I thought that “Looking into God’s Heart” was a good title for the previous post; that maybe it caught attention. But after more consideration, maybe the title promised more than it delivered. There is a possibility that my comments on Knowing God really did not look closely enough into the heart of God.
By the end of the discussion, I am afraid I raised more questions about the “mystery” of God’s love than I answered. As a writer commenting on J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, I always approach the book as a learner, just like you, but what did I learn several pages into his chapter entitled “The Love of God?”
- “God is love” is not the complete truth about God so far as the Bible is concerned.”
- “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned.”
At first glance, the two ideas seem opposed but really, they are not; one refers to God’s love as expressed in the Bible and the other refers to God’s love as expressed in the everyday life of the Christian, but I still don’t know what God’s love is, specifically.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more explanation. Packer obliges with a definition of God’s love [don’t we love those definitions!]. He writes “God’s love is an exercise of His goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” .
There we have it, but Packer does even more. He spends several pages analyzing his definition.
“God’s love is an exercise of His goodness” refers to how God cares for man and woman. God created us and even though we consistently disappoint Him, He still continues to care for us. He is generous with His love; we don’t deserve such generosity but He extends it anyway. “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made” [Psalm 145:9]. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked [Luke 6: 35]. Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” [Acts 14: 17]. I don’t know about you, but I feel God manifests Himself in my life repeatedly, I believe He shows up every day. “Relationship” may have become a cliché as Christians describe their connection with God, but His interest in me is matched by my interest in Him. Packer quotes James Orr* [He] “finds His joy in imparting Himself to the other [you and me], and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto Himself.” It is a stretch to compare the times I have loved in my life to God’s love for us humans, but when I have loved another, I desired to know all I could about the other person and I was absolutely delighted to know anything and everything I could. This is personal relationship in its purest form. Desire to know, trust to believe and faith in the love that comes from knowing.
When I wrote above about consistently disappointing Him, and not deserving His generosity, I was alluding to the next part of the definition, that part about His goodness being directed toward “sinners.” I know not to do certain things in my life but I do them anyway. When we read the Apostle Paul, can’t we relate? “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” [Romans 7: 15-20]. Rationality does not exist in man as we know we should not sin but we continue to sin. Rationality does not seem to exist in God as He sees us sin and He continues to loves us, through His grace and mercy. Why would God love us? Why would He care for the “unlovely” and the “unloveable”? It makes no sense. He should condemn us and banish us from His presence. Yet He chooses to love us despite our flaws. Packer says this love is “free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused.” I have to turn to Isaiah 55: 8-9 for an answer: “ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’ declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Maybe we just have to chalk it up to not being able to understand our sovereign God. We should be thankful that we don’t get what we deserve.
When it comes to sin, Packer does not just discuss sin in man and woman, sin in general. Packer writes that God knows of our sins in particular. Remember God is omniscient and He planned our existence in this world. Certain sins I have committed, am committing and will commit are sins God always knows about. They are part of my make-up. God knows me as a sinner but God also knows if He will bless me. Second Thessalonians 2:13 says “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” My sin is no surprise to God and His forgiveness of my sins is part of His plan all along.
At this point we are not even halfway through the analysis of Packer’s definition of God’s love, leaving his explanation of our welfare, giving His Son as Savior and the resulting covenant relationship for a future post.
But we have determined that we have a loving God, and His love is not deterred by our human bent toward sin. Yes we have also focused on individual sinners [you and me, dear reader]. He knows all about us, what make us “tick”. He knows because He made you…
And He made me…
“The exercise of God’s love toward individual sinners in time is the execution of His purpose to bless those same individual sinners—a purpose He formed in eternity” .
We have covered some important ground on our journey toward really looking into the heart of God.
*From Hastings Dictionary of the Bible