God loves God more than God loves us?

In comments, Ed brought up this claim for consideration:

 God loves God more than God loves us.

I’ll jot down a few thoughts and then make way for Bobby’s comment at the bottom which nails it in about a tenth the space it takes me.  (Which again proves how horribly prolix I am!)

I have two problems with this dictum ‘God loves God more than God loves us’. 

One is that an unhelpful divide is being introduced into our conception of God’s triune love on the one hand and His love for us on the other.  Union with Christ and participation in God will not be allowed fully to flower in our thinking if such a dictum is axiomatic. 

The other problem I have relates back to yesterday’s post about glory.  If the glory of God is the cross, then self-sacrificial, other-centred love is not an addendum to a foundationally self-centred glory.  Love for the other is the glory of God all the way down to the bottom, so to speak.

To flesh out the first issue…

I reckon the Upper Room discourse (John 17 included) is indeed a very fruitful meditation on the nature of the Father-Son glory and its relation to us.  It’s stunning to say but as the Father has loved the Son, so does He love us and that even the love the Father has for the Son has been placed in us.  The mutual indwelling – Christ in us, us in Christ, the Father in Him – makes problematic a discussion of a separate love of God for God and God for us. 

Now of course there may be distinctions that could, at some point, be flagged up.  Things like,

  • they are the initiators, we are simply the recipients.
  • their love is the original, we’re just included in it.
  • they are in by nature, we by grace 
  • (before union) they could do without me but not without each other. 

Those kind of things.  But now that we actually dwell within this trinitarian life and, as Peter says, ‘participate in the divine nature’ I think there’s a significant danger of introducing unhelpful divisions into our thinking if we say ‘God loves God more than God loves me.’

We are in God and God loves us in a way inextricably bound up with His own life and glory.  Because of Christmas, the Son became what we are so that we become what He is.  Now the Father cannot but love us with that very same love with which He loves the Son.  To speak of ‘more’ and ‘less’ at this point threatens the reality of union – bride to Bridegroom, body to Head, branches to Vine. 

It seems natural to speak of God’s life on the one hand and then ours on the other.  But from all eternity the divine intention has not been separation but inclusion.  Through God’s glory – the cross – we are taken into His very being.

And this leads to the second issue.  When we consider how it is we’ve been included in God’s life, we are shown an astonishing depth to the love of God.  He crushed the Son to provide refuge for His enemies.  He gave up His Son to save the world.  He did not spare His only Son in order to spare sinners.  Christ endured hell so that we would not, forsaken so that we would be accepted, etc, etc.  And if this is both our definition of love and of glory, well… 

I think all these considerations – which you will agree are the very heart of the gospel – make us think again.  ‘God loves God more than God loves us’ sounds completely, naturally sensible.  But the gospel always makes us rethink the ‘natural’ and the ‘sensible.’ 

And here’s Bobby’s comment:

I think T. F. Torrance nailed it when he said, paraphrase: “that God loves us, more than He loves Himself,” which the cross proves. Of course this is assuming a very high view of the assumptio carnis (assumption of flesh/humanity—the incarnation) . . . and that humanity, through the incarnation, has been reconciled into the very life of God (cf. I Cor 6:17) . . . so that when Torrance says what He says, He’s not endorsing a Christology from below, but clearly from high, high above.

 To respond to Piper’s sequence, as noted by Ed, this assumes a rather inward curved view of God . . . which just won’t do—that is, if the cross actually reveals anything about the being of God.

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Posted on by Glen in Cross, Doctrine of God

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

9 Responses to God loves God more than God loves us?

  1. Ed

    Hey Glen,

    thanks for the interaction on this, it’s very helpful to me in clarifying what i think about the Trinity, and the love therein.

    I’ve got a 7 hour plane journey tomorrow in which hopefully i’ll be able to come up with something intelligent to say, and def have time to listen to your sermon on the Trinity.

    I wonder if this is where the root of our disagreement occurs. I think the way i view the Trinity makes it impossible for God’s self love to be inward curved. The love the Father has for the Son is anything but inward, in fact i’d go so far to say that God’s self love is so outward that it’s the reason for creation itself.

    Christians are a love gift from Father to Son. The Father is glorified in the glory of the Son, because Jesus is the exact imprint of the Fathers nature and the radiance of His glory.

