture to define God’s love; otherwise we fail to grasp the full measure of what He seeks to accomplish, remembering that God works all things for good for the believer (Romans 8:28).
- God did not create the world with sickness and sin, but He created it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The world was created without blemish because God is without blemish.
- By Adam and Eve’s choice of listening to Satan’s word rather than God’s Word (Genesis 3:1-8), they brought the curse of sin into the world and in our hearts (Genesis 3:9-21). God made them in His image, and gave them a choice—but they chose self over the All-Sufficient One, something that blights the world to this day.
- God’s love is made manifest in that, even in our sin, He sent His Son to rescue us. He demonstrates His love for us by sending Christ to die, even as we were sinners (Romans 5:8). It is by the love of God that we become children of God (1 John 3:1).
- It is by the love of God that He sends suffering into the world, in order to show us the futility of this life (Job 38-42); knowing that suffering produces character and hope (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-8), and also to judge sin
- Related to #3, the love of God provides an escape from our temptations to sin (1 Corinthians 10:12-13), but that we often love our sin more than the God who delivers from sin (1 John 2:15-17).
- It is by the love of God that we have hope that this world’s system will not endure for eternity (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 17-18), but that an eternal hope with Christ exists (Rev. 21-22).
We tend to believe that God is in control of the good things and Satan is in control of the bad things. But in reading through the Scriptures, we see that God’s love is not restricted to when good things happen and for the believer works all things for our good. We may not see it now. We may not understand His love now, but we will one day. In the meantime, we trust in God’s lovingkindness in His holiness, justice, and providence—not just His mercy.
I pray this has been of some help. Blessings to you this February.
(Originally published in the February 2015 edition of The Challenger, the monthly newsletter of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO.)