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Don Carson:

One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner.

There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but this cannot be said with respect to how God sees the sinner.

Nevertheless the cliché is false on the face of it, and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, the psalmists state that God hates the sinner, that His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible the wrath of God rests on both the sin (Rom. 1:18-23) and the sinner (1:24-32; 2:5; John 3:36).

Our problem in part is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God's wrath is not an implacable blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against His holiness. At the same time His love wells up amidst His perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at once. God in His perfections must be wrathful against His rebel image-bearers, for they have offended Him; God in His perfections must be loving toward His rebel image-bearers, for He is that kind of God. . . .

The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the New Testament. Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the New Testament. In other words both God's love and God's wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax in the Cross.

Do you wish to see God's love? Look at the Cross.

Do you wish to see God's wrath? Look at the Cross.

--From D.A. Carson, "God's Love and God's Wrath," Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 388-390.

HT: Tony Reinke

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71 thoughts on “How Do God’s Love and God’s Wrath Relate?”

  1. AStev says:

    Thank you for posting these excellent, excellent pieces.

  2. Casey says:

    Good word. Thank you.

    What if the “hate the sin, love the sinner” saying was applied to Christians? Could we say that Christians are to hate the sin and love the sinner? I’ve never applied the phrase to God (as Carson does in setting up the article) but to CHristians.

    Is the phrase accurate when said of Christians (not God)?

  3. Tony Byrne says:

    The modern slogan that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” is a distortion of the old truth that God loves all men (love of benevolence) as his creatures (i.e. image-bearers) but hates sinners as sinners. Thus the same person can be loved and hated at the same time but in different respects or senses.

  4. Billy Liu says:

    The cross is an excellent example of God’s love and God’s wrath! I do agree both can paradoxically co-exist… however, I’m not so sure if we should abandon that ‘cliche’!

    I thought that ‘cliche’ is one of the best illustrations of how God feels about us sinners. Don’t tell me the brothers of Westboro Baptist Church got it right all along? That God really hates all of us?!?! At least according to my understanding of the scriptures, only the unbelieving and unrepentant sinners will endure His wrath and subsequently perish, right? The cross is His demonstration of His love for all of us… and the cross is His way of converting us to no longer being sinners… If God absolutely hates sinners, then why bother sending Jesus to the cross, right? Why bother sending a sinless lamb to endure the wrath for a bunch of sinners whom He hates? Only naturally conclusion is that God the Father and Jesus must also love us, even as sinners, right?

  5. Tony Byrne says:

    Hi Casey,

    As Christians, we are to model ourselves after God in the way we view and treat our neighbors. So, we likewise are to love all people as God’s creatures, but hate workers of iniquity as workers of iniquity. We can both love and hate the same person at the same time but in different respects. This does not involve us in abstracting the sin from the sinner, as the popular slogan seems to entail.

  6. Casey says:

    Thanks Tony.

  7. Dean Davis says:

    Thank you for these rich and clarifying paragraphs.

    They accomplish something most excellent, giving us a peek at the ineffably complex emotional life of God. We who are both finite and fallen are certainly not up to understanding it, let alone emulating it.

    I take great comfort, then, in realizing from Scripture that by and large God lifts from our shoulders the intolerable burden of hating sinners. Instead, through Christ, he admonishes us to love, pray for, and do good to our enemies (Mt. 5:43-48).

    This seems all the more reasonable when we realize that some of the people we are presently inclined to hate may well be our brothers tomorrow. The saints of Saul’s day were doubtless tempted to hate him, until, that is, God turned him into “brother Paul.”

    In this kind of thing, Daniel is my model. How easy it would have been to hate Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar, just as I myself could easily hate any number of “progressives” who currently are trashing my beloved country.

    But to yield to that spirit would be to defile my witness with anger, and so rob it of its power (something I’ve learned from bitter experience). Yes, Daniel chose the high road of honoring the king, even as he matter-of-factly reproved his deeds and warned him of judgment to come.

    And so, when the angel came to Daniel, he hailed the man of love as a man greatly beloved of the LORD.

  8. Spera in Deo says:

    Yes, it is because of God’s infinite love for you and concern for your well-being that from all eternity he abandoned you to eternal horror and hopeless unending despair. Why didn’t Rob Bell ever think of that?

