DOES GOD LOVE US?
Written by Doug Ponder on November 10, 2013
Does God Love Us?
It’s easy to see why God’s people were frustrated, fearful, and full of doubts. After returning from 70 years spent in captivity, the promise of Jeremiah 29:10-14 had still not come true. God had said, “When the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill my promise to you and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:10-14).
Well, they were back from exile. But where was God? Why hadn’t he visited them as he had promised? How could their fortunes be restored when the city’s walls were rubble and the temple lay in ruins? As they looked around them, they didn’t feel much like God’s beloved people. Say essentially they ask him, “Where’s the love?”
[The rest of the story, as another prophet named Daniel explained, is that the “seventy years” were symbolic of a longer period of time when God would send his Messiah, the anointed one, to rescue his people from the greatest exile of all: our separation from God, cf. Dan. 9:2, 24-27.]
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places
Though their circumstances were unique, we’re not too much different from the people of Israel. To find assurance of God’s love, many of us look to our circumstances just as they had done. If things are going well, then we conclude that God must love us and be pleased with us. Often this leads to a kind of self-righteousness assurance of God’s love. We say, “Of course God loves me! Why shouldn’t he?” Others look at the world and conclude that there must be no God, or if there is, they think he must not love them very much. “Otherwise,” they say, “things should look so much different in my life than they do.”
Both groups of people are making the same mistake. That is, they assume that they know where to look for evidence of God’s love (in this case, their life circumstances). Not only that, sometimes we assume that God has promised us certain things at specific times, when he actually has not done so. What happens when God doesn’t “deliver” is that we get angry at God (even though he actually never made that promise).
The truth is that God does love us, and he has told us this over and over again (Mal. 1:5). Not only that, but God’s actions show us how he loves us, too.
Seeing God’s Love in His Patience
God’s love is patient with us. He endures our sin and betrayal without destroying us (which we should receive as the just consequences for our rebellion against him). For example, he spared his people from the total destruction that God had brought upon their enemies, like the Edomites. This wasn’t because Israel had earned that kind of treatment. They were equally rebellious and wicked and undeserving of God’s patient love—just as we are.
In fact, if God did gives us what deserve, life would not go well for us. We would daily experience punishment for our failures and our sinful rebellion. But we don’t. Instead, every day we awake to underserved gifts of all kinds. As the Scriptures teach, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (Jas. 1:17).
So the real wonder is not, “Why did God spare Israel but destroy Edom?” but “Why did God spare undeserving Israel?” It was because of his patient love, and also because of his redeeming love.
Seeing God’s Love in Our Redemption
God had chosen the people of Israel to bring the good news of God’s salvation to the world. Not only that, but God had chosen them to be the people through whom the Messiah would be born. Though the people Israel kept failing and rebelling, both individually and corporately, God’s promise did not fail. He fulfilled his promise through Jesus the Messiah who was God’s good news in the flesh (Rom. 9:6-13).
God’s redeeming love was a costly love, though not to us. It costs us nothing, but it cost Jesus everything. He gave up his life to redeem those who had turned their backs on God. As the Scriptures say, “God shows his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Seeing God’s Love in the Judgment of Evil
Finally, God’s love is an eternal love. In his great love for the world he has made, God stops evil (through judgment). Just as a husband protects his wife from threats, or a father protects his beloved children from harm, so too God judges evil because he loves us. He refuses to let the wicked continue in their rebellion forever. Instead, he calls them to turn from their wicked ways and live. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live! Turn back, turn back from your evil ways…” (Ezek. 33:11). For those who do not, however, God says that they have “presumed the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead [them] to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). And so, “because of [their] hard and unrepentant heart [they] are storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:6).
But for those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus, God’s eternal love does not come in the form of judgment. Instead, it comes in the form of new life, and sonship, and an eternal inheritance that was bought with the blood of Jesus (Gal. 4:4-7).
Knowing For Sure That God Loves Us
In view of all this, we don’t need to wonder, as Israel did, whether or not God loves us. We know that he does because he shows it to us in his patience toward us, in Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice for us, and in his eternal love that judges evil and forever pardons those who trust in him. That is why we should never say, “If God really loves me, then my life would look different than it does…” or “I If God really loves me, then I would not have lost my job…” or “If God really loves me, then I would not have difficulties in my marriage…” or “If God really loves me, then my family members would not get sick…”
The truth is that God does us, and his love is seen in Jesus. That is why the Scriptures say, “This is how God made his love known to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. And this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.