The Extent of the Love of God

It is a common error within Christian circles to group the love of God in with His other infinite characteristics. Verses such as John 3:16 are quoted freely to convince one and all that a 'God of love' would never do such and such; then when such and such does occur people feel betrayed and God is considered to be at fault. The reality is that God is a God of love; and the extent of His love is incredible. However the love of God is bounded. There comes a point where God has had enough. The aim of this essay is to demonstrate one example of God's long suffering being over stretched: the case of Esau.

Many of the more na´ve proponents of the 'God is love' slogan find an immediate need to jettison most of the Old Testament as it doesn't square with the picture of the infinite unconditional love of God that has been painted. Mal 1:3 is one of those examples of a 'problem verse'. It flatly states that God hates Esau. However it is also a verse that will not go away just by ignoring the Old Testament; the verse is quoted in Romans 9 in the context of our election. In fact it only by understanding the plight of Esau that the full glory of salvation can be comprehended.

Notwithstanding the above, the problem with the passage in Romans 9 is that upon rapid reading it might appear to state that Esau was elected to be hated. Worse Ro 9:11 clearly states that the election part of this equation occurred prior to the birth of Jacob and Esau and is explicit that this occurred before either of them could be counted as having done good or bad. But the passage doesn't state he was elected to hate. Esau was elected to have a lower position than Jacob[1]. But Esau could still have stayed within God's favor. He had been given territory and the Israelites were explicitly told that they were not permitted to have one square foot of it[2]. The Israelites were even told they could not hate the Edomites because of the relationship between them[3].

Thus we see that Esau had been given a place within God's plan; it just wasn't as favorable as Jacob's. The question therefore becomes: "Would Esau settle for the position he had been given?" Gen 27:41 tells us quite clearly that the answer was: No. Esau hated Jacob and plotted to kill him. Viewed from a modern day counselors perspective I'm sure that Esau could find just cause. His mother and brother together plotted to take the blessing that Esau had quite legitimately earned[4]. We also know that on at least one occasion Esau and Jacob made peace and Esau was very much the instigator[5]. We also know that David actually breached Edom's lands and planted garrisons there[6]. The net result was that for hundreds of years Edom's hatred of Israel brewed[7].

If anyone allows anger and hatred to fester internally then eventually it will break forth. This happened when Judah was being attacked by the Chaldeans. Unable to attack Jerusalem herself Edom took extreme glee when calamity fell upon it. In fact it would appear that Edom joined in the attack[8] and even stood at the exits cutting down those that attempted to escape[9]. It was subsequent to nothing this that the Lord declares that the inheritance that had been given to Esau was now going to pass to Israel too[10].

What we therefore see is that election had given Esau an inheritance within the will of God. Esau's inability to gratefully accept what he had been given led to him loosing that which he had. It should be noted that this didn't happen after Esau's first desire to kill Jacob; it happened several hundred years later after the anger had festered. Thus we see the love of God is longsuffering; but that doesn't mean it will suffer sin forever.

In fact the extent of the love of God is memorably illustrated in a passage that this essay has already mentioned Amos 1. Amos used the formula: "For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment". It suggests that had Edom stuck with three major sins calamity would not have come. But having 'got away' with three transgressions it clearly felt a fourth was possible too. But that was one too many. The longsuffering God that is slow to anger had finally gotten angry. And once judgment was announced it was inescapable and irrevocable. Esau and hated Jacob; therefore God had hated Esau.

Leaving the example of Esau; even John 3:16 should sound a warning note to those that read it carefully. We are told that Christ died "so that those that believed on him might not perish." Simple logic tells us that the fate of those that don't believe is that they do perish. God has defined precisely the extent of His love. It was enough that He should allow His Son to die a brutal death so that we might be forgiven, if we believe on Him. If we choose to ignore that offer then not only do we have the original wrath of God to deal with, but we have now grossly insulted the work, worth and person of His beloved Son too[11]!

We should not consider the fact that God's love is limited in duration to imply it is limited in extent. We can be the vilest of sinner and still find forgiveness. In fact we are told that God commends His love towards us because we were still sinners when Christ died for us[12]. Yet this must not lead us to believe that sin will be tolerated indefinitely. On three occasions[13] the apostle of free grace informs us that the wrath of God is coming upon mankind. Revelation 14 onwards shows us precisely how this is going to happen. We ignore it at our peril.

We have therefore seen that the love of God whilst vast, and extremely longsuffering, is not inexhaustible. God does not appoint people to hatred[14] but He does appoint people to places which are less than they may wish. We are then responsible for how we respond to God's plan for us. If we humbly accept it then we will have a place in His kingdom. If we fight against God and refuse to accept His provision for us, which in this dispensation is a place in His church, they we may eventually face His wrath and hatred.

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