Ambassador of Reconciliation
5/6/15 at 01:07 AM 71 Comments

Should We Love Everybody? Part 1

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A theme I have been exploring in various posts on my blog is God’s love and how it is related to human love. One post asked the question “Does God love everybody?” which prompts the question “Should we love everybody?” which leads to the bigger question “How should (or how does) the way we live reflect what we believe about the character of God? My short answers to the first two questions are Yes and Yes. My short answer to the third question is that, for good or for ill, our lives do tend to reflect what we believe about God.

If it’s true that God loves everybody, then it follows that we should try to love everybody as He does. And even if you don’t believe that God loves everybody, if you’re a Christian you probably agree, at least in theory, that we should love our neighbors. Jesus Himself considered the command to love our neighbors of utmost importance, second only to loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Here I’d like to explore the third question—the relationship between our view of how God acts and our view of how we should act, particularly how our love for other people is an expression of how we believe He loves people. You may have seen humorous pictures of dogs who look like their masters; I think we come to look more and more like our Master, however we perceive Him to be.

In a dialog prompted by another post, I commented that “our theology (how we view God) has a direct and profound effect on our behavior (how we live).” At least one person was quick to disagree with me:

I do not agree that our behavior reflects our theology. Our behavior is reflected by whether or not we are being controlled by our old nature (sin nature) or our new nature which was created in true righteousness and holiness…. God has defined Himself in His Word but it is not palatable to you so you have redefined Him to be like you.

I do not agree with your thesis “that our theology (how we view God) has a direct and profound effect on our behavior (how we live).”… How we interact with people is more related to the spiritual condition of our heart…. If we walk in the flesh we will smell and act like the world. If we walk in the spirit we will reflect the true character of God. It has nothing to do with how we view God.

It seems to me that her disagreement is more of a knee-jerk reaction (she finds fault with most of what I say) than a thoughtful consideration of the idea. Her statement “If we walk in the spirit we will reflect the true character of God” actually supports the idea that what we believe about the character of God will be reflected in the way we walk.

Another commenter was thinking along the same lines as I was but saw the dynamics working in the opposite direction:

You suggest “(how we view God) has a direct and profound effect on our behavior (how we live).” I have lately been thinking much the same. But while I agree with your thought to a certain extent, I think it might more accurately be viewed from almost 180 degrees the other way: our outlook (which is reflected in our behavior) has a direct and profound effect on how we view God.

He went on to give examples of how different people’s experiences had affected their perception of God. I suspect that it works both ways: the experiences we go through shape our view of God, and our view of God informs the way we behave. For example, it is well documented that our relationship with our earthly father has an early and lasting effect on how we perceive our heavenly Father. A recent book by John Bishop, God Distorted: How Your Earthly Father Affects Your Perception of God and Why It Matters (2013), explains that “Regardless of the type of father you grew up with—or without—it is likely that your view of God is influenced by the relationship you had with your father.” Your view of God, in turn, influences the way you parent; the tendency is to model your parenting after the fatherhood of God, as you perceive it.

Consider the child who grows up with an abusive father. Chances are that he will picture God as harsh, critical, and unreasonable. And with such an image of God, it will be difficult for him not to repeat that pattern in his own parenting. Conversely, a child whose father is kind and fair is more likely to believe that God is loving and just and will be more likely to reflect those characteristics when he becomes a father himself.

I could give many examples of how people’s words, attitudes, and actions mirror their understanding of what God is like. Here are a few illustrations from the commenters on my blog:

One of my critics is adamant that the damned will suffer eternal conscious torment in hell. She believes that God turns His back on unbelievers when they die and remembers them no more. Her attitude toward those who have died without Christ is similar to what she thinks God’s attitude is:

[O]nce they die it is all over with. I barely even remember them if at all. Do I care they died in their sins and that they are suffering because of it? No, I don't because that is not a reality to me.

God isn’t going to burden my heart for them or bring them to mind for prayer when He doesn’t remember them anymore nor does He work with them to ease their pain by showing them mercy and bringing them to salvation

Interestingly, she has accused me of trying to “make God in your own image,” i.e., inventing a God who is to my own liking. Certainly there is some truth to the idea that our image of God is shaped by who we are, but I have tried to explain that any likeness between me and God is not that I have made God out to be like me, but that I try to imitate Him. I want to be like Him—not, of course, in the qualities that God alone possesses, like omniscience and omnipotence, but in His character qualities as I understand them, like love, justice, kindness, righteousness, and patience. I want to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).

Another commenter is a staunch Calvinist. He believes that God loves the elect but hates the non-elect. His treatment of other people is similar to the way he thinks God treats them. He claimed of himself, “I’m gracious to all of God’s Elect,” and I did not disagree. I said to him,

I’ve seen you speak very graciously to others who line up with your beliefs…. But I’ve seen very UN-gracious comments to and about those outside your little group of hard-core Calvinists…. You’re all sweetness and honey toward those you consider to be among “the elect,” but you’re downright nasty to everyone else, including fellow believers who don’t meet your approval.

He is not an isolated case. I encountered very similar attitudes among some Calvinists in another forum—they were all “Bless you, brother” and “Amen, sister” to fellow Calvinists, but harsh and condemning toward those they deemed to be outside God’s fold. (See the footnote for samples of comments that were made to and about me by people in that group.[1]) I think it’s tragic when Christians treat each other that way, but I must say there is a certain consistency about it, given the Calvinist understanding of God’s attitude toward the lost.[2]

In contrast, a commenter with the nickname tamthetyper is genuinely gracious to all. His comments are thoughtful and kind, and he is a voice of reason in the midst of a lot of hostility. Unlike those who always seem to be looking for a fight, he is a peacemaker. He seems like someone I would enjoy getting to know personally. Significantly, he believes that God loves everyone and keeps on pursuing all His lost sheep, meaning not just the “elect” but all of humanity. Like the others, tamthetyper’s attitudes are consistent with his theology, in this case, resulting in good fruit.

Here in Part 1 I have observed that our attitudes and actions toward other people tend to be a reflection of how we think God treats people. In Part 2 I will look at why it matters and then come back to the original question: Should we love everybody?

[1] Many accusations were leveled against me until I was finally kicked out of the group for being a heretic, i.e., for failing to accept their theology. I was called a liar, a murderer, a child of Satan, and a savage wolf. I was accused of denying Christ, ruining the gospel, being willfully ignorant, and having a heart of rebellion.

[2] Dr. Thomas Talbott points out the parallels between racist ideology and exclusivist theology: “Consider more closely, then, the racist who sincerely believes that, because the African races are less than fully human, we may therefore treat them as an inferior species. If our racist is a Southern gentleman, he may be very gracious, very loving towards his family and friends, and a person with many good qualities; his demeanor may be utterly different from that of skinheads and members of the American Nazi Party. But his racist ideology will interfere with his capacity for love nonetheless, and the theological name for any belief that interferes with that capacity is sin. Our racist cannot both hold his racist beliefs and properly love all of his neighbors. And what is true of a racist ideology is no less true of an exclusivist theology. One cannot believe that God has divided humanity into the elect, whom he loves, and the non-elect, whom he despises and believe that God is nonetheless worthy of worship and, at the same time, love one’s neighbor as oneself.

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