Beginning with God 5

Worship.jpgIt all begins with God — what we think about God shapes what we think about ourselves and those around us and our world. It begins with God. What is our “narrative” of God? Is our narrative one of God’s love or one of God’s wrath?

James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) is focused on these kinds of questions, and chp 5 is called “God is Love.”

Again, there is a false narrative at work in our world, in our minds, in our hearts, and it can run and ruin us.  That false narrative is that God loves us only when we do good. God’s love, in this narrative, is conditional. It’s as if God is in a swivel chair and he only faces us when we do good.

Do you see this narrative of God’s conditional love? Where do you see it? How do you connect God’s demand of repentance with unconditional love?



As with other chps, Smith connects God’s conditional love with our performace-based culture.

But the narrative of Jesus is a narrative that God welcomes sinners and God loves sinners. Jesus’ narrative is not that God will love you if you improve. Smith paraphrases John 3:16 according to the God’s-Love-is-Conditional Narrative:

For God was so mad at the world that he sent his Son to come down and tell them to shape up, that whosoever would shape up would have eternal life.

But Jesus’ narrative is not like that: God loved the world, made up as it is of sinners and charlatans, and he sent his Son to redeem that world. That’s Jesus’ narrative.

There are some right now irritated with Smith, and they are like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son who was miffed that the father was so merciful and gracious and forgiving of the younger son.

Which is your narrative? God as love or God as conditional love?

Smith closes with an exercise on lectio divina.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.christspeak.com ChristSpeak

    Asking whether God’s love is conditional is a tricky question.
    In one sense, no. God the Father sent Jesus because he loved the entire world enough to give them the chance to escape judgment. That love is unconditional — else it could not have happened, not with a totally depraved race.
    However, in terms of actual covenant love between God and a child of his, that love is absolutely conditional on faith. All of the love and blessing to a Christian depends on that person’s faith — if they have none, they do know God in this way and God does not love them in the same way as he does a faithful believer.
    But, to throw a kink in it, that faith is absolutely dependent on God. So God loves most those he calls to himself, not those who change their own will towards him (since they don’t exist).
    The easiest way I have had to think about that is Paul’s reference in Romans 11 to God saving for himself 7,000 men out of the unfaithful Israel. Did God see those 7,000 in the exact same way as the rest of the pagan Israelites? No. Ultimately, he loved those 7,000 more because he called them. The love of God in election is the greatest love that could be known.
    I have a post on my own blog that also addresses the Romans 11 passage in respect to some other passages, if you’re interested:
    http://christspeak.com/2009/06/28/saved-grace/

  • angusj

    I’m not sure I find the words ‘unconditional love’ helpful without context or explanation. My coming into faith had nothing to do with anything that I did to merit God’s grace – so in that sense God’s love is unconditional. However, my salvation is conditional on persevering faith. Also, from Luke 19:41ff it’s evident that Jesus loved even those who were destined for destruction. So I don’t believe that God’s love is limited to those predestined to salvation.

  • tscott

    Do ChristSpeak and angusj both say that for unbelievers
    God’s love is unconditional, but for Christians it is
    conditional?

  • angusj

    tscott (#3) asks: “Do ChristSpeak and angusj both say that for unbelievers
    God’s love is unconditional, but for Christians it is
    conditional?”
    I would say that God loves all his creation but his love won’t save unbelievers from destruction. (I prefer not to use the word “unconditional” because I think it confuses more than clarifies.)

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    I think we have to see God’s ongoing call to repentance as a necessary component of his love to beings that still have the capacity to cooperate with forces of evil that cause real harm, even death, to ourselves and others, as well as the capacity to do and be the opposite. We’re all still in the process of being converted, of being transformed, into God’s willing friends and coworkers for good. Since God has decided that we enter this willingly, his call to repentance remains as a necessary call from love to love.
    Once our idea of the ‘salvation’ that God is bringing is much more than getting people to survive the judgment, but to become his willing partners, the ongoing call to repentance makes sense as we continue to be agents of one kind or another everyday.

  • Aaron

    I don’t know what possible meaning the word love could carry for the non-elect in a calvinist perspective? If God has chosen to predestine them to damnation It seems to me the Word Love for them looses any real meaning.

  • http://theoreflec.blogspot.com/ Pat

    God is most definitely love and exhibits nothing but unconditional love. His love for us doesn’t change based on what we do. He loves us so much, that He desires that we repent, not so that He can begin to love us begin, but so that we can experience all the riches of His kingdom. When there’s something between me and God, His love for me hasn’t changed, but my experience of it and my relationship with Him is clouded and hampered.


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