If God is a loving God (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Matthew 22:37-40 ESV 
  • John 21:15-17 ESV 
  • Luke 22:31-34 ESV 
  • Matthew 26:51, Luke 22:49-50,John 18:10
  • Matthew 10:37-38 ESV 
  • Luke 14:25-27 ESV 

Interesting resources

Words for love

What is love?

So first things first, what is love? Often in English, we have a problem when talking about love. You would say you love pizza, your dog, your wife, and your child. But the love you have for a pizza is not the same you have for your wife. Neither is the love you have for your child and your dog. Remember that Jesus didn’t speak English, he was speaking Greek. So to understand what love is and what he meant by it, is important.

Agápe ἀγάπη [G26, G25 ]: general word for love

(The list would be too big to put here)

Phileō  φιλέω G5368: affectionate regard, friendship, usually “between equals” (brotherly love)

Matthew 10:37,23:6,26:48, Mark 14:44, Luke 20:46, 22:47, John 11:3, 11:36, 13:35, 12:25, 15:19, 16:27, 20:2, 21:13, 21:15, 21:16, 21:17, Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 16:22,  1 thessalonians 4:9, hebrew 13:1, 1 Peter 1:22, 2 Peter 1:7, Titus 3:15, Revelation 3:19, 22:15

Philadelphia φιλαδελφία G5360: Brotherly love. 

Rom 12:10, 1Th 4:9,  Heb 13:1, 1Pe 1:22, 2Pe 1:7

Pragma πρᾶγμα pragma G4229: Some people view this as an idea for love that is used often to denote commitment. Often something that is binding between people who have a mature relationship and work together. 

Matthew 18:19, Luke 1:1, Acts 5:4, Romans 16:2, 1 corinthians 6:1, 2 corinthians 7:11, 1 thessalonians 4:6, Hebrews 6:18,10:1,11:2

Storge στοργή storgē G5387: tenderness, love, affection commonly felt by parents for child

Romans 12:10

Éros ἔρως: love, mostly of sexual passion or intimate love (not used in the Bible)

Philautia (philos + auto + -ia)  self love, love for one’s own self (not used in the Bible)

What is Agape?

The bible doesn’t always use the word agape (or agapao) when it says, love. This makes for an important distinction. Like, for instance, take this familiar passage in the bible:

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

The word loved used both times here is agapao. The view of love here is to welcome someone in a loving way. Often this verse is quoted as being the golden rule, but many people get it wrong. Many people quote the golden rule has “do unto others as they do unto you.” This is not what Jesus says even if it sounds similar. On the one hand, if you do unto others as they do to you, if someone hits you, you should hit them back. If someone gives you a gift, you need to give them a gift back. It’s more of a balance system where everything is zero and no one owes anything or should back anything whether it is good or bad. Of course, that is not what Jesus is getting at.

 If you do unto others as you would like done unto you, then what the other person does, does not reflect your choices. If someone hits you, you don’t hit them back because they deserve it. You would not like to be harmed so you don’t do it back. You get someone a gift, not because you owe them, but because you would like someone to be thinking of you and go out of their way for you. 

Now, on the other hand, the word love comes from other words in the new testament as well. For instance, let’s take this passage. 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 ESV

In this passage, it seems rather strange that Jesus keeps asking the same question. But if you check the greek, he does something subtle that many translations don’t convey well. The first two times he says, do you agape me. The last time he says do you phileo me. Each time Peter says love, he uses the word phileo. But it isn’t until the last time when Jesus switches this that something changes. See the first type of love is a general love, it’s a moral love that we should have. Not because of what the other person has done, but because that is what we should want from each other. But phileo is a different type of love. It’s the love of a strong bond. See the first two times Jesus is saying, do you love me in general, the last time he is asking of his commitment. 

Remember that earlier Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times. Peter insisted that he would not. 

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” 

Luke 22:31-34 ESV

When you follow this all through, Peter even cuts off the ear of the high priest as if it was an act showing how loyal he was (Matthew 26:51, Luke 22:49-50,John 18:10). Just a few hours later he was confronted with reality and when the time came to put his commitment to the deed after Jesus was gone, he backed out. See here in Luke 22, when he asked Peter, do you love me, Jesus is about to be gone. Peter can’t just have a love when he’s around, he needs to have this love when Jesus is gone. Jesus gave him a chance to restore his agape love by forgiving him 3 times for denying him. But he is calling Peter to a greater phileo.