  9. MIke says:

    Maybe we can say, “God loves and hates the sinner, but definitely hates the sin”

    1. Billy Liu says:

      But that sounds kinda weird, doesn’t it Mike? ;)

      The only thing God hates about us is the sin in us. If we were sinless, then God wouldn’t be hating us at all… and we wouldn’t even be called sinners! That’s why I think the original ‘cliche’ is pretty clear that the ultimate source of the problem isn’t us(sinners), but the sin itself. But of course for an unrepentant sinner, God can very well hate the ‘person’. But if that sin could be cleansed by faith and repentance, then there’s no reason why God would continue to hate that ‘person’. God would happily embrace him just as prodigal son’s father embracing his lost son!

      1. Billy Liu says:

        Maybe an improved version of the ‘cliche’ would be:

        “God loves all of us, He just hates sins.”

        1. Mike says:

          Bill, as much as I would like to agree, its like saying eat apples not fruit. Because of the fall sin is inseparable, so we can’t jump to one side or the other regarding God’s love and hate regarding the unregenerate. It is a tension that must be held if we take the whole counsel if God in to account. I was going to point toward Pipers article on God’s 2 wills, but it looks like Justin just recently posted it, he unpacks a lot in that article.

          1. Billy Liu says:

            You don’t think the original ‘cliche’ described that ‘tension’ pretty well? That God loves all of us, but only hates it when we do stupid sinful things that end up hurting ourselves and others?

            I just don’t believe we ought to make God’s hatred to personal. Hey, if God can hate this guy, maybe I can too? Or since God hates and love somebody, that is what I should be doing? I love and hate my wife, my children and my pets? ;) Anyway, I think we can already naturally hate others without any help from God. We ought to simply focus on loving one another. Personally, I’d also prefer to know that God only hates the sins that I do… and not ME personally. Anyway, maybe it’s just me, I could be wrong about God.

            1. Peter G. says:

              FYI, some of these questions (especially those about how God’s love relates to our love) are dealt with in Carson’s follow-up book, “Love in Hard Places.”

              Billy, the starting place for answering your questions is to recognize that there are some things God does precisely because he is God. And that means there are some things we don’t do precisely because we are not God. I know this doesn’t really answer your question, but it is the necessary starting point.

              And when you say that you would prefer that God only hates the sins you do “and not YOU personally,” be careful. To the degree that you make your problem impersonal, you will also have to make God’s solution impersonal. If God’s hatred for sin can be depersonalized, then so can his solution to it. But looking at the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection, we must say otherwise. His solution is intensely personal and so must be our problem. So at some point, we must make God’s hatred personal lest we be forced to make his solution somehow impersonal. (Assuming here that God is, properly speaking, part of our problem. An assumption, I realize, that is out of favor with many.)

              Perhaps another verse worth reflecting on is Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” It is not insignificant how closely Paul links sincere love with hatred for evil. A love that is not willing to hate may turn out to be no love at all. And it is easy to cling to what is good when evil is absent. But we must face it head on. In the final analysis, evil is to be overcome, not colluded with. How we as Christian overcome it is not by creating hell on earth for them now. We conquer evil the way Christ did. By laying down our own lives. But we will never be willing to do this unless we first recognize that evil is real and serious enough to make our life worth giving in order to extinguish it.

              The bottom line is this, if hate has anything to do with sincere love, then God’s hate for us must be personal at some points if his love is also to be personal.

              Thanks for the questions, folks. It has made me think about this question with greater clarity.

              1. Billy Liu says:

                Great points Peter! Thanks!

                However, regarding making my sins ‘impersonal’, I also believe the good things that I do are impersonal too! I personally don’t believe God will love me more if I do more good things… God simply loves us as ‘us’… and it’s that “loving relationship” that is personal. Similar to parents love their children unconditionally without the children doing anything good or bad at all! Now of course if a kid is too obnoxious and annoying, naturally that CAN stir up some hatred and perhaps some parental “wrath”, but that’s only momentary and shouldn’t really destroy the loving relationship completely…

                Like the verse you quoted, I totally agree that we ought to cling to what’s good and hate what is evil. I have no issues with hating evil…, just not sure about hating evildoers though… Why? Because every evildoer has the potential to possibly repent and change, right? Do you really think God hates Saul on a personal level before he became Apostle Paul? Do you think God hates King David when he was screwing around? I tend to think God only hated Paul and King David when they were doing evil… Anyway, I could be wrong…

              2. John Thomson says:


                Read the comments below. I do think there is a sense we are loved more in obedience. The parallel is the love of a father for a wayward son and the love for an obedient son. He loves both in one sense equally but he loves the obedient son in the sense that he delights in him. He loves him for his obedience and devotion.

