Jared Wilson addresses the love of God and the unbiblical notions commonly attributed to God’s covenant love in his new book Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus.
How great is the love of God? Very, very great. The Scriptures tell us that God’s love is steadfast, enduring, unceasing, separation- defying, everlasting to everlasting, and manifested in the inscrutable incarnation. We are told that God’s love controls us (2 Cor. 5:14), roots and grounds us (Eph. 3:17), and surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19). This is not the kind of love that can be easily captured in religious sentimentalism or humanistic altruism or even romantic emotionalism. This is a specific, personal love that accomplishes things—like saving sinners (Rom. 5:8), disciplining them (Heb. 12:6), and directing their paths (Ps. 25:10)—not a vague, ethereal, “love” that “makes the world go ’round.” When the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” everyone sings along in agreement, but not everyone knows that while God is love, love is not God.
In fact, one of the chief ways we distort the biblical picture of God’s love is when we presuppose, as many Christians do, that love demands freedom. Where we get this notion, I do not know, but it is not in the Bible. In fact, we find in the Bible quite the opposite: the love of God violates human freedoms constantly and consistently. If there’s one thing any biblical figure can count on, besides that God loves him, it is that he is not in control of his own destiny. The biblical picture of God’s love is bigger, stranger, and more complex than our misguided attempts to assist the gospel by anthropomorphizing God’s love. “What the Bible says about the love of God is more complex and nuanced than what is allowed by mere sloganeering,” D. A. Carson reminds us.
Some end up sloganeering under the guise of finally doing justice to God’s love. The fashionable new waves of postmortem free will, universalism, and inclusivism allege that their views of the love of God are more reflective of the enormity depicted in the Scriptures. Instead, by carrying in philosophical presuppositions about what love must entail in order to be real love, and by seeking to commend the gospel by making this love appear as acceptable to as many people as possible, they take what is multidimensional and squash it out, in effect flattening the idea of God’s love like pizza dough in a pan in order to make it look bigger.
But the bigness and depth of God’s love aren’t captured in flat- ness. They are captured in something more complex, fuller.
What every believer in every age is challenged to do is resist the innate compulsion to flatten out the expansive love of God. Does love demand freedom?
Does love demand giving the loved what he or she wants? The new inclusivists insist yes, and while their desire to maintain the biblical teachings on hell are admirable, we do not find much in the Scriptures to support the idea that, à la Lewis, the doors there are locked from the inside. The sentimental tail wags the theological dog when we say that love demands freedom, and that therefore when God consigns the unrepentant to judgment he says, “Thy will be done” to them. In one sense, he is saying this, of course, but in the most crucial sense, he is not. In that most crucial sense, when God consigns the ultimately unrepentant to eternal conscious torment, he is saying, “My will be done.”
Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 26-27.