Ambassador of Reconciliation
10/8/15 at 10:44 PM 9 Comments

Conversation about the Atonement: Is It Limited or Unlimited? Part 3

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Joe Lindberg and I have been discussing the extent of the atonement, which seems to be the primary point of disagreement between Calvinists and Universalists, from which our divergent conclusions about the fate of mankind stem. (It would be a different conversation with an Arminian.) In his comments on Part 2 Joe said,

What I am trying to understand and I will try to include in my thoughts for the blog. Why is it that God’s love “isn’t” complete unless He saves everyone?? From a UR standpoint, why does God have to save anyone to still be the definition of love? I also want to see from a UR standpoint what that definition from scripture of love is. Hopefully these questions will be answered.

Several of my previous posts have been on the subject of God’s love, where I have tried to do just what Joe has requested—give a biblical explanation of the love of God. Whether or not He loves everybody has a bearing on the question of whether or not He sent His Son to die for everybody. So I suggested that Joe share his thoughts in response to my article “Does God Love Everybody?” His response is first, followed by a few thoughts from me. Please see the original article to understand the references.


Does God Love Everybody?
In a quick response to this article there were a few ideas and scriptures that I would like to address. I don’t want to argue very many points per say, but just thought I would give a Biblical approach to God’s love and hate. I would like to see people search the scriptures for themselves and come to a conclusion. I believe that there are three types of hate in scripture that need addressed. There is a “less love” type of hate, the “non-saving” hate as shown in Romans 9, and a “perfect hatred”. I think with this topic we have to let scripture interpret itself and not bring presuppositions to the table as to say that there is only one type of love or hate. Let’s look at some examples—

For a “less love” type of hate
We can look back at Genesis 29:30-31 “And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her handmaid. 30And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.”31And Jehovah saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb. But Rachel was barren.”

  • As we can see in Genesis 29 he loved Rachel more than Leah, but Jehovah saw that Leah was “hated”. This verse gives us a very clear definition of a type of hate.

For “non-saving” hate
We look at Rom 9:11 “for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, 12it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

  • The point is clear no matter how you understand the verse. We aren’t even talking about election here, so ignore that for now. We are only talking about a type of hate. Whatever type of hate this is has nothing to do with deeds. There is a hatred going on that is according to God’s purpose, so we end up with a type of hate. I believe that this type of hate has to do with a saved person vs. a non-saved person, that is why I call it a “non-saving” hate, but at least you can let scripture interpret another type of hate for now. We know this hate is dependent on God’s choice alone.

For “Perfect hatred”
You can start with Proverbs 6:16 “There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: 17Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; 18A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief, 19A false witness that uttereth lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren.”

  • These types of things would fall under the category of a “perfect hatred”. They are against the very nature of God, and God can’t look upon these things and show approval. Other examples would be, violating any of the 10 commandments or covenantal agreements.

We know that God doesn’t sin, but almost immediately people think that hate is always a sinful act. Well, when we look at scripture we see that this isn’t always the case. God can hate, but it is always in a perfect and just way that doesn’t violate His nature.

Now to look at the Biblical view of God’s love
Again, we have to start with scripture to interpret scripture. To understand God’s definition of love we don’t look in ourselves for the answer. God is perfect and Holy, while we are sinners and our understanding is flawed to a certain amount. We can’t fully understand everything about God, but we can stay in a certain parameter that scripture allows.

What are the attributes of scriptural/Godly love?
Well we should all know this. In 1 Cor 13:4-7 we have a fair description of these attributes. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

  • These are the attributes of love as seen in scripture. Love isn’t a funny feeling, but action.

God’s love on the cross
God’s love was this very action.In 1st John 4:10 we see God’s love perfectly given for us as our propitiation. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

  • 1St John 3:16 also touches on the topic, “By this we know love that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Let me also remind you of Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • God’s perfect love was shown on the cross dying for those that didn’t deserve anything. Psalm 103:10 puts it this way, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” God gave us His righteousness Phil 3:9 and became our propitiation. There is no greater love than one that lays His life down for His friends John 15:13. Jesus did this, and He completely cancelled our debt and nailed it to the cross Col 2:14. Now this brings us to our next question.

Does God really love everyone?
We can all assume that “God is love” 1 John 4:8, but does that mean that He loves everyone? Psalm 11:5 says, “The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.” Psalm 5:4 gives a little bit more detail, “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.”

  • This is obviously just a small fraction of scripture, and I don’t want to proof text, but it is important to notice how much God hates sin. God doesn’t look over sin because sin is breaking God’s law 1 John 3:4. Scripture clearly says that God hates one that loves violence. He even hates them to their soul.
  • If God really is just, Holy, perfect, and really hates sin we should be able see that anything against His nature has to be punished according to His law. If God overlooks His own law and didn’t punish, He would no longer be just.
  • So does God hate people? Or love everyone? – In short without writing a novel I would say yes God can hate people. The definition again would come from how God views hate and not our feeble definition. We think that hate usually means an unjust anger towards someone. I would suppose that God’s hate is a perfect hate, and that it doesn’t destroy His perfect love by any means. The presupposition that we have of the word hate needs to be exchanged with the scriptural understanding of hate.

My shield is with God, Who saveth the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, Yea, a God that hath indignation every day. If a man turn not, he will whet his sword; He hath bent his bow, and made it ready” (Ps. 7:10-12).



Joe first makes the point that there are different types of “hate.” I agree that the word hate is used in different ways in the Bible and that it can be a relative term (e.g., we are to “hate” our father and mother in comparison to our devotion to Jesus). But I would insist that when it applies to God, it never means what we commonly associate with hatred: ill will, animosity, malice, or malevolence. God hates sin because it violates His holiness and is harmful to the sinners themselves as well as to their victims. His intent is never to be malicious or to cause harm.