                This (to preempt) is not ‘works salvation’. It is love within the family. If we were to come to it from another angle consider the matter of rewards. If as his son we love the father then our ‘reward’ is to know more of the father.

              3. Peter G. says:

                Billy, the question is precisely how can you hate evil without, at some point, at some level, hating the evildoer? If God can deal with evil impersonally, then sending his only Son (as a person) was massive overkill. He could have dealt with it in abstract and just applied the benefits personally. But he did not. Both the accomplishment and the application are gloriously personal.

                The point is that evil must be dealt with personally because of its very nature. It is personal at some level. The moment we put evil in an abstract category is the same moment we’ve put it in a box out there somewhere, safely to be ignored. The degree to which you impersonalize evil is the same degree to which you have allowed yourself (and God) to justifiably ignore it. And God did not ignore it. He dealt with it. He punished it in a very personal way. And I think it is this personal punishing of evil that is precisely what keeps us from personally punishing the really horrendous personal evils sometimes done to us. Look, nobody has trouble ignoring the evil done half way around the world. Nobody finds it hard to love an evil person you’ve never met. The people it is hardest to love are those who have hurt you in a very personal way. In fact, the more personal their offense, the harder love becomes.

                We can talk breezily about not hating those who’ve never wronged us, but when a really personal offense has been done to you, it suddenly gets gut-wrenchingly hard to offer platitudes like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” When sin really hits home, you know in your stomach that this won’t due. The sin is suddenly very personal, both on the giving and on the receiving end. And the point is this: all sin is incredibly personal to God (cf. Psalm 51:4). That’s why it must be personally dealt with—the sin and the sinner.

                Not all sin is incredibly personal against us (to be sure!). And in cases where the sin is not so personal, the cliché will get traction. But when sin becomes personal against you, you’re going to need more than “love the sin, hate the sinner.” At that point you’re going to need a form of atonement that deals seriously with both the sin and the sinner, both the crime and the criminal.

                In God’s case that form of atonement looks like personal, self-substitution. And without hatred, there would be no need for this. Without love there would be no motive.

              4. Billy Liu says:

                John, you’ve posted quite a few comments down below and you’ve made many valid points. Again, I don’t want to claim to know what God thinks, this is just my personal understanding for now… may subject to change if God changes my mind…

                Anyway, I tend to see God’s love for us as unconditional. Salvation is conditional upon faith and repentance, but His love should be unconditional. He doesn’t love us more by being more obedient, nor does He hate us more by being disobedient. God Himself made that distinction in baptism of Jesus. He said,’this is my Son whom I love, with him I’m well pleased!’

                So I personally believe God loves all of us just the same…, it’s just that God is probably not as well pleased with us compared to Jesus due to our sinfulness. ;)

                And if you look at the prodigal son’s story, you can also find the prodigal son’s brother to be pretty ‘obedient’ to his father, but his heart still really wasn’t quite ‘right’.

                Besides Jesus, the next person God is pleased with the most in history of mankind was probably King David… is it really because of his obedience? Doubt it, David has done some horrible things that most of us wouldn’t dare do! But what’s more important, IMHO, is having a ‘heart’ that’s similar to God’s. David knows God and he understands God more so than most of us. Naturally if you have a heart after God’s, even when you screw up, you’d know what’s the right thing to do to patch things up! ;)

                I think Micah6:8 summed up wonderfully what God expects of us. He wants us to act justly(don’t sin), lover mercy(love and forgive other sinners who’s sinned against us) and to humbly walk with the Lord our God. Of course I understand that if we act and do the opposite, God may very well hate that we’re being stupid…, but as long as we repent and return to God, God would be willing to lovingly embrace us previously lost prodigal sons back just like that… In order to do that, deep down inside in God’s heart, He must really really love us, not hate us, right?

              5. Billy Liu says:

                Peter, let’s only consider sinners who’ve sinned against us personally then. Forget about the evildoers half way around the world.

                So with this evil enemy who has harmed you on a personal level right in front of you, what did Christ teach us to do? To love our enemies, right? We don’t have to agree with the evils our enemies have done, but point is Jesus wants us to continue to love the sinner. It’s only too easy and natural for our sinful flesh to hate our enemies. No need to dwell on hatred IMHO.

                Furthermore, if God’s hatred of the sinner is really that “personal”, if Jesus really hates YOU, why would he bother dying on the cross for you? Do do you understand what I meant by God doesn’t hate you on a personal level? God just doesn’t like our sinful parts… and the cross was used to cleanse us of the dirty sinful parts.