What is Phileo?

Now, on the other hand, we know that the word love is not enough to cover everything that Jesus says in the new testament. There is more to it than what English can provide. 

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 

Matthew 10:37-38 ESV

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Luke 14:25-27 ESV

See in both cases this sounds extreme and harsh, I thought Jesus was all about loving your neighbor? Now he is saying we need to hate our own family? The massage in Luke is a bit challenging because of the word hate (G3404). It is more hated by comparison. See the idea is that compared to God, everyone else should be at the bottom of the list. It is not that you don’t like your family, but rather, because you love God so much, be it comparison it is as if he is 20 on a scale from 1 to 10 and everyone else is at -5. 

In the Matthew passage, the word love here is phileo. It is a loving commitment that two brothers would have for each other. The kind of loving bond you would have if you were closer than just family. It’s the type of love where if you had a choice of several people in the room, you would pick this person because of your loving bond for them. Some people might say, well that is so harsh, why do I have to pick God over my family? Many of us have been blessed to where we don’t have to face this issue. But not everyone can freely worship God openly. In some places in the world throughout different times in history, being a Christian is not accepted as much as we have it. Some people had to endure a culture where switching religions is an identity that means you are rejecting your own family. It means you have now declared yourself as an enemy to the state. It means that now the emperor’s soldiers can now legally take you to the colosseum and have you killed for entertainment. It is not that you reject your family after you become a Christian. You still agape them as you should. But you know that your ultimate love is in Jesus Christ. You know that you may still reach out and try to help them but you need to be careful because they may not have the best intentions for you.

I once heard this story that illustrates this more than anything. “One time a man went fishing and took his son and his son’s friend. As they were out on the water in a boat the waves started to pick up. The two children went overboard. The water was moving so fast that both children were going to be swept away and killed in seconds. The father knew that he had only moments to have one child. Either his son or his son’s friend. In a split decision, he reached into the water and saved her son’s friend.” Why would he do that? That is a terrible father, right? It turns out the father knew his son and knew that if his son died he would be in heaven. But he was not convinced about the friend. He knew that if the friend died he would most likely be in hell. For a Christian death is not final, when we die we will see Jesus and be united with our families. But for those who are not, that is a different story. The father looked at the greater picture knowing that he agaped his son, but he phileoed the greater will of what God has in faith that he will one day see his son.

If God is a loving God (Part 2)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • John 3:16 ESV 
  • 1 John 4:7-8 ESV
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 ESV
  • Romans 5:8 ESV
  • Exo 14:10-14;16:1-4, Numbers 11:31-32
  • Genesis 1:27 ESV
  • John 1:1-3 ESV 
  • Colossians 1:15-17 ESV
  • Ezekiel 28:12-17 ESV 
  • Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV 
  • 1 Peter 1:19-20 ESV 

How does love work?

So we know that there are different types of love. Now back to the question, if God is a loving God, why is there evil in the world? We know that the bible says God is love 

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

John 3:16 ESV

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

1 John 4:7-8 ESV

It is clear that we don’t fully understand what it means to love someone fully. So we need to understand a bit more about what love is. Of course, the bible says a lot about love. For instance the famous love chapter in Corinthians:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends… 

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 ESV

From here we find that there are 16 qualities of love. The question is what do all these need? 

  • 1) Patient
  • 2) Kind
  • 3) not envy
  • 4) boast
  • 5) not arrogant
  • 6) rude
  • 7) does not insist on its own way
  • 8) not irritable
  • 9) Not resentful
  • 10) not rejoice at wrongdoing
  • 11) rejoices with the truth
  • 12) bears all things
  • 13) believes all things
  • 14) Hopes all things
  • 15) endures all things.
  • 16) Love never ends

In order to be patient, there needs to be a situation in which you are not patient. In order to not wrong others, there need to be things that are right and wrong. When you look at all of these, there needs to be a choice. In order to endure all things, you need to stand up and choose to suffer from someone. You need to decide that is what is going to happen. If it was perfect love, it would never stop. There wouldn’t be anything that a person could do that would stop you from loving them. 

