Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Does God Love Everyone?

Reply to Fred Phelps
Fred Phelps
 Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas has won international notoriety because of his aggressive campaign against homosexuals. He and other members of his church often picket military funerals with protest signs that read "God hates fags," his point being that America is under the judgment of God because of its growing toleration of homosexuality, and that God's judgment is seen in the war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. One outrage family sued Mr. Phelps, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Phelps, treating it as a free speech issue.

    Virtually all of Mr. Phelps' program is built around the proposition that "God hates fags." Mr. Phelps has posted on his website a 94 page document entitled "'God Loves Everyone' the Greatest Lie Ever Told." In it he insists that the Bible never says that "God loves everyone," and he cites as proof 701 passages "proving God's hate and wrath for most of mankind." One might suppose that John 3:16 states the love of God for mankind in general, but Mr. Phelps denies that it means any such thing. He points out that John 3:18,19 speaks of certain individuals as "condemned," and to his mind this is proof that God "hates" them. According to Mr. Phelps' interpretation, the word "world" ("For God so loved the world . . .") simply means "Gentiles as well as Jews," and not necessarily every single human being.
    Mr. Phelps considers himself to be a Calvinist, a Primitive or "Old School" Baptist, and one detects a note of Hyper-Calvinism in his reasoning. Many Calvinist theologians have, in fact, argued that God has no desire to save the non-elect, and have interpreted John 3:16 much the same way as Mr. Phelps does. Significantly, though, Calvin himself did not interpret it this way. The verse, he says, clearly tells us that "Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish" (Comm. ad loc.).
    But what does the Bible itself actually say about the matter? It must be noted at the outset that God certainly does hate sin and punishes sinners. It is sometimes stated that "God hates the sin but hates the sinner," but even this is not quite true. Sin does not exist by itself, in abstraction from the human being who commits it. Ultimately sin is the act of human will, and it is the person that God holds accountable for his actions. And so we have a passage such as this one:
     "For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
        Nor shall evil dwell with You.
        The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
        You hate all workers of iniquity.
        You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;
        The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man."
                        Psalm 5:4-6; NKJV
Here it will be noted that sin is contrary to God's very being ("nor shall evil dwell with You" – v. 4). Moreover God holds sinners accountable for their actions: He "hates" them, "destroys" them, and "abhors" them. On this point Mr. Phelps is surely right.
    But does this mean that God simply "hates" the non-elect? That He feels no compassion for them at all? First of all, even the staunchest of Calvinists will admit that there is at least a general love which God has for all mankind. They would cite such passages as Psalm 36:6,7:
        " . . . O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
         How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
         therefore the children of men put their trust under
            The shadow of Your wings."    
Or Psalm 145:8,9:
        "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
         Slow to anger and great in mercy.
         The Lord is good to all,
         And His tender mercies are over all His works."
And then there is Acts 14:16,17, where the apostle Paul tells a crowd at Lystra that God
        "in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own
        ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness,
         in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons,
         filling our hearts with food and gladness."
The very care that God exercises over all His creation through His providence is evidence of the love that He has for even the least of His creatures.


Next: What is love?

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