D.A. Carson, in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, mentioned five kinds of God’s love that we often see in the Bible. No, this is not a reference to C. S. Lewis’ Four Loves (storge, philia, eros and agape). This is entirely different and the way I see it, this makes a lot of sense to our topic on the grace of God. Please note that in some of the passages to be cited, the word love may not even be there (the same way that Jesus talked about grace without ever using the word).
1. First is the intra-Trinitarian love of God. John 3:35; John 5:20; John 14:31
Some of you may find this surprising but there is actually a kind of love between the Father and the Son that is so pure and so exclusive that we are not part of it. This relationship is mostly highlighted in the book of John.
I told one of my friends about this and her initial reaction was: “I don’t believe it. If we are IN Jesus, aren’t we supposed to be INCLUDED in the intra-Trinitarian love?” Well, obviously, the answer is no because we are not part of the Trinity. It’s like you are asking if an exclusive club accepts non-members. What makes it exclusive is that it doesn’t accept non-members. Same with intra-Trinitarian love. The reason why it’s intra-Trinitarian is because it only involves the Trinity.
Some people are scandalized by this. They can’t seem to accept the idea that a part of God’s love isn’t directed towards humans. They have, however, no trouble accepting that husbands and wives can love each other exclusively and yet still love their kids with all their hearts.
I believe that all our ideas about the unconditional, pure, unending love of God are actually rooted from this exclusive intra-Trinitarian love. When we talk about love that knows no bounds, this is the source of it.
2. Second is God’s providential love for all His creatures.
This one is not explicitly stated in the Bible but it is very easy to find if you observe nature and read your Bible with keen eyes. Everywhere you turn you see that the world is made and sustained by a loving Creator. No bird falls to the ground unless it is permitted by God. The lions get their food from the hands of God. These providences, taken together as a whole, speak volumes of the love of God for the created order.
A sample of this is found in Psalms 145.15-16: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
3. Third is God’s love that desires for the world to be saved. The biggest supporting verses for this are John 3:16, 2Peter 3.9 and Ezekiel 33.11. God desires that people will be saved. Whereas it is true that in many parts of the Bible He stands as judge for all the people of the world, Jesus also came to invite and command all people to repent. In fact, the very reason why the church exists is to proclaim the gospel to every nation of the world. God desires that none should perish. He doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the sinner.
4. Fourth is God’s love for the elect.
This one is a bit difficult to explain because it goes against our preconceived ideas that God loves all of us the same way. In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, you will notice that God chooses one person over the other for no apparent reason at all. Consider these verses:
In the Old Testament, Israel was told: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37). Again: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descen-dants, above all the nations, as it is today” (10:14-15)
The striking thing about God’s choosing Israel over other nations or people groups is not because they were good or special or that they did something right or lovable. No, the reason why God chose them was because God loved them and the reason why God loved them was because He just did.
I know that no matter how you look at it, no matter how much theological jargon you cram up here, in plain language it would still look like God is playing favorites. We even have Scriptural evidence for that! “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3) I’m sure it will help a little if we understand that the word “hated” in that verse actually means “loved less.”
So how do we make sense out of this?
Well, let me just say that if you find this idea repulsive, you are not alone. What you just read above is actually the classic debate that has been going on for hundreds of years between Calvinists and Arminians. You may have heard of it as predestination issue or the “once saved, always saved” question. It’s an old issue.
I am not a theologian and I don’t pretend that I understand all of this in my heart. What I do know and am convinced of is this: that these verses about the “elect” or the chosen people are here to stay. You can’t sweep them off and hide them under the rug. This is a real, Biblical fact. God loves the elect. I must grapple with that idea in my heart and in my head. I need to factor that into my understanding of the love of God and the grace of God.
5. Fifth is the Provisional, CONDITIONAL love of God for His own people. Usually, the condition of that love is in the area of obedience.
This kind of love doesn’t have anything to do with how you get saved or when you’re just starting out in your walk with God. Rather, this love of God is applicable only when you are already following Christ. Jude 21 says “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Unmistakably, this verse gives us the impression that some might not keep themselves in the love of God.
Jesus Himself described love this way in John 15:9-10. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” So now, staying in God’s love is directly related to your obedience to God. A friend quickly pointed out to me that the surrounding verses of this text mentioned that the command Jesus was talking about here is to love one another. Yes, that’s true.
In the Old Testament, we can see lots of hints about this kind of love. In the Ten Commandments alone, we are told that God shows His love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exod. 20:6).
Perhaps the most graphic are these verses: “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. . . . As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him . . . with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Ps. 103:9-11, 13, 17-18)
You have just seen five kinds of love in the Bible. In my next post, I will reflect on how this would help us deal with the questions of grace.