Joe’s term “non-saving hate” is a new one to me. He uses it to explain the statement “Esau I hated” in Romans 9. I agree with Joe that this “hate” has nothing to do with deeds, is according to God’s purpose, and is dependent on God’s choice alone, but I do not agree that “this type of hate has to do with a saved person vs. a non-saved person.” I believe that Jacob rather than Esau was chosen to fulfill a particular purpose in God’s plan. I don’t think this passage means that Jacob was chosen to go to heaven and Esau was left to go to hell. (As Joe said, the discussion about election is for another day.)

Then Joe turns to the attributes of scriptural/godly love. I’m in complete agreement with his definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13 and his description of God’s love on the cross from John 15:13, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16 and 4:10, Philippians 3:9, and Colossians 2:14. In these passages we see love in action—Jesus laying down His life for sinners.

Having defined and described biblical love, Joe then asks whether God really loves everyone. He says we can assume that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), but He can still hate people. As evidence he quotes Psalm 11:5 (“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates”) and Psalm 5:4 (“For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome”). Joe states, “Scripture clearly says that God hates one that loves violence. He even hates them to their soul.”

I’m afraid we’re getting tangled in semantics again. If Joe is saying that God’s “hate” is equivalent to His righteous anger against sin, then I won’t put up too much fuss. I’m not trying to say that love means no justice or no judgment. But if Joe is saying that God’s hate means there are some He does not love, then I will put up a big fuss. God cannot fail to love any more than He can fail to be holy, because both love and holiness are the very essence of who He is. God’s attributes are not in conflict with each other; everything He does is fully loving and fully holy. God's love is defined by 1 Corinthians 13 and the other passages Joe cited. God loved us while we were yet sinners, and He loves those who are still sinners. His love does not change because of what they do or fail to do. His love does not quit when we sin. It does not quit when we die. His mercy endures forever. God’s actions may not always look loving, and if we are in rebellion against Him we experience His love as wrath or punishment, but because of His essential nature of love, we can be certain that everything He does has a good and loving and holy purpose for all of His creatures.

(Please see a fuller explanation in my original article: Does God Love Everybody?)

I have a couple of questions for Joe in return:

How would you apply your understanding of God’s love to the question about the extent of the atonement? You seem to be saying that God does not love everybody (which would agree with your pal Pink). The implication would be that there are people whom God does not love, and Jesus did not die for those people, i.e., the atonement is limited. Have I understood you correctly?

How would you respond directly to my conclusions about the love of God? They are summarized here:

I don’t think we need to go through any philosophical or theological contortions to try to explain God’s love. It’s not complicated: God is love, He loves you and me and everyone else, and His love never ceases. He loved us when we were dead in sin, and He continues to love us if we fall into sin again. Just like any good father, He never gives up loving us. The goal of His holy love/loving holiness is to make us holy, to eradicate sin, and to restore His creation to a state of sinless perfection even greater than it would have been if we had never sinned. He pursues us tirelessly—throughout our lives on earth and beyond, through kindness and severity—to draw us to Himself in a relationship of love. God’s love and holiness in no way clash with one another; in fact, they are even more than complementary.



From where I stand I am seeing the, "God loved us while we were still sinners" as the love for the elect, apart from our efforts. It was an unconditional love that so happened to be given to us while we were sinners.

To answer Diane’s questions -

//How would you apply your understanding of God’s love to the question about the extent of the atonement?//
God’s love is unconditional to start. He loves whom He chooses to love. He gave His life to save many, and completed what He set to accomplish. I can’t act like I know how He does everything, but what I see revealed in scripture is that He cancelled the debt for those He chose for salvation, and allows the rest to go their natural way.
I think approaching a lot of verses like Romans 5:8 and keeping in mind that God’s love is unconditional and impartial will bring people to a clearer interpretation.

//You seem to be saying that God does not love everybody (which would agree with your pal Pink). The implication would be that there are people whom God does not love, and Jesus did not die for those people, i.e., the atonement is limited. Have I understood you correctly?//
Pink isn’t my pal, but he has some good quotes. I actually don’t know much about him at all. I do agree that God doesn’t love everyone in a saving sense. That topic we shall clear up later also. I know you said that you haven’t heard the “non-saving love” before, and there is more to it when it comes to election. I agree that the atonement wasn’t for every person that ever lived, or the angels. I believe that God’s blood was shed for those He chose for it to cover, and every last person He chose will be drawn to Him for salvation.



Let me see if I can sum up your position:

  • God sovereignly chooses to love some people.
  • Through the cross, God sovereignly saves those whom He loves.
  • God does not love the rest of humanity “in a saving sense.”
  • Therefore, Jesus did not die for them and they remain under condemnation.

Did I get it right? The short version of my position is:

  • “God is love” = love is the essence of God’s nature.
  • God always loves every human being He created.
  • God’s love impelled Him to send His Son to die for all those He loves.
  • Through the cross, God sovereignly saves those whom He loves.

Notice that we’re in agreement on the fact that God saves all those whom He loves. (You might say it is “saving” love, while I would not qualify it.) Our disagreement is in identifying the ones He loves and died for. For example, you would say that “us” in Romans 5:8 (“but God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”) refers to the elect, while I think it refers to all sinners. Similarly with 1 John 3:16 (“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”), 1 John 4:10 (“he loves us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”), and Colossians 2:14 (“having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us”).

In summary, we have two competing views:

1) God loves some, Jesus died for some, those “some” will be redeemed.
2) God loves all, Jesus died for all, those “all” will be redeemed.

Is that an accurate summary?

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