              6. John Thomson says:

                Hi Billy

                Not enough to do with my time is my problem.

                I foresaw the question of the prodigal. The thing about the elder brother is he wasn’t really obedient, was he? He had no real love for the father, he served as a kind of duty not out of love (he was a pharisee). As you say the heart is what matters but where the heart is right it will result in , not perfect obedience (for we are sinners). And there may be serious failure. But if there is, like David, there will be serious repentance.

                For those who are God’s people he has only love. But love admits of degrees and kinds. As I say, like the love of a parent for his children.

                Must go. About midnight here. Blessings.

              7. Billy Liu says:

                Spending time to meditate and discuss God’s Word with other brothers is not a problem IMHO! If iron sharpening iron is a problem, then I have a problem too! Haha… ;)

                Anyway, yes, prodigal son’s brother for sure wasn’t totally obedient, but I’m sure in his heart, he believes he’s MORE obedient and therefore he thought he deserves more of the father’s love! So when he saw the father threw an all out party like that, he got jealous! So as you can see, level of obedience cannot be used to gauge God’s love for us. Obedience is the fruit of having a ‘right’ heart, not really the main reason why God loves us.

                Point is Jesus died on the cross for all humanity, not just the ‘elect’, right? It’s perfectly just for God to watch all of us perish in hell… it’s perfectly normal for us to hate sinners or our enemies. So why did Jesus bother to die for all sinners? So not worth it! Totally not necessary! Just let those sinners get what they deserve!

                But thank God that He loves us. All of us. Even while we were sinners.

              8. Peter G. says:

                Billy thanks for the thoughts. I’ll keep chewing on them.

                If you can, I would highly recommend reading Carson’s “Love in Hard Places.” He deals with Matt 5:43-48 at length. I don’t know that he really gives a quick and easy answer, but I thought this section might help spur more thinking, “To absolutize what Jesus says about loving one’s enemies is exegetically equivalent to absolutizing what he says about abolishing oaths or what he says about the lex talionis. It may have a certain initial appeal, but it is naive and sentimental and does not correspond to how Jesus himself acts and speaks of judgment and wrath” (p. 44). I’m not saying you’re doing this, by any means.

                I just know I need to think more about what exactly it means to love my enemies a good bit more. Specifically, why does Jesus cite God’s sending of rain as his example of what it means for God to love his enemies? Why not something else? Why not, for example, the cross? Maybe he could have, but I’m wondering why this is the specific example Jesus uses to illustrate God’s enemy-love that we are to imitate if we are to be recognized as God’s sons.

              9. Billy Liu says:

                Peter, 1Cor13 spelled out clearly what is ‘love’. But of course who can really follow all that besides God Himself? ;) At the very minimum, just love others(enemies) the same way you’d want to be loved! I really don’t think it has to be that complicated.

                But of course we’ve got to set our priorities straight…, I doubt Jesus was commanding us to love our enemies MORE than our spouses… or perhaps God Himself! That’d be stupid! ;)

                And you really don’t think the cross symbolizes God’s love for us? Why else would Jesus willingly get on the cross for us unworthy sinners? His Daddy made him do it? ;) The fact that Jesus would heal the ear of the soldier who tried to arrest him… and pray for those who’re crucifying him are all demonstrations of how he ‘loves’ his ‘enemies’. Sure, he didn’t have to ‘enjoy’ being crucified, it can still hurt bad and nobody enjoys getting hurt. The point is our fleshly response is to hurt them back or to somehow get even. Our Lord has taught us otherwise. It takes a lot of ‘love’ to forgive.

                Rather than becoming a suicide bomber to kill our mortal enemies, we’re actually called to be suicide bombers for God. Except that the ‘bomb’ we’re carrying should be the power and love of God. Rather than self detonate to destroy others, we sacrifice ourselves to build others up. That’s exactly what our Lord has done. Whenever you feel like you’re carrying your own cross, that’s probably when you are loving your enemies! :)

              10. Jason Pratt says:

                Peter: {{Specifically, why does Jesus [at Matt 5:43-48] cite God’s sending of rain as his example of what it means for God to love his enemies? Why not something else?}}

                But Jesus did cite another example: “He causes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good”.

                Moreover, the whole thrust of the passage exegetically is that loving our enemies who hate us (not only loving those who love us), and praying (seeking the salvation) of those who persecute us, is what the Father does; consequently this is what the sons of the Father ought to do as well.

