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Divine Love and the Pleasure of God

Let’s begin with two claims about love, one from our culture’s perspective and one from the Bible’s perspective.

First, culture tells us that “love is love.”[3] This phrase usually comes up in the context of the various culture wars over gender and sexuality, and more broadly, the debate over what it means to be human.

Second, the Bible argues that (i) love is part of the very essence of God, (ii) Jesus powerfully demonstrates the nature of divine love on the cross, and (iii) sexual love, while a gift, is not the only, nor most fundamental kind of love.

What does it mean to say that God is essentially loving?

In his essay on “Divine Goodness and Love,” the theologian Jordan Wessling discusses a model for understanding divine love called the value model.[4] According to the value model, love is two desires, the desire for the well-being or flourishing of the beloved and desire for union with the beloved.[5] When it comes to things that God values in loving persons, this view of divine love amounts to the claim that God values our existence, flourishing, and union.[6] This seems right to me.

Importantly, by explicating divine love in terms of responsiveness to value, we can make sense of the intuitively correct idea that God loves humans more than dogs or ants or mountains, even though God loves all his creatures. The idea, as Wessling describes it, is that God “calibrates or in some way matches the strength of His love to the intrinsic value of that which is loved.”[7]

This account also helps us understand how God is maximally or perfectly loving. The basic idea, called (by Wessling) the optimal levels view, is that God loves each creature of a particular kind at the highest appropriate strength befitting its intrinsic value or worth.[8]

What kind of objection can be raised against this account of Divine love?

Perhaps the strongest objection to the idea that God is perfectly or maximally loving comes from certain texts that seem to indicate that God hates certain individuals in a way incompatible with the value account of love.

I find Eleonore Stump’s reply to this worry helpful (and plausible). She distinguishes two different kinds of hatred, one that is opposite love and one that is consistent with love.[9] The difference between the two kinds of hatred involves what is ultimately desire for the hated person. Here is Stumps discussion of two kinds of hate:

There is a kind of hatred that is a species of the desires of love. It is a matter of desiring not to be united with a wrongdoer now, when he is bad enough that the alienation of others is the best thing for him in the circumstances, and one wants this alienation from him as the best for him in the hope of ultimate union with him.

On the other hand, there is also a kind of hatred that is the opposite of love. In the grip of this kind of hatred, one will desire to be at a distance from [a person]; but one will desire this alienation from [that person] as what is ultimately bad for [them]. . . . This is hatred, too, but it is the kind of hatred that is incompatible with love.[10]

Why does this attribute of God matter to me?

One of the most fundamental facts about reality, then, is love. Love is at rock-bottom, the ground floor, of reality because God exists, God is loving, and God is fundamental reality. A. W. Tozer helpfully puts it this way:

The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men [and women]. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.[11]

This fact, this “pillar upon which the hope of the world rests” is awe-inspiring.

What is even more amazing is that God’s joy and pleasure—his happiness—includes us. As C. S. Lewis writes his essay “The Weight of Glory,”

To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.[12]

Think about this amazing truth for a minute. Let it sink into your heart: God delights in you. God takes pleasure in you. You are so important to God that his happiness takes you into account, as Lewis puts it, you are a “real ingredient in the divine happiness.”

 

[3] For a helpful discussion of the slogan “love is love” see Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed (Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), ch. 2.

[4] Jordan Wessling, “Divine Goodness and Love,” in T & T Clark Handbook of Analytic Theology, eds. James M. Arcadi & James T. Turner, Jr. (New York: T & T Clark, 2021), 141–154.

[5] Ibid., 143.

[6] Ibid., 143.

[7] Ibid., 144.

[8] Ibid. 146–147.

[9] Eleonore Stump, Atonement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 85.

[10] Stump, Atonement, 85–86.

[11] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 102.

[12] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 38.

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