Many of us would be quick to say that God’s love is universal to all mankind. The majority of us grew up singing songs like “Jesus loves me” and “Jesus loves the little children” in which one line in the song states: “Jesus loves all the children of the world”.
This is something I struggled with recently that was spurred on by a few comments made on my post, Westboro Baptist No More. In the doctrine of election we know that God unconditionally chooses people before the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons and daughters in Christ. It would seem that it’s not exactly the easiest thing to reconcile the doctrine of election and God’s universal love.
In the Scriptures we read of God’s amazing love towards sinners, but normally it’s towards his people, the elect. Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. If he loved everyone in a saving manner, then all would be saved. But we know this is not true. Not all are saved.
British Baptist leader Erroll Hulse, dealing with this very question, has written,
How can we say God loves all men when the psalms tell us He hates the worker of iniquity (Psalms 5:5)? How can we maintain that God loves all when Paul says that He bears the objects of His wrath, being fitted for destruction, with great patience (Romans 9:22)? Even more how can we possibly accept that God loves all men without exception when we survey the acts of God’s wrath in history? Think of the deluge which destroyed all but one family. Think of Sodom and Gomorrah. With so specific a chapter as Romans [1,] which declares that sodomy is a sign of reprobation, could we possibly maintain that God loved the population of the two cities destroyed by fire? How can we possibly reconcile God’s love and His wrath? Would we deny the profundity of this problem? (Erroll Hulse, “The Love of God for All Mankind,” Reformation Today [Nov–Dec 1983], 18–19).
Yet, Hulse recognizes that if we look at the Scriptures, there is no escaping that God loves all human kind, even the ones he will condemn. “The will of God is expressed in unmistakable terms,” Hulse writes. “He has no pleasure in the destruction and punishment of the wicked” (Ez. 18:32; 33:11). Hulse also references Matthew 23:37, where Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, then says, “We are left in no doubt that the desire and will of God is for man’s highest good, that is, his eternal salvation through heeding the gospel of Christ.”This is one of the things that irks me most about Westboro Baptist. They take bits and pieces from the Scripture and form their understanding based upon select verses rather than from the whole text. As Christians we are called to declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We can’t build a comprehensive theology out of a few select verses. If we do, then by definition, it is something less than Christianity. With Psalms 5:5 in our head we can’t start picketing dead soldier funerals holding signs that read, “Thank God for dead soldiers”. Well then: How would Jesus treat those who will reject him their entire life?
In Mark 10 we read the story of the rich young man. The young man approaches Jesus inquiring how he can possess eternal life. He claims he has kept the law in its whole from youth. Jesus then says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” We read that the man loved his possessions greatly and left disheartened. He loved his stuff more than he wanted eternal life, more than he wanted to follow Jesus. One line we often skip over in Mark 10:21 is; “Jesus, looking at him, loved him”. We see here that Jesus loved this man even though, by what we read in the Scriptures, the man never repents of his unbelief. Jesus obviously loved this man, an open, non-repentant sinner. He loved him.