                If therefore the goal of God is to get derivative creatures sorted out so that God and the sons of God only have to love those who love Him, and only greet their brothers, and do not pray for (or even love) those who are still enemies of God–that would seem to be a reversal of the principle that we are to do these things in order to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. The goal does not match the exhortation.

              11. Peter G. says:

                Jason, thanks for the interaction. I’m with you for the most part. But you haven’t really satisfied my curiosity about Matthew 5:43-48. Jesus’ example of the sun rising on the good and the wicked falls in the same category as rain–both are forms of weather within God’s created order that fall on those below irrespective of who they are. This is the kind of love Jesus is calling us to have to those around us–irrespective of who they are.

                But the point is this: Jesus could not have used all God’s interactions with his creatures to make this point. He could not have said, “Love your enemies the way God does for he will separate the sheep from the goats.” This would not have made his point at all and yet, it is true that God will separate the sheep from the goats in the final judgment (in Matthew’s Gospel, no less; cf. Matthew 25). My point is this: of all God’s varied interactions with his own creation (judgment being one of them) Jesus chose these two (rain and sunshine) and I think it’s significant.

                In the end, this is why I think Carson is really onto something when he argues that we need to complicate (in a good sense) our understanding of God’s love. Our love as humans is rich, complex and varied. So too is God’s. But where Carson is especially helpful is in chiding us not to absolutize any one form of God’s love so as to exclude the others. In the same way it would be misleading to absolutize my love for my wife as the only form of love I have on offer, so it would be misleading to suggest that the only form of love God has for creation is his enemy-love (glorious as it is!). Moreover, it would be misleading to suggest that God’s holy wrath towards his enemies is somehow incompatible with his love in toto.

                I hope I haven’t muddied the waters any further. Good discussion.

              12. Jason Pratt says:

                I also very much appreciate the discussion with a learned and civil respondent such as yourself, Peter! {g} (An appreciation I gladly extend to several others in the recent threads, John Thompson coming immediately to mind. {bowing in his direction!})

                Peter G (and hereafter): {{This is the kind of love Jesus is calling us to have to those around us–irrespective of who they are.}}

                Indeed!–the point being that we will thus be like our heavenly Father, a providential blessing love for everyone irrespective of who they are.

                {{ He could not have said, “Love your enemies the way God does for he will separate the sheep from the goats.”}}

                But those goats (baby-goats in the Greek) are separated out for not loving people who fit the archetypal Isaiah list–the context of which is people who have been punished and imprisoned by God for their rebellion! Unlike the mature flock, who did love the people in that list, including those in prison, visiting them with hope. (Most instances translated “sheep” in English would be more accurately “flock” as a general term, including both sheep and goats; one result being that the parable of the 100th “sheep” could just as easily, and in relation to Matt 25 perhaps more accurately, be called the parable of the 100th “goat”!)

                So the Matt 25 sheep and goat (or mature flock and baby-goat) judgment, actually does fit the exhortations of Matt 5:43-48, once the linguistic and exegetical math is added up. The people in Christ’s flock who do not visit the least of those belonging to Christ in prison (imprisoned there by Christ for their rebellions, per the Isaianic list), are revealed to be themselves the least and most stubbornly rebellious of Christ’s flock (baby-goats) and put into prison. Hopelessly so? No more hopelessly so than the other rebels put into prison by God! (Which is again reflected in the Greek by use of a term for punishment meaning “to make small” or “reduce”. This is aside from the question of whether the term used there was also a common remedial punishment term at that time from the analogy of agricultural cleaning such as exemplified in Rom 11.)

                And after all, God does punish with rain and sunshine as well as bless. {g}

                {{ But where Carson is especially helpful is in chiding us not to absolutize any one form of God’s love so as to exclude the others.}}

                Then he must not be absolutizing any one form of God’s love so as to exclude the others in regard to sinners in hell, too. Right? Or does DC say (with every other Calvinist I am aware of) that God excludes at least some love and maybe every love to those in hell? (John Piper, to pull an example from a hat, goes pretty far in affirming God’s love for the non-elect, aside from excluding “saving love” from them; but even he is at least nervous about affirming that God loves the non-elect in hell at all.)

                It should be noted that universalists (or Kaths as I like to abbreviate us), and a few Arminians here and there (like C. S. Lewis), are the only Christians I know of who insist that God does not exclude love from those in hell but gives them every love proper to their current existence as unrepentant sinners: the same love and the same forms of love that was proper for God to give to us as unrepentant sinners.

