What is it to say that God is love? We tend to take it to mean that God loves everyone with a pure love, whether or not they have done anything to warrant his love or the removal thereof. It certainly seems to be right to say that God fulfills completely what is to be expected from one who loves. What does it define to say that "God is love," though? Does it define love, or does it define God?
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. --1 John 4:16It seems as if it is not a matter of defining one by the other, but rather, declaring the inextricable link between the two. God is the source of all love, and God's love is the source of all that which he does. Note that his love is not here limited in direction merely to human beings, though it is clear that his love is directed toward us.
It is impossible that God should exist by causing his own existence and not be selfish, since there is nothing but his own nature to cause him to will that he be. If he did not love himself then he would not have caused his own existence except in order that some other exist. If he caused himself to exist only so that some other might exist, then he ascribes value to himself only because of some value in that thing for the existence of which he causes himself to exist. But if he can cause that thing to exist from nothing, then he has in himself all that which went into that which he caused, and he is therefore more valuable than that which he caused. Thus, if God causes himself to exist for some reason other than self-love, then he is a liar.
It is impossible that God should be, in an essential way, love, and not be selfish. Whatever is an essential characteristic of a thing is a characteristic that the thing must have or else it would no longer be itself. It may be said that God caused the world out of love for us. However, in the case of God there must be some reason why he loves who he loves, some guiding principle that causes him to love one thing more than another. Whatever this principle is, it must have existed in order to guide him to love himself rather than something he might create, and thus cause himself. I would submit that the principle may be in some sense considered that of self-love, or honesty. If God is honest and most valuable, then he must call himself most valuable in all that he does. God then created the world out of love for himself. This is not to say that he did not in any way create the world out of love for human beings, but only in that we are made in his image, and he loves things with respect to how like him they are.
It is impossible that God should be love and not seek his own glory with all of his being. Because God is most worth seeking, he must speak to us as if he is most worth seeking. To do otherwise--to lie--would be to our detriment. Thus, since in causing the world he had respect to his own glory, whatever a thing is, it exists because of how it reflects God's own glory, i.e., how it looks like him. Because of this, the world is made in such a way as to point us to God, i.e., to tell us that there is a God and what kind of God he is.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. --Romans 1:19-20
So we know that God intentionally created the world so as to show us who he is. In a sense, then, creation is a massive--yet still so small, we shall never see all of who God is--self-portrait of God. What displays more self-love than this? Yet he does it because he loves us and wants us to seek him and find him, to taste and see that he is good, to find our joy in the only place where we may find it, which is God alone.
It is impossible for God to act for his glory in all things and not have that bring about the greatest joy for the greatest number of people. It is thus impossible that he act for his glory in all things and not love us with the greatest possible love, which is the same thing. For in creating the world to show his glory he also creates it so that his worth is shown, in the end, by how great the rejoicing in him is. The applause must be the greatest possible when Christ enters the stage. Thus God brings it about that as much cause for rejoicing exists as is possible. He desires glory, and to that end he shows his glory to us, and in seeing his glory we worship him, which is to say that we ascribe ultimate worth to him, that we imitate him, that we act out of love for him. This worship, because God created the world to show his glory, and therefore, because it is this worship for which we were made, is the most joy-inducing activity which a human being can participate in.
The Problem of HellThe problem of hell is probably the strongest form of the problem of pain, or evil, since it is eternal suffering for the sins of human beings eternally estranged from God, never having fully paid for their infinite sin.
What, then, of Hell? It exists that God might glorify himself. How? By his justice, at least in part, perhaps in other ways. Why is it good that he pour out his justice on so many? Because by so doing he shows his glory in his justice, and also thereby shows his glory in his mercy and grace. How is this still love? By this showing of his justice, grace, and mercy he increases our joy in him that we might glorify him all the more, and this increase in our joy is greater than what might have come from there being fewer in hell and more of us in heaven. For there is no greater way in which we can come to understand to such a degree how great a sin we were once committing, and how great a punishment we have been saved from, and thus how great the mercy of God and the grace of God have been to us that we might enjoy God with us, our greatest joy, forever and ever, than that we see how worthy God takes his glory to be of having value ascribed to it, which is to him, by seeing how worthy those who have failed in ascribing that much glory to his name are to be punished, and thus how worthy we would be to be punished but for the fact that Christ took that punishment for us.
