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#338 God’s Unconditional Love

October 07, 2013

Dear Dr. Craig,

As a Christian concerned with providing sound reasons for my own faith, I appreciate your blog, podcast, and contributions to philosophy of religion. With that being said, in your Q&A #123, you argued that the Islamic conception of God is morally inadequate. Near the end of your post, you stated that:

"God's love is impartial, universal, and unconditional ... [and] that a morally perfect being would love people impartially, all people, and without strings attached. But Allah has no love at all for unbelievers. This is not just a difference of degree, but of night and day!"

I agree that love, as you assert, is a "greater-making property." However, while the Bible does say that God is all-loving (cf. the passages you noted concerning the prodigal son and the lost sheep), it does not say that God necessarily loves unbelievers, or sinners. On the contrary, several Old Testament passages state unambiguously that God hates sinners. Consider the following:

Psalm 5:5, "The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,"
Psalm 11:5, "The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates."
Lev. 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."
Prov. 6:16-19, "There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers."
Hosea 9:15, "All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels."

How do you account for these verses, given your statement that "Jesus taught God's unconditional love for sinners?" What effect do these verses have for your argument regarding the moral superiority of the Christian conception of God?


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Dr. craig’s response


In my debate with the Muslim apologist Shabir Ally, he brought up precisely the same scriptural passages in refutation of my claim that the God of the Bible, unlike the God of the Qur’an, has unconditional love for all people.

I think it’s not hard to explain these passages in light of Scripture’s teaching that God loves sinners. Notice that almost all of them come from poetic passages. They are religious hyperbole expressing God’s hatred of evil and the wicked acts people commit. It would be a hermeneutical mistake to press them literally as statements of Christian doctrine.

Drawing hyperbolic, black-and-white dichotomies was a common semitic idiom. For example, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (Malachi 1.2-3; cf. Romans 9.13) is a way of saying that God has chosen Jacob and not Esau. When Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26), he means that if one prioritizes even one’s most cherished loved ones above Jesus, one’s discipleship is incomplete—a claim which is radical enough without taking it literally!

Over against these few hyperbolic passages stands the clear doctrinal teaching of Jesus and the apostles that God loves all persons, even sinners. Take the time to read and meditate on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew 5-7. Jesus said:

You heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brethren, what more you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.43-48).

God is our model in loving others. We are to love even our enemies. That is how God loves. Paul later wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. . . . while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5. 8,10). Our love is to be impartial, just as God showers good upon the evil and righteous alike. Our love is to be universal, not reserved just for a few. Our heavenly Father is perfect, and so He loves perfectly.

How wonderful God is! As I reflected on Jesus’ words, it struck me forcefully that Allah’s love as described in the Qur’an rises no higher than the love exhibited by pagans and tax collectors! It is conditional, partial, and has to be earned. But the love of God our heavenly Father is unconditional, impartial, and universal.

Now it did occur to me that I was perhaps being unfair to the Muslim. Perhaps he, too, could say that the Qur’anic passages about God’s not loving unbelievers and sinners are poetic and hyperbolic. After all, doesn’t the Qur’an affirm that God is “the All-Compassionate, the All-Merciful”? But the problem with that interpretation is that there just aren’t any comparable Qur’anic passages stating that God loves all people or that He loves unbelievers and sinners. Not one! Over and over again the Qur’an assures us of God’s love for those who submit to Him and say the confession and do His will, but He has no love for sinners and unbelievers. Whenever the Qur’an speaks of God’s attitude toward unbelievers, it tells us in no uncertain terms that He does not love them. So while I would welcome Muslims’ affirmation of God’s unconditional love for all people, I think that such an affirmation would represent a revision of the Qur’anic conception of God rather than a correct interpretation of Qur’anic teaching.

According to the Qur’an, then, God does not love the very people that the Bible says God loves so much that He gave his only Son to die for them (John 3.16). God loves the world and sent Jesus to die for the world, which is the unbelieving mass of mankind. Praise be to God!

Frankly, Bridger, I’m appalled at the fact that some Christians have an understanding of God’s love which is comparable to that of the Qur’an. They actually think that God does not love all people unconditionally. They have failed to understand something so fundamental and basic to Christian discipleship: God’s wonderful love.

- William Lane Craig