Holy Love

The love of God

What ought we say about the love of God? In the cross, God’s love for himself, his name and his authority, and his love for his creatures, is taken up and met in one action wherein God exhibits the very nature of his being as unconditional Holy Love. That’s why not only is the doctrine of the Trinity necessary to make sense of the atonement, but the atonement is necessary to reveal the Trinitarian fellowship of God. The Holy Love that defines the perichoretic life of the Triune God has, by the grace of the Father in the action of the incarnate Son and by the mission of the Spirit, overflowed freely towards those outside of God’s community that creatures may enter into the Holy Love communion that the Triune God has ever known and spoke creation into being for participation in.

In Jesus Christ, God has shown not only only that he does not want to be God without us, but that he does not want us to be without him. And in the action of the Holy Spirit, the Triune God is present and active among us to hear and answer our prayers, to sustain us in all the happenings of life, and to continuously bring home to us afresh the good news of the Father’s sanctifying action in Jesus Christ, guaranteeing our inheritance, and empowering us to live in the reality of being ‘holy and blameless’ before God (Eph 1:4).

Given this statement, what ought we make of H R Mackintosh’s notion that ‘God loves us better than he loves himself’? I have often wondered about this statement. What is Mackintosh asserting here? Is he saying that there are different degrees of love in God? Is it any more than hyperbole to emphasise the extent and nature of God’s love? Is he here driving the wedge between God’s love for himself and his love for us that does not exist in Jesus Christ? Isn’t God’s love for us the overflow of his self-love in the trinitarian communion?

Holy Love conquers all things

Michael Jenson is experimenting with a new book idea here. It’s called YOU and aims to be a a popular level book that carefully and sensitively addresses questions and contributes a Christian theological voice into the discussion. His latest post is on Leviticus 15 and is entitled ‘The Ooze’. It invited a lengthy response from me that I’ll reproduce here for the sake of my blog readers but moreso to encourage you to go on to read and contribute to Michael’s project. I wrote:

It seems to me that Leviticus 15 serves, among other things, to remind us that because God is love, and because his love is holy love, when he sees anything that defiles his creation he must do something about it. It must be judged and ultimately either sanctified or destroyed. And when he sees evil in us it is no different. God is not squeamish.

The problem is that we don’t see our own evil to be as evil as he does. It’s only when we see ourselves at the cross that we see the enormous horror and hideous, deceitful, evil of our own hearts. Karl Barth once said, ‘God’s attitude in (his fellowship with us) is characterised by holiness, exclusiveness, the condemnation and annihilation of sin. The holiness of God thus involves peril to the man with whom he has fellowship…. As sinful man he cannot stand before God. He must perish’ (Church Dogmatics II/I, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985, 364).

In Mark 7, the Pharisees criticise Jesus’ disciples for eating without going through the proper hand-washing rituals. They seem to have forgotten what purpose these laws served, and turned them into a system of trying to get right and then stay right with God. And so Jesus lets rip. He calls them hypocrites and accuses them of nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions. And then Jesus redefines uncleanness (Mk. 7:20-23). Isn’t that a great thing … that Jesus knows exactly what our hearts are like! So how can unclean people like that, people like us, people under the wrath of God, approach a Holy God not only without being struck down on the spot but approach the throne of grace with confidence?

Mark 5:24b-34 recalls the story of a woman. This woman dashes onto the NT stage for 10 verses. She’s got no name. She’s got no idea of who Jesus really is. He represents for her the last straw in a long line of doctors and miracle workers that she has spent all of her money on and over a decade seeing. She has been treated like a leper in her community for 12 years. She has been tormented by guilt and anxiety. She has been untouched … and untouchable. She has been unable to hug her kids. She has been unable to make a cup of tea for a friend. No one has invited her to their home in 12 years. Now she doesn’t want to know Jesus. She’s not seeking a relationship with him, but she wants to be healed. She wants to be restored to her community. She wants to be able to go to her kids’ birthday party and make love with her husband. She wants to be able to prepare a meal for her family and enjoy a day out with her friends. And she hears reports of this guy in town who heals people and so she goes along to check it out, and she moves in on Jesus from behind … anonymously in a crowd. This is the man who deliberately touched unclean lepers and corpses. This is the man who made a point of eating with prostitutes and calling ‘sinners’ his friends. This is the man who deliberately went out of his way to do almost everything that the OT prohibits us, and especially priests, from doing. But would he allow this woman to touch him (remember Lev. 12), to pollute him, to make him unclean? Would he allow this woman to place him under the wrath and judgement of God?

C.S. Lewis said, ‘Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger’ (Quoted in Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 152). To hear the Word of God takes a miracle. It takes God! It takes the gift of a new heart! And so if we’re proud, if we’re self-righteous, if we can look at our life and see ourself as someone who is not only bleeding but dead, then we are going to find it very hard to know that God has touched us and healed us and indeed made us alive in Christ.

Helmut Thielicke once said, ‘There is no wilderness so desolate in our life that Jesus Christ will not and cannot encounter us there … There is no depth in which this Saviour will not become our brother … He comes for us wherever we are … For that is his majesty’ (How To Believe Again, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974, 60, 63). In Jesus Christ, God bore all our sins, all our uncleanness, and all the wrath of the holy God in his own body on the tree. Do we believe that? Do we believe that from the moment we’re born right up until the moment of our death, that on that Cross he entered into our history, into our mind, into our conscience, into our memory, into our acts, and he took into himself all the judgement, the pain, the shame, the loneliness, the burden, the confusion, the guilt, the fear, the darkness, the hypocrisy, the terror? Do we know that on that Cross he actually experienced our life, and that he left nothing undealt with? And that as God’s High Priest he sanctifies everything that he touches… and that he has touched us? Do we know that? Do we know that as far as the east is from the west he has removed our sins from us, and he will remember them no more because there is nothing for him to remember.

For P. T. Forsyth 1848–1921

Eternal God, supreme in holiness,
whom all our self-made goodness must betray:
from your great majesty
pour out your light, expose our emptiness
and by your judgement, snatching pride away,
give us humility.

What but your holy love’s stupendous grace,
Which knew the outcome, could have left us free,
in disobedience,
to break away, to turn from your embrace,
and choose the shackles of sin’s slavery,
the death of innocence?

Your holy love condemns us all, it slays
the self-claimed virtue that insults your name,
the worthless pride we wear;
your holy love alone has power to raise
our self-inflicted souls from death and shame,
to save us from despair.

Christ, lifted on the Cross for us, you died
to bear the judgement of love’s holiness;
there, having heard Love’s call.
you offered up, in being crucified,
Love’s sacrifice of true obedience,
That would redeem us all.

The unspoiled bliss of Eden could not lift
the heart so high as these dead souls you raise,
nor could we ever grow
to reach the holiness we have as gift,
in which we share a depth of joy and praise
that angels never know.

– Alan Gaunt, May 1997