We have all heard the questions of the love of God. How can a God of love allow children to die of cancer? How could a God of love allow the horrific war in Syria to go on for so long, resulting in so many refugees? How can a God of love send people to hell?
At the heart of each of these questions is an incorrect assumption. So many of our problems about God’s stem from the fact that we have framed it in such a way that no longer represents the biblical God. Since we misunderstand the love of God, we also misunderstand what we are seeing in the world.
In terms of theology, one now hears a great many objections to the doctrine of the atonement of Christ. How can a God of love send His Son to die on a cross? If He did that and even poured out His wrath on Him on the cross, doesn’t that just make God a cosmic child abuser? Furthermore, the critics allege that the idea of blood sacrifices required to appease an angry deity is no more than a relic of ancient religions.
In essence, when divorced from its biblical setting, the doctrine of the love of God is being used to hollow out the Christian faith, leaving it with very little to say. For that reason, it seems that Christmas is an excellent time to recapture the message of the love of God found in Scripture.
The most famous passage of Scripture, John 3:16, says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” I fear, that for many of us, just as we have reduced the love of God to a concept that no longer fits the biblical ideal of love, so also have we reduced John 3:16. I mean that we have reduced the verse to say no more than, “For God so loved.”
Consider what John means when he uses the word “world.” For many of us, “world” simply means “all the human beings that live on earth.” It is for that reason that so many assume that the Christmas message of love is God’s love for every single human being. In grace, God enters into the world to rescue human beings from all oppressors, including wars and cancer. Hence a great light has shone into a world that has gone awry. But again, as is so often the case, the incongruity of this message seems to strike us. How often have we thought of “peace on Earth” at this time of year, when there are wars that continually plague the planet? While it is wonderful to have family at Christmas, my years in pastoral ministry remind me of the many people who have no family with whom to share this season.
Christmas, at least seen from the vantage point of the defective contemporary doctrine of the unbiblical love of God, is a disappointment. Without the themes of righteousness and of God’s judgment against evil, Christmas is virtually meaningless.
So I think it is time for us to re-examine the doctrine of the love of God at Christmas. By that, I don’t mean that we jettison the doctrine of the love of God. Rather, I mean we re-examine what the Bible is actually communicating in John 3:16.
More next week…