    So why is this good news for us? The way the Father is glorified in the Son is by the Son dying on the cross. Here Jesus is both the means and the end of God’s self loving purpose. The apex of God’s glory is in His grace towards sinners.

    Here God’s outward bent self love bends all the way out towards us…not because God loves us more than Himself, but for the very opposite reason…because Father loves Son more He demonstrates His glory in the glorious death of His Son on the cross. And our sins are forgiven as a result.

  2. Bobby Grow

    I would just reply, that saying He loves us more than Himself reflects the Paulinism of “not considering robbery with God something to be grasped.” In other words, God’s life of love is so other focused, that there is never thought of Himself . . . apart from the other. Which is why affirming a high, high view of the incarnation is so essential for saying this. The fact that He freely determined and “elected” to be for us, in an always already way, reveals a “life” that is always shaped by the “other,” but never cut-off from the one (in fact this is the shape of the one).

    In other words, God’s life of love is always and already a “shared” reality; and never a possessed one—thus the revelatory nature of the incarnation and the depths of the cross, which of course for us, must first be reconciliatory (as far as order goes).

  3. Dan Hames

    One of the big issues underlying this, it seems to me, is the idea that God’s being is in some way worked-out in creation/redemption history.

    That sentence looks very awkward indeed… but the Bible presents the gospel as the power of God, the cross as the glory of God, the resurrection as Jesus being owned/vindicated/glorified by the Father, the Son being eternally flesh and blood after his incarnation (so the second person of the Trinity is forever changed!), Jesus being worshipped in heaven as a result of his death.

    That is to say that the divine life of God is not fixed abstractly outside of his creation and salvation history- rather the Trinity is invovled in it, experiencing it, even subject to it (?). Redemption history is part of God’s own biography, and we are wrapped-up in this.

    So the idea of us participating in the divine life and love is more than just our experience, but also theirs.

    Hope that makes sense. Would love to be corrected/wound back in if anyone cares to respond.

  4. glenscriv

    Ok – should be working on a talk but let me just wind you back one click Dan…

    You’re absolutely right that a big issue here is the relation between the economic and the immanent trinity. And what we want to say is: God *is* the God of the Gospel. The Lamb is at the very centre of the throne, He is not obscuring a deeper truth at the heart of God. Christ crucified is the deepest truth of the eternal God. (John 17:5 etc).

    Thus salvation history is God’s history – a chosen history in which God is entirely Himself, a history that unfolds and manifests His very nature.

    In terms of saying that God is “subject” to salvation history – doesn’t that put it the wrong way around? All history serves that Man lifted up. If His lifting up involves Him being subject to historical forces it is only because the One to Whom He is truly subject has ordained it (Acts 2:23).

    So perhaps I’d wind you back a click on that one. But overall I’d agree that a significant issue involves how evangelical our doctrine of God is. By that I don’t mean whether it accords with some theological party but whether it accords with the events of the evangel.

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Ed,

    Really like this sentence:

    “The love the Father has for the Son is anything but inward, in fact i’d go so far to say that God’s self love is so outward that it’s the reason for creation itself.”

    Nice! But if it’s such an outward and overflowing love aren’t we obscuring that truth by calling it self-love? I would say that apart from explicit trinitarian articulation these theses on God’s self-love will lead in exactly the wrong direction.

    Again it’s a question of who’s the Subject of the sentence “God loves Himself.”? If it’s any of the Persons then it’s false. If it’s the Trinity (ie the Three united in love) then it seems to negate the very truth that ‘Trinity’ is meant to communicate. The alternative is that it refers to ‘God’ not according to any trinitarian relations. And at that point I’d say, let’s leave well alone concepts of God that are not explicitly trinitarian. Exhibit A in the problems with non-trinitarian God-talk – a narcisistic divinity.

    And just briefly I’d ask:

    Are we included in the love the Father has for the Son?

    I only ask this because you say “…and our sins are forgiven as a result” almost as though this is an unintended consequence. Now I’m pretty sure you don’t think that our inclusion in Christ is accidental to the purposes of God in Christ. I’m pretty sure you believe in election right? So before any of this creation-redemption lark gets off the ground there is the desire to glorify the Son with His church right? The Firstborn is glorified with many brothers. The Bridegroom is glorified with His bride. The Vine with His branches. The Head does not rise up again alone, but brings with Him His body etc. The glory granted to the Son explicitly and intentionally includes the church right?

