FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
Douglas A. Wheeler, PhD, ThD
At one time or another most people find themselves harboring feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and poor self-esteem. Countless books have been written to give people advice, some practical and some not so practical, on how to deal with these problems. There are no easy answers.
Let's begin with a basic proposition: all people need to be loved and feel loved. This is a basic human need. When people do not feel that this need is being met in their lives, negative and often severe consequences result. Is there a way in which we can meet this need for love in a non-threatening way?
Many people will not open themselves up to love because of the fear associated with that openness. Human love can be static, conditional, controlling, and manipulative. We can find value in human love beyond question, but there must be a firmer foundation beneath it, as we are all only “human.”
Suffice it to say that the real need to be loved can never be fully satisfied by people. The foundation of all love must be an absolute knowledge of the love of God. The problem is that the love of God is a difficult concept to understand. Some do not have faith in God’s love because they do not believe in the existence of God. Others struggle with the love of God because, for them, it is wrapped tightly in the clothing of works and performance. After all, who can be good enough to please God? Some think that they must be all pleasing to God to experience His love. It is almost as if the love of God can only be dispensed as a by-product of human action. As a result, we find that our performance is never quite good enough to earn the love of God on a continual basis. We live our lives trying to balance works with the love of God. Better works or more works equate more of the love of God. For many, this is all they know, because this is what they have been taught.
Our society teaches love and acceptance based upon performance; if performance is not good, then failure will be the result. In our jobs and careers, advancement is based upon performance. While this competition-based performance is accepted in the business world, it is deadly when it enters the church. Much of our struggle with the love of God is the result of our environment, culture, and education.
Walking this tightrope of working for God’s love, or better said, working for more of God’s love, manifests itself in some very incredible ways. Consider for a moment one of these ways. It is called the "marble game." If you make a mistake or commit a sin, you earn a black marble. In order to offset the black marble, you must, by your good works, earn three or four white marbles. However, enough is never enough. The game must always continue. Even though it sounds ridiculous, people play this game every day. For many, the intensity of the game increases, and as a result, they never really understand or deal with the love of God from a proper perspective. The end result is always the same: frustration, fear, anger, anxiety, and/or insecurity.
This is really sad because it is a completely different picture of the love of God than what Scripture teaches. We seem to believe that we have to strive for the love of God. If we could understand conceptually the love of God, our view would completely change.
ABSTRACT VERSUS CONCEPTUAL
The two words “abstract” and “conceptual” can illustrate the problem that we face as it relates to the love of God. In order to effectively define these terms, we must understand how they relate to Scripture and to the men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Scriptures.
Every Biblical writer, with the possible exception of Luke, was a native speaker of a Semitic language. As such, their thought processes were different from ours. because Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, are conceptual, where languages like English and Greek are abstract.
Abstract thought could best be defined as that thought which examines one part and reaches conclusions of the whole based on the examination of that one part. For example, if we wanted to examine your shirt, we could cut off one piece of that shirt and examine it. We would reach our conclusions of the shirt based upon the examination of that one piece. Conceptual thought, on the other hand, reaches no conclusions until it examines the whole. In the example just stated, we would have to examine the whole shirt before we reached conclusions of that shirt. Conceptual thought paints pictures to the mind. Abstract thought is fragmented; therefore, it does not provide the whole picture. This is important as it relates to the Bible.
The men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Bible were conceptual thinkers. In terms of the Bible we can further define these statements of conceptual and abstract. If we were to try to define the love of God only in terms of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” then this would be an example of abstract thought.
Abstract thought would isolate the word “love” from John 3:16, define it and reach conclusions of the love of God based upon the examination of that one part. To verify these conclusions, proof texts from other passages of Scripture would be used.
Conceptual thought, on the other hand, would begin in Genesis and see how the concept of love is developed throughout the Bible before reaching conclusions of that one idea. By tracing the conceptual idea of the love of God through the entire Bible, we will not only see a clearer picture, but we will also see many facets of the love of God that may help us change our way of thinking concerning the love of God.
THE CONCEPT BEGINS
Conceptual thought begins with the recognition that the Bible is one book. It is not two books contained in one volume. As we approach the Bible with this understanding, it is possible to trace the conceptual idea of the love of God thoughout. We will begin this study in the first chapter of Genesis, verses one and two.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
These verses give us the starting point for the conceptual idea of God’s love. Please notice the phrase, “and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
The key word here is the face of. If we look at this statement in its original language, we will see that the Hebrew phrase that has been translated upon the face of, is al-peney (על פני). This is pronounced al-pin-ay and means to turn oneself, to turn towards and to face, to be in the front or forepart. It also means to be face-to-face and in the presence of. Continue