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Romans 5:8 ESV

See in the beginning, God chooses to love you above anything else, despite what you do. When you are reading in the old testament, here is God loving this nation Israel so much he is willing to work with them even after they turned to idol worship. Even after they sent them prophets to correct them. Even after he took them into the wilderness and saved them from slavery and yet they still complained (Exo 14:10-14;16:1-4, Numbers 11:31-32). Even after God provided for them through great miracles, they still complained about their situation. But even still God decided to work with them because of his love.

If God is a loving God….

Now we are striking at the heart of this question. In order to have love, we need a choice. When you want to marry someone you stand at the altar before God and say that you will love this person above everyone else that you could possibly love. You choose to pick them and say no to everyone else. Just as God is the love we are a reflection of this.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

Genesis 1:27 ESV

Now, this is important because we are made in His image, we also can love. But in order to love, we need the option to not love. We need to choose him to love. This is a fundamental issue. If God takes away our will, then he takes away our capacity to love. Fundamentally, if we are made in his image, and he is love, we also need to be able to express love. If he takes this away from us, he takes away a portion of our humanity and his image from us. 

When you get down to it, if God is a love God why is there evil in the world? Well Because God is a loving God, there is evil in the world. If we did not have the option to choose evil rather than good, then we can not love him. This is a paradox, not a contradiction.

Did God create evil?

See this goes back even before the Garden of Eden. When we look at Satan or the devil, did God create him?  

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 

John 1:1-3 ESV

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

So yes God created Satan. But why would he create something Evil? Why would he create something that is destined to cause harm? Well, it turns out he did create Satan to be evil.

12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;… On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;… 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you… 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor…

Ezekiel 28:12-17 ESV

12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 

Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

See at the core, God created Satan, but he wasn’t meant to be evil. God is a God of love and Satan chooses to reject God’s love and go his own way. Similarly, we have this same problem with Adam and Eve. Why would God put the tree of knowledge of Good and evil in the garden? If he knew they would mess up, why put it there? Because God is a loving God. If God did not give Adam and Eve a chance to walk away from him, he is not allowing them to exercise love. But see God understands this and no matter what man does, he will always have a plan to restore the relationship between him and man:

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Romans 5:8 KJV

19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 

1 Peter 1:19-20 ESV

If God is a loving God (Part 3)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Isaiah 45:7 KJV 
  • Genesis 1:3-5 ESV 
  • Romans 7:7-10 ESV 
  • Romans 8:28 ESV 

Interesting resources

Dr. Ravi Zachariah on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7-gP1gC8gM 

Why can’t we just get rid of evil?

There is another issue that needs to be addressed. Well, why would God create us if we can sin? Why create a world where sin exists anyway? Can’t he just create a loving world that has no sin?

Well, it turns out, this is problematic. We already talked about how in order to love you need choice. But we need to look deeper into this. 

7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. 

Isaiah 45:7 KJV

So you’re telling me that a loving God, who is perfect and can not sin, created evil? Yes, he said that about himself. See the problem is not with the creation of evil, the problem is about our understanding of what that means. By contract, if you make a bike that works, there exists a bike that does not work. If you make food that tastes good, by contrast, you make food that tastes bad. This is fundamentally how things work with a type of symmetry. If you recall in Genesis, God created everything:

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 

Genesis 1:3-5 ESV

But let’s step back for a moment to notice something. He didn’t create darkness. God created light and by contrast, darkness exists as a consequence. This is a fundamental truth. See the problem is all because something is created, that doesn’t instantly determine it’s morality in all cases. The light was created and darkness was created, but God then ruled one to be light one to be darkness. The contrast was already there, but he determined which is which. It’s a lot like how in math and physics if you switch positive and negative signs, nothing changes. If you have a number line and in the center is zero, there are two halves. You can freely define which is positive and which is negative as long as you are consistent. We have just made the choice that left is negative and right is positive. 

Why place the tree of good and evil?

This similar situation happens with everything. Fire is neither good nor bad. A fire can be used to cook food, warm a house, or provide light. At the same time, it can be used to burn down a house or even burn someone alive. The creation of it itself is not good or bad. It’s what it is used for. Just like us, we aren’t inherently sinful because we can do bad. We are sinful because we choose to do sin.