              13. Peter G. says:

                I hope J. Taylor isn’t annoyed with us for sort of hijacking the thread ;)

                A couple thoughts. First, I appreciate your discussion of Matthew 25:31-46. What passage in Isaiah did you have in mind though? Here are my quibbles. I don’t see your point about the goats being little goats? How is that relevant. If I had to take a stab at it, I would guess that “little goats” are easier to confuse with sheep than are full grown goats. Hence, the term for “little goats” (ἔριφος) serves Jesus’ purpose here much better (that purpose being to show that God knows who are his even when we don’t). But like I said, this is my off-the-cuff guess. I’m not sure what the point is of your comment about “sheep,” however. I am well aware that πρόβατον (“sheep”) can be used as a collective singular. But if you’re trying to force a distinction between individuals in a collective and the collective itself, you’re going to have to do quite a bit more to convince me. There is a Greek word for “flock” (ποίμνη) that Matthew uses in 26:31 but he doesn’t use it here. But I’m not really clear on what you’re saying Matthew 25 is describing. So perhaps I can simply say that the “eternal punishment” (κόλασιν αἰώνιον) of the goats described in 25:46 does not look remedial to me at all. BDAG (p. 555) and Louw-Nida (p. 448) give the following possible definitions for the term κόλασιν (“punishment”): (1) “infliction of suffering or pain in chastisement,” (2) “transcendent retribution,” (3) “to punish, with the implication of resulting severe suffering.” In fairness, I think context should outweigh dictionaries in deciding a word’s precise meaning. In this case, you’re going to have to show me how your proposed definitions (“to make small” or “reduce”) can properly be juxtaposed with “life” (ζωή) and, more importantly, can be delimited by “eternal” (αἰώνιος). So first, where is giving someone “life” (ζωή) spoken of as a way of “enlarging” someone or “making them big”? Second, if eternal life is both qualitative and quantitative, why isn’t eternal punishment? If eternal life is qualitative but temporary then so is eternal punishment. They stand or fall together unless you have a way around this. I’m open to it if you do.

                As for absolutizing God’s love. If I understand him rightly, Carson means we should not absolutize one form of God’s love so that it crowds out the others. He does not mean that all forms of God’s love are directed equally to all the objects of his manifold love. In other words, going back to my analogy, no one would say I don’t love my parents because I don’t love them the same way I love my wife. In both cases, my attitudes and actions toward different relationships is rightfully called love. And so with God. He does not love those in hell in exactly the same way he loves those in heaven but his love for them is no less love because of it. Carson doesn’t specifically address love for those in hell, but I think he might agree with what I just said (though he would say it better and more carefully).

                Here’s what he says, “In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction when a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis. Correcting this, I suggest, is one of the useful things we may accomplish from an adequate study of the love of God in holy Scripture. For God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that” (“Difficult Doctrine,” 77).

                But you really are better of buying the book and reading it than listening to me fumbling along trying to parrot him. His delineation in the first chapter of 5 ways the Bible speaks of God’s love is crucial to his whole argument. Again, key for Carson is that we not let one of these 5 ways crowd out the others. All must be held together happily (not to mentioned preached!) if we are to be honest with Scripture itself.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner.

    There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but this cannot be said with respect to how God sees the sinner.

    “Nevertheless the cliché is false on the face of it, and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, the psalmists state that God hates the sinner, that His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible the wrath of God rests on both the sin (Rom. 1:18–23) and the sinner (1:24–32; 2:5; John 3:36).”

    I let Scripture have the last word. For Scripture (His Word) is the Final Authority.

    1. Billy Liu says:

      Amen. However, besides just quoting a few verses of God’s Word, we also need to try to understand what He truly means, right?

      I take it that you agree with the author that ‘cliche’ should go, but consider the famous Jn3:16. God so love this world… which part of this world is God so in love with? Which specific ‘creature’ did Jesus came to save? Us sinners, right? So I don’t think the cliche is that false or unbiblical, right? Or do you guys truly believe our brothers from the Westboro Baptist Church are really closer to God than most of us?

      1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        “we also need to try to understand what He truly means, right?”

        God truly means that there are and that there will be unrepentant sinners in Hell.

        God decides, I abide.

        1. Billy Liu says:

          No doubt unrepentant sinners will be in hell. No doubt God has the ultimate say when He decides something.

          As God fearing persons, we naturally ought to fear Him precisely because He has the power to send us to hell… but we shouldn’t fear God in such a way that we had no clue on how He makes His decisions, right? As if our God is totally random in His decision making process. I for one like to know Him more that way.