Does God then not love those who are damned? No! He loves them, though he finds his glory better revealed by their punishment than by their salvation, and thus he finds his love better shown by the salvation of some than of others. Can we say who is who? It is futile to try, for, not only does God often finds his glory better shown by surprising those who think they can guess how the mind of God works than by saving the ones we expect, but we do not have access to the inner thoughts of anyone, let alone how history is set to pan out. Indeed, it is nothing in us for which he chose us, but it is only his work in us that is good and brings him glory. Therefore he chooses whom he wills, and whoever he does will, he changes by his power. It is not necessarily the poorest, for some who are rich do end up in the kingdom, nor is it necessarily any other sort, for all sorts will end up in heaven. Indeed, this may be a part of how God chooses: let all kinds come to him, from the most likely to the least likely. And we praise God for this, even more than if we were all the worst of the worst as the world sees it. Though who can say? We are all wretched sinners. Perhaps God did choose the worst of humanity, how could we ever tell? But all this speculation is of no use, let us merely praise our God who did save us, and pray for those not yet saved, that God, in his love, might have mercy on them.
I may be charged with avoiding the question: How is it that God loves those who are damned? Come, I must say from scripture that there is a hell, and that it is not empty. If I say that God puts people there for his glory, at least I have a reason with which to comfort myself that the lost are not wasted. Some ask why God could not have obtained as much glory by people freely choosing to reject him. I find the concept of free will that is not super-ordained by God rather incoherent in the face of God's being the cause of many things in the Bible which are called evils at the human level, Job's suffering being the most obvious. Nevertheless, I shall make an attempt to answer the question.
Does it matter how they get there? Well, if God's ordaining damnation looks like a father picking and choosing which kids to save from running into traffic when he could save all, then God's allowing people to freely will one way or another looks like a father merely shouting at his kids to stay out of traffic when he could save all. If the first is cruel, then the second is apathetic. Surely, the picture is wrong? But if it is a bad picture for one, then it is also for the other. Do not say that God must respect our free will, he must do nothing of the sort. Where has he ever given a promise of free will to anyone? I would rather he shred my free will to pieces. Dash it against the rocks. May I never see it again, if I ever had it. I care nothing for free will, indeed, I hate it if it keeps me from God! Remove all semblance of free will from me if you wish, so long as I am allowed to be with God. We sing "you can have all this world, only give me Jesus." What is wrong with "you can have all my sanity, my free will, my happiness, my life, only give me Jesus"? What is lost in each case is gained in Jesus Christ, apart from, perhaps, if it ever existed, free will, which we rejoice that we shall be free from, in all respects relevant to salvation, in heaven, for we know that when Christ returns he shall renew all the world such that it shall never again fall into sin. I would charge those who prefer free will that it is a sort of squeamishness that is not worthy of one who trusts that God is good, and that it unnecessarily diminishes the sovereignty of God, whether the charge of heresy is avoided by suggesting that God diminished it willingly or not. We ought to weep if we ever find that the good God is not sovereign over something.
Indeed, I avoid the question, for if I have not answered it previously, then I find no sense to the question. I have said how it seems that God must ordain as he has in fact ordained, and even shown how he may do so out of love. Perhaps the glory God would receive from what occurs in hell might turn out the same, but the glory of God is not received only then. Is God as glorious if he is not sovereign over the hearts and minds of all people? No. Indeed, if anything we do can be called good, then we must say that it was caused by our union with Christ, and thus arising from, not our own life, but Christ's life in us. If we say anything else, then we claim glory for ourselves, and so deprive ourselves of joy. Let us, then, rejoice that our good God is sovereign over all creation from beginning to end and is, by his sovereign plan in his wise and loving way, making it new, and that we shall finally see him face to face and see ever more how great and awesome and majestic and glorious he is.
Edit: This post ended in a rant, in which I charged Arminians with theological squeamishness. At this point I am not sure whether to be sorry or not (i.e., whether any offense caused is proper or not), but, when I first posted it, I dreaded anyone seeing it. I do see what makes people squeamish in regard to this view of Hell. The same reasons, however, seem to me to allow the same squeamishness whether there is free will or not. Perhaps free will decreases it a small amount, but how much, really? I find Hell to be both horrendous and necessary. I can say that it is beautiful in how it shows God's justice, yet I still feel crushed by how much suffering there will be there. I do not think that it is wrong to feel both ways. Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Paul was willing to be damned if his kinsmen could then be saved (Romans 9:3). Hell is supposed to make you feel squeamish. More than that: it ought to induce a proper fear of God! Your squeamishness, and your fear, however, ought not lead you to question God's sovereignty over it.