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God's Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children (Classic Theology) Paperback – September 1, 2012
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I would recommend that everyone who holds to the myth of such things as "God hates sin but loves the sinner" read and consider what Dr. Sproul has to say on this vast subject.
The book is easy to read and understand as is typical or Dr. Sproul's writings.
The book is divided into 9 chapters. Each chapter captures a different nuance of the love of God. One might also say that each chapter describes a different attribute of God.
In Chapter 1, we have an explanation of what we mean by the biblical phrase, "God is love". Sproul explains that "...the term love has been layered with so many diverse and sentimental associations...". Sproul seeks in this chapter to clear up the confusion regarding "love". He also seeks to "distinguish between what love means and what it emphatically does not mean". We ought to be careful to include God's love among his other attributes (e.g. holiness, justice, etc.). In other words, God is not just loving or just any attribute. Each one is as important as the others. In the end, what Sproul considers to be the meaning of "God is Love" is, "God is especially loving"; so loving that he can be said to embody love itself. Love expresses God's being.
In Chapter 2, "Eternal Love", Sproul begins with an explanation of the concept of the eternal with respect to God. Sproul points to the creation of all things and shows how only an eternal God could have created the universe. With respect to God's love, it is an eternal love. It does not change over time, but rather is constant. With respect to the Holy Trinity, the persons of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all express love for one another. Since God has existed eternally, so too must love have existed from eternity.
In Chapter 3, "The Loyal Love of God", Sproul discusses Paul's loyalty to Christ, the betrayal that Paul experienced, the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot (and the other disciples like Peter who denied Christ), the Curse that was placed on the innocent Son of God, the biblical idea of the curse and how Jesus fulfilled the curse motif. Sproul uses the frailty of men to highlight the faithfulness of God. In other words, God keeps his promises. He fulfills his covenant and loyally keeps his word. This is in stark contrast to men who live under the curse of sin.
In Chapter 4, "The Loving-Kindness of God", Sproul discusses the Hebrew word, hesed (God's covenantal love with his people), highlighting its prominence and meaning. He also discusses in depth the concept of "loving-kindness" and the inseparable love of God; and this culminates in his explanation of Romans 8 which speaks in this way: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" God's loving-kindness is so great that Paul describes it in Romans 8 as unbreakable.
In Chapter 5, "The Electing Love of God", Sproul discusses the idea of election. He defines election: "The New Testament concept of election refers to God's act of choosing people to be recipients of His special grace or favor. It corresponds to the Old Testament concept of bachar, which refers to God's selective granting of His good pleasure. The concept of election is linked throughout Scripture with predestination". He meets questions and objections. Is God arbitrary? What is the nature of God's divine sovereignty? How is election described in Romans 9? What is the Prescient view of election and how is it deficient? Is election unfair?
In Chapter 6, "Love and Hate in God", Sproul discusses the important idea of God's wrath or holy anger. He blows up the idea of "love the sinner and hate the sin" with respect to God. In Romans 9 Paul writes, "Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated". In other words, God not only hates the actions of sinners, but he also hates the ones who perform those actions. This does not negate the love of God in any way.
Sproul explains this strange truth to the reader: "Are we not taught with regularity that God loves everyone? If He does love everyone, it would not be possible for Him to hate anyone. Conversely, if it is true that He hates anyone, He could not at the same time love everyone. This is so because love and hate are incompatible opposites. In chapter 7, when we examine the distinctive types of the love of God, I will try to show that certain types of God's love can coexist with a type of divine hatred. In the meantime, however, we can say that God may love a person in one sense or in one way while at the same time hating him in another sense or another way. In essence, not all kinds of divine love are absolutely antithetical to all kinds of divine hatred....We may find relief by saying that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. But that relief is jolted by the reality that it is not the sin God sends to hell; it is the sinner."
Sproul goes even further in describing the relationship between God's mercy and divine justice: "The contrast in Romans 9 is between God's mercy and His justice. We remember that Paul reminded his readers that God reserves the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy. It is obvious in this context that Jacob received a measure of God's mercy that Esau did not receive. In his election, Jacob received mercy and grace. In his rejection, Esau received justice and judgment.
Here is a passage from Psalm 5:4-6 (ESV) that speaks of God's hatred of the wicked:
Psalm 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
Psalm 5:5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
Psalm 5:6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
Some other related topics in this chapter are the unconditional love of God. He gives a clearer picture of what this means as opposed to the common way people speak of God's unconditional love today. God's divine judgment shows that it is not truly unconditional because God does require repentance and faith.
Sproul also writes about the foreknowledge of God's love. If God foreknows those whom he chooses to give his divine favor, then this shows his special love for the elect of God. Sproul blows up the idea of God's love being based on him looking into the future and seeing what a man may choose. His love rather, is an electing love.
Next in Chapter 7, "The Threefold Love of God", Sproul discusses the benevolence of God as an aspect of God's love. this means that God seeks to do the individual good. In other words, this refers to God's goodwill toward his creatures. Next he discusses the impassibility of God. This means that God is not moved by his feelings. Sproul says that this position is too extreme. God does possess feelings, in a sense, just as we do. The Bible, however, contains many references to God having affection towards individuals. The other type of love Sproul writes of in this chapter is called the love of beneficence. This means that God does good actions towards those he loves. Even on the non-elect, God may provide some blessings. For example Jesus said that God sends the rain on both the just and the unjust.
In Chapter 8, "Agape Love", Sproul discusses the oft preached on Greek word "agape" as a word for love. One correction Sproul makes to a common misunderstanding is that agape does not always exclusively refer to God's unconditional love. We are called to show agape love to our neighbor. Jesus taught this in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are to take pity on all, regardless of their station or any other aspect of their person. Sproul concludes: "It is by the power of agape that we are enabled to grow up into the fullness of Christ".
Finally we come to Chapter 8, "The Greatest of These...". Sproul discusses 1 Cor. 13 in detail. Sproul makes these observations: All true Christian love is one and the same in principle. It comes from the same source. Second, all virtue that is saving, or distinguishing of true Christians, is summed up in Christian love. It is love that disposes us to honor God as God, to adore and worship Him.
I would certainly recommend this book for every Christian. Space has limited what I was able to cover in this review, but suffice it to say that the book treats these topics is much more depth than I can address here. He treats the subject in a thoroughly biblical way and does not give in to myths about love, nor sentimentality. Sproul writes as a Bible scholar, yet this book is very accessible. I found it easy to read. Of course Sproul is writing from a reformed perspective, so some readers may not agree with all of his conclusions.
Nevertheless, I feel that Sproul makes a strong biblical case for his theology. He helps the reader to grasp more deeply the amazing love of God. I believe it will encourage the heart and challenge the mind. I hope that you will read this book and meditate on the truths contained in it. this is a thorough, competent, and well-written book.