          And if our God is indeed the kind of God preached in Westboro Baptist Church, then I want to go demonstrate with them too! However, based on my understanding of scripture, I don’t believe God is like that.

  11. steve hays says:

    Spera in Deo:

    “Yes, it is because of God’s infinite love for you and concern for your well-being that from all eternity he abandoned you to eternal horror and hopeless unending despair. Why didn’t Rob Bell ever think of that?”

    Are you a clone of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens?

  12. PJ Lincoln says:

    It’s very interesting, although I’m not sure if I have my head wrapped around it yet.

    When I was an agnostic, I got hung up on things like God’s wrath or things that didn’t appear logical to me. I think the problem is that we as human beings want to assign human emotions onto God and, I think, it just doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t love the way we love nor does he hate or display wrath the way that we would. We can not fully understand God; it’s like an ant trying to make sense of a human being. They don’t get us and can’t; we can’t fully “get” God.

    The important thing is to have Faith.

  13. James S says:

    P.J. hits the nail on the head.
    We know that God is always right. It is his character. So whether you undestand something or not, or agree with something or disagree something God Does or Says, we should still bow to Him on the matter just based on His attributes of Love, All-Knowledge, Goodness, Righteousness, Eternality, etc. and admit He’s always right.

    If you believe that God is wrong on something, you have a much bigger problem to deal with than just getting your question of Him answered to your satisfaction.

  14. John Thomson says:

    I greatly appreciate Carson, however, I have always thought he overstates his objection here. It still seems to me a good shorthand for what Tony is saying above.

    I would need to check again but when I checked before I couldn’t find 14 verses in the first 50 Psalms that spoke of God hating the sinner. A few yes.

    1. Tony Byrne says:

      I agree, John. I am usually suspicious of those who are quick to criticize the modern slogan in a reactionary way, though I don’t think Carson himself is guilty of this. I find that older theologians, who were sound in their teaching on the subject (like Edward Polhill), even said, “We see here there is displeasure at the sin, and yet infinite love towards the sinner,…” Then they go on to say, “God may be angry with us as sinners, and yet love us as creatures…anger and love may consist together…If ever there were anger in God, it was at the sin of a world; if ever there were love in him, it was in the gift of his Son. These two may very well stand together.”

      So, if men like Polhill were asked if it is true that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin,” I think he would say, “Yes, in the sense that He loves the creature in His image, but hates the sinner as a worker of iniquity.”

  15. Mark W. Kirby says:

    I am disappointed that Don Carson did not give any references to the fourteen verses he cites in the first fifty chapters of Psalms. After all, this is the thrust of his article. The other verses discuss God’s wrath. As the article says, “wrath” and “hate” are different things.

  16. Caleb Barrett says:

    Just for clarification, Mark, where in the article does it say that “wrath” and “hate” are different things?

    How would you distinguish “wrath” and “hate”?

    1. Mark W. Kirby says:

      It is the fullest implication of the latter part of the article, once you get past the shock/hook section. I will not give you a line by line deconstruction of the article, but it comes out strongest in his line, “Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at once.” Love is the antonym to hate, therefore if wrath is not impossibly taken along side love, than wrath must be something other than hate. “Wrath” is a response to an action, (or lack of an expected action) and can be averted in change of circumstances. It is punishment and vengeance which are responses. “Hate” has less to do with the nature of the object of that hate, but more with the preferences of the hater.

      I mention the hook/shock section because Carson contradicts the cliche “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” seemingly only to draw in the reader. He fails to adequately support his thesis with specific references to “hate,” but instead changes the word “hate” to “wrath” (which he does support), and then proceeds with a good discussion of love and wrath. If he wants to discuss wrath, fine, he does a good job, but why bring in the cliche if for no other reason than to try to stir the pot unnecessarily?

  17. Hisako says:

    Beautiful answer.
    Articles like this cause me to love God more.
    After reading men like Carson and Keller I even came to appreciation of Hell. Existence would be horrible without the beauty of God’s wrath displayed in hell. As saints we should rejoice that hell exists and that we will not go there.

    Jesus is truly the lamb. His grace is amazing!

  18. Shawn says:

    It’s not helpful to talk of God hating sin and loving sinners if we mean that he loves people but just hates the sins they commit. Sin isn’t most fundamentally defined by the list of sins we commit. Rather, sin and rebellion are part of our very nature. Our sinful behavior flows from that sinful nature. God is wrathful against sinful man. Thankfully, in his love he saves some from his wrath by pouring it out on his Son instead.

