5 Ways the Bible Speaks about the Love of God–Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Carson)
What does it mean to speak of God’s love? What does it mean that God loves us? D.A. Carson gives a helpful framework for us in his book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” (found here for free!). He identifies 5 different ways the Bible speaks about the love of God (pg 16-21).
1. Intra-Trinitarian Love: Peculiar Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father
There is one God who eternally exists in three persons. In a majestic mystery, there is love within the Trinity. Specifically, the Bible speaks about God the Father’s love for the Son and of the Son’s love for the Father (John 3:35; 5:20; 14:31). God is love (1 John 4:8) and has love for Himself.
2. God’s Providential Love Over All that He Has Made (Common Grace)
While the word “love” is not used in this sense, the Bible clearly describes it. Love in this sense refers to God’s care for the animals and plants; we all see it in how He causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust (Matt 5-6). This is God’s providential love for his creation, also known as common grace.
3. Salvific Stance Toward His Fallen World
God has a saving love (salvific love) toward his fallen world. We read this in John 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son” and in Rom 5:8 “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek 33:11), but desires that all would be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Herein is incredible love: God loved the world–a world in rebellion toward Him–to such an extent that he gave his only Son Jesus to die in our place–to die for our sins and rebellion and reconcile us with Himself.
4. Particular, Effective, Selecting Love for the Elect
God has a special love for his chosen people. We read about God’s love for Israel and Christ’s love for the church (Deut 7:7-8; Mal 1:2-3; Eph 5:25). This love is only experienced by God’s people.
5. Provisional or Conditional Love (Based on Obedience)
God also exercises love toward His children in a provisional or conditional way. This is the type of love that we are urged to remain in through obedience (Jude 21; John 15:9; Ex 20:6). Comparable to a father’s love for a child: a father loves his child regardless of obedience, yet when a child obeys he or she comes under the parent’s favor and when he or she disobeys the result is wrath and displeasure.
By remembering these categories and not absoultizing one above the others, we remain faithful to God’s revelation about Himself and speak more accurately about God’s love. Trouble happens when we trumpet one of these categories to the exclusion of the others; the results of this is distorted picture of God’s love.