God is love, and, therefore, shouldn’t we understand Scripture with His love in mind? Well, yes, but what does God’s love entail? Bill, a self-identified “progressive Christian,” insisted on reading Scripture in a way that dismissed the verses Jesus had taught on repentance and eternal judgment. For Bill, God’s love had no room for repentance, righteousness, and judgment. Consequently, he claimed:
- I read Scripture through the lens of God’s love. I can’t believe that a loving God would punish, certainly not eternally.
Consequently, Bill carefully chose for himself the verses that affirmed his understanding of love. But what does love look like in the Bible? Love takes many forms. The Prophets of Israel spoke of God’s love, but it came in the form of warnings against rebellion. Meanwhile, the false prophets embodied Bill’s understanding of love. They invariably preached a popular and comforting message. However, God censured them:
- They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:11-12; ESV)
While preaching an indulgent message of “peace” has the appearance and even the “feel” of love, it is a message that failed to penetrate to the core problem – the rebellion of Israel. Consequently, it was a message that did not heal but allowed the cancer to fester. Therefore, the consequences would be great.
The prophet that truly loved God and his people would preach to heal:
- But if they [the false prophets] had stood in my [God’s] council, then they would have proclaimed my words [of warning] to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. (Jeremiah 23:22)
The false prophets had a perverted understanding of love. They only understood the immediate comfort that their message of “peace” would bring and the approval of men. They had little esteem for the Word of God. Therefore, God chastened them:
- Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading. (Lamentations 2:14)
A true message of love would aim towards restoration to God through repentance. Inevitably, such a message would sound harsh and unloving. Peter’s words to Simon the Magician, who offered to purchase the gifts of God, sounded unduly harsh:
- But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:20-23)
However, after being cut by his words, Simon asked for prayer. Therefore, it looks like Peter’s words were loving and merciful. Likewise, Peter had preached to the crowd that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, but this harsh accusation produced fruit:
- Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36-38)
Peter did not gloss over their guilt. He went right to the core of their problem and pricked their conscience. This represented true love.
Likewise, Peter’s Master spoke many harsh words against the religious leadership, for example:
- “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15)
This may not look like love to us, but if God is love, and everything He did was done out of love, then this too is love. From this perspective, these leaders needed strong words to penetrate their hardened hearts.
However, Jesus also spoke harshly to His own disciples:
- But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)
Love doesn’t always speak soft-cuddly messages. It speaks words that best serve the listener – words like what God had instructed Isaiah to proclaim:
- Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:16-20)
Bill’s understanding of love in not the biblical understanding of love. He is like the false prophets who preached “peace” when there was no peace. Bill’s “love” is not a love that pleases God. It is a “love” that fails to heal, because it brings words that do not belong to God.