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#176 True Love

August 30, 2010

Dear Craig,

Thanks so much for having this website to share what you've learnt to help others with their questions. I have done a lot of thinking recently on various topics, but I guess it all comes down to knowing God's love truely.

So long as I truely know that the world was created out of purely loving motives. True love doesn't expect anything in return, so is that what God did?

1. In creating the world, did he not expect anything in return (as in response to Him)?

2. This leads to "would Jesus have died for the world if no one would have come Him?" I know He would have died for the whole world even if just one person got saved (as from a book I read on someone who was given these series of visions from God).

3. But then this leads to what degree did Christ actually suffer on the cross. He paid for the world's sins, but does that mean he took on Himself the COMBINED experience of all humans living and all who have ever lived, going to hell for eternity? Because if there was a limit on His suffering, then what can you make of it?

Like if I knew that I was on the road to heaven and all my friends, family and everyone else in the world would go to hell for their sins unless I decided to go there instead, I would do that. I would think it's better for one person to go to hell than for all people to go there.

Therefore, what Im saying is, if Jesus literally took on the eternal weight of punishment of everyone's sin combined (which humans can't really comprehend), then really, what kind of doubts would I have left!? smile

Thank you! smile


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Dr. craig’s response


As I said in response to Mark’s question a couple weeks ago (#172), it does seem to me that God’s motivation in creating is truly loving. I’m not sure I’d agree with you, Nancy, that true love doesn’t expect anything in return. A wife who truly loves her husband, for example, rightly expects him to treat her with respect, not to belittle or abuse her. Surely such expectations are wholly consistent with her truly loving him!

But let that pass. I think what you mean is that true love is unconditional, and the Bible does teach that God’s love is unconditional. Does that imply that He expects nothing in return? That doesn’t follow. For God could have other properties that would issue in obligations for those He has created. You’ve forgotten that God is also perfect justice, as well as perfect love. As a result we have certain moral obligations toward God to fulfill, such as to worship and love Him as the locus and source of supreme goodness.

I think popular Christian piety very often overlooks the fact that we are morally obligated to believe in God. We often tell unbelievers that God loves them and offers them a relationship which they may freely accept or reject. That’s true as far as it goes, but it does not go nearly far enough. What is missing here is the fact that because of Who God is, we have a moral duty to believe in, love, and worship God with all our mind, heart, and strength, and when we fail to do so, we are morally guilty before Him and so fall under the righteous sentence of His justice. If God simply winked at sin, then He would not be perfectly just and so not perfectly good.

By ignoring the fact of our moral obligations toward God, popular Christian piety invites the response, “What kind of love is this? ‘Believe in me, or I’ll send you to hell!’” That retort is entirely appropriate for a being whom we have no moral obligation to love and obey. But when we understand the fullness of the nature of God, then we see that while we have the ability to reject God’s love and so separate ourselves from Him forever, that does not imply that there are no consequences of such a choice. Because such a choice is profoundly evil, a perfectly just God must punish it. Just as we might say that while I have the freedom to speed down the highway at 100 miles per hour but do not have the liberty to do this because it is against the law, so I have the freedom but not the liberty to disbelieve in God.

Now in light of that, let’s think about your questions:

1. In creating the world, did God not expect anything in return (as in response to Him)? No, He did expect in return that we would love and worship Him as the highest good. (By “expect” we obviously mean here, not “anticipate,” but “require.” The question is, do we have certain moral requirements or obligations toward God, and the answer is clearly, “Yes.”) In fact, the first and greatest commandment of the Jewish law, according to Jesus, was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12. 30).

2. Would Jesus have died for the world if no one would have come Him? Nobody knows for sure the answer to such a hypothetical question. I strongly suspect that God would not create a world in which no one is saved. Indeed, I suspect that, necessarily, God would not create such a world, in which case such a world is metaphysically impossible, that is to say, there is no possible world such as you describe.

3. Did Christ take on Himself the COMBINED experience of all humans living and all who have ever lived, going to hell for eternity? Again, no one knows what it is like experientially to bear the severity of God’s wrath upon all the combined sins of mankind, except to say that it was so terrible that Jesus himself shrank from it in the Garden of Gethsemane. What we want to affirm is that Christ bore the penalty for the sins of all mankind (I John 2. 2) and therefore the full brunt of God’s justice. At the cross we see the reconciliation of God’s justice and love: His love for us as Christ takes upon himself the punishment for sin that we deserved and God’s justice as the punishment for sin is fully paid. The cross reveals how God can be at once both perfectly just and perfectly loving.

That’s good of you, Nancy, to be willing to give your salvation for the sake of those whom you love. Paul said the same thing about his fellow Jews who had rejected Messiah Jesus (Romans 9. 1-5). Be assured that God loves them even more than you do. When we once understand both the depth of God’s love as shown in Christ’s sacrificial death and our moral obligation to love and worship God as the paradigm of goodness itself, then as you say, why hesitate?

- William Lane Craig