    All I’m doing is trying to nudge you away from dichotomous thinking. It’s not as though there’s the Fathers love for the Son on one hand and on the other there’s “God’s” love for us. It’s a lot more united than that! :-)

  6. Ed

    ‘I would say that apart from an explicit Trinitarian articulation these theses on God’s self love will lead in exactly the wrong way’

    Amen all day long. In fact it’s only the outward looking/loving nature of the Trinity that makes Piper’s whole paradigm work.

    My theses is that God the Father loves the God the Son more than He does us. I don’t think this negates the truth that Trinity is supposed to communicate, i think it’s the basis of it. Father loves Son, Son loves Father, Son loves Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit loves Son, Father loves Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit loves Father. It’s all outward.

    And this results in, yes, being included in the love the Father has for the Son. In fact, again, it’s the foundation of it. If the Father did not love the Son He never would have purposed to display His glory though Him, if Father did not love the Son He never would have purposed to give Him a people. If the Son did not love the Father He never would have obeyed, never would have been bothered to demonstrate the righteousness of God on the cross.

    So God’s (outward, intra Trinitarian) self love becomes to basis for salvation and security.

    The Son loves us and gave Himself for us (i put this VERY poorly earlier, thanks for picking me up on it!) to forgive our sins so that we might see, and enjoy and worship Him forever, so that we might be delighted by the glory of God in the face of Christ. In short, because of God’s (outward, intra Trinitarian) self love.

  7. glenscriv

    Hi Ed,

    Sorry, I posted a response to you yesterday and my computer crashed as I hit submit.

    Basically I just said that I loved what was inside the brackets (“outward, intra Trinitarian”) and reckon that such truths are not incidental or parenthetical to the issue but foundational. Such truths are not endnotes or footnotes – they are chapter one.

    Therefore if Piper takes the time to set out seven theses in this kind of foundational way – a failure to make explicit the trinitarian logic is really not good enough.

    And in my experience Piper quite often builds up his argument about God’s self-centred glory from non-trinitarian foundations. I’m glad you’re concerned to have a trinitarian foundation for all this and in fact I’ve led reading groups on Desiring God where we’ve inserted plenty of stuff on trinity at the beginning. So I’m with you on wanting to major on many of Piper’s themes and I’m with you in seeking a solid trinitarian foundation for this.

    But I think it’s fair to say that, while we might be very concerned to articulate a trinitarian foundation – very often Piper is not. I don’t like to say that. But I think it’s true.

    In the ways I’ve heard him expound this it’s generally something that flows out of some axiomatic truth like:

    * God’s the best.
    * It would be idolatrous for God to love anyone except the best.
    * God loves Himself.

    That’s certainly the basic structure of his argument in these seven theses and it’s his basic argument in Desiring God. In the Pleasures of God – it’s *this* truth that is stated as foundational for the Father’s love for the Son (whereas it should surely be the other way around). It’s not that God loves Himself so He’s quite pleased there’s an exact Image of His glory to admire. It’s that the Father loves His Son – as One who is eternally distinct from Him – therefore He loves His Glory as a Person who is Other than Him.

    Now if Piper, after mature reflection over a life’s (amazing!) ministry, before the ETS, given space to articulate the logic of his position, still makes his case according to the “God’s the best…” logic and if he invites critique then I think it’s perfectly vaild to say – hang on there!

    And as we say ‘hang on’ we’re not just picking nits about whether his argument is detailed enough to mention the trinity (that would be a petty critique indeed!).

    No. As I said in a comment to Pete on another thread – laying bare the trinity in our discussions is not simply to add an extra level of nuance to otherwise unaffected ‘basic’ truths. It is to uncover a logic which alters the way we conceive of even the most ‘basic’ truths. Therefore when given the time and space to do so, if the trinitarian logic is not articulated and driving the argument, things will go awry.

    Anyway – repeating myself massively. Happy for you to have the last word on this if you like.

    Blessings in Jesus,
    Glen

  8. Justin

    I was reading this post, and my daughter (6 years old) looks over my shoulder and reads the title of the post. She read, “God loves God more than God love us?” and without missing a beat, says, “No, because he gave his only son to die for us. He gave up himself for our good.” Then she giggled.

  9. Glen

    Ha! What a theologian! :)

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