There is a similar situation with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There are things in the world that are better than others. Ways of accomplishing something are efficient while others are wasteful. You can get a nail in the wall with a screwdriver, but a hammer will be a better option. 

Why is Morality?

There is another situation that comes up, and what is morality? See if you tell someone they need to breathe, that is not a rule. It is not a moral fact that if they don’t breathe that is instantly sinning. Yes they will die if they don’t and there are negative consequences, but if there is gas in a room or if you are underwater, it is ok not to breathe. And this is not a sin. This is similar to the issue of speeding; in and of itself, there is nothing written in the law of the universe that this is a sin. But statistically, people are not perfect and when you go so fast there is more of a chance that if you speed something will go wrong. So we label it as wrong to speed for the collective good of the people. But we would let an ambulance speed so they can save a life. 

When you have a child and if they eat from a cookie jar, this is not a bad thing. They are completely innocent. They want one because they are hungry and they know it tastes good. But if you come over and tell them not to eat from the cookie jar, it is not a problem. If they eat from it they are going against your word and are sinning. 

In the end, you know better than the child. You know all the bad things that will happen if they eat from a jar. But you can’t explain that to a child. Even if you did know everything about biology and the human body and could explain exactly when and how much cookie eating is too much, is that useful? It has taken humans thousands of years and much trial and error to know what we know now about the human body. It takes multiple PHDs to write material on how everything works and years of dedication to explain it to others. And yet we specialize in a specific part of the body and still don’t know everything about how a single part works and how they all interact with each other.

Would a child be able to understand every single detail? How long would you have to sit there and explain everything to them so they fully know when too and when not to eat from it? It is easier to just say, don’t eat from it.

See from Adam and Eve’s perspectives they are innocent, they don’t understand what sin is. Their motives are pure before God. would it really help if they understood what it meant to cheat on your wife? There is no one for Adam to cheat with anyway. Would it really help them if they understood the concept of lying to each other or stealing? Knowing these things is not that useful. 

For Adam and Eve, those things don’t exist. If you don’t know what a fountain pen is, how could you be expected to really care about how the way writing on paper feels? Why would you care about the way the ink flows out of your pen? You wouldn’t have a reason to care about or think about those things. In the same way for Adam and Eve, they could not think of evil because it doesn’t exist to them. By not telling them what evil is, God is protecting them from hurting themselves and causing themselves problems. It is an act of grace because they didn’t need to learn the hard way what is right and wrong. God said, do this and don’t do that. 

7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” … 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

Romans 7:7-10 ESV

The benefits of autonomy?

There is still one other thing to talk about. We talked about how a fire can be used for good or evil. In the real work, we do this with everything we create. When you create a car, you only want to give it gas and oil and not have to monitor it. We don’t know exactly how every part of a computer works but we just want things to work when we type on the internet. 

In a similar way, God does this with us. Because we can do things ourselves, we can love it. God does not need to sit here and have you move each of your legs when you go with someone. Instead, God created you so you can move yourself. It would be exhausting if we made a car that we needed to tow everywhere. Yes occasionally we might need to get under the hood and fix things, but overall we want to be as worried free as possible. See God is similar, we are not robots. He let us control ourselves because of love. Bad things may happen or occasionally he may need to clean up a mess, but we can choose to love him back without him forcing us to. Everyone knows the reason for the fun of a car or video game or the internet is not having to tweak it every second. The fun of just enjoying what it was made for. You want to drive your car, it’s fun to wash it and maybe decorate it. The fun is not in controlling every bit about it but instead enjoying it’s greater function.

In the grand scheme of things, God has the bigger picture that we do not always see. There was a great story told by Dr. Ravi Zacharias (Paraphrasing the story):

A man lost his horse and it ran away. A neighbor came and said bad luck your horse ran away. A few days later the horse came back and brought with it twenty other horses. The neighbor came by and said that’s not bad luck, that’s good luck look at all the horses. 

Later the man’s son was trying to tame the other horses and it kicks him and breaks the son’s leg. The neighbor comes and says horrible isn’t it your son’s leg is broken, only if you did not get that horse such bad luck it is. A few days later some thugs came by looking to take some young men to join them and were going to take the son but seen he had a broken leg so they moved on. The neighbor then comes and says good luck your son’s leg was broken by that horse.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 

Romans 8:28 ESV