  19. John Thomson says:

    Yes I see now Carson is counting both the wrath and hate references.

    Caleb I would say wrath can be aroused (deep settled anger at wrongdoing) without necessarily hating (deep animosity towards a person).

    I accept that God hates the sinner and love him at the same time. Tony’s distinction seems apposite. What PJ says also needs borne in mind; there is continuity and discontinuity between human and divine emotions, however, is the discontinuity more to do with the scale rather than the nature of these, especially in God’s people. After all, we are partaker’s of the divine nature.

    1. Caleb Barrett says:

      Thanks for the response John.

      It seems like the distinction that you are making between “wrath” and “hate” is that wrath is anger towards wrongdoing, while hate is anger towards a person. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, is this distinction biblical? Does that way of thinking in distinguishing wrath from hate come from Scripture or philosphy or somewhere else?

      I am honestly asking, I’m not trying to be antagonistic.

      1. John Thomson says:


        I’m not sure. Looking for help here too. Certainly the wrath is directed towards sinners. I was suggesting it is directed towards them because of their sin which is true so far as it goes, however, Shawn’s comment is important – there is no part of us (as unconverted people) that is not sinful and fallen.

        We are described as ‘children of wrath’.

        I’m still not convinced that wrath and hate are synonyms though. I can see in God they both are occasioned by sin in the object.

        1. Tony Byrne says:

          Even if there is a difference between wrath and hate (though I have not heard that argued before), there is no escaping the fact that the bible says God “hates” all workers of iniquity:

          NKJ Psalm 5:5 The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.

          All unbelievers are workers of iniquity, even the unbelieving elect, so they also were once hated. People err, however, when they think this must rule out love of benevolence. That is not the case. God can both hate and love the same person at the same time but in different respects. Certainly God does not delight (i.e. have a love of complacency) in workers of iniquity as workers of iniquity, but He does love them with a love of benevolence as His image-bearers.

          I hope that helps. Grace to you,

          1. Jason Pratt says:

            {{God can both hate and love the same person at the same time but in different respects.}}

            The key difference being that God is not essentially hate, and so although God hates, and does wrath, there is no wrath in Him.

            Thus God revealed to Isaiah, in the midst of many paragraphs about current and forthcoming wrath on various nations:

            “There is no wrath in Me! If someone comes out to fight against Me with thistles and thorns, I will go to war against him, burning those up with fire. But, if he will cling to Me as his refuge, he makes Me his friend. He makes Me his friend.” (Repeated in the scripture for poetic emphasis.)

          2. John Thomson says:


            I think you’ll find the text is eschatological. God is speaking of a time when all his wrath against his people is exhausted and he is acting only in grace and love.

            1. Jason Pratt says:

              No doubt the text is eschatological! But, to repeat my point, it also shows the principle involved: God does wrath, but wrath is not IN God–not the way love is in God (due to God being love.)

              It also shows the point of the wrath, which is to lead rebels home: God does wrath in love, not in wrath (so to speak).

              Isaiah has quite a bit to say about God’s wrath being aimed at leading rebels to repent and convert, with the eschatological expectation that one day (i.e. the Day of the Lord to come) God will be entirely victorious at that goal.

              (I forgot to provide the reference for that citation before; sorry. It’s Isaiah 27:4-5.)

              1. Jason Pratt says:

                Incidentally, the ESV rather badly obscures the point there, although the hint still manages to come through.

              2. John Thomson says:


                I agree in so far as I think God’s wrath is a function of his holiness. I also agree that the heart of God is love though I would add to that (as John does) light (involving holiness).

              3. Jason Pratt says:

                No disagreement here!–so long as we agree that God is light (and holiness) to all things, and so does holiness (and brings light) to all things. Including in wrath.

                If we agree on that, though (and I think John Calvin agreed with that), then by the exact same principle God must be love to all things, and so does love to all things. Including in wrath.

                Similarly, the goal of God must be to bring all created persons to holiness and love.

                This is why God is not said to be hatred or wrath: He does wrath, but it isn’t in Him. God can cease doing wrath to persons (as all Christians everywhere believe), once the goal of the wrath is accomplished, because God is not intrinsically essentially wrath. Or again, God does not have to do wrath at all to all persons (such as unfallen angels) for the same reason. That which God can cease doing or not do at all, is something that God is essentially not.

                But that which God essentially is, God must constantly do and be. God is love, light (holiness, but also power and knowledge) and justice; thus God does love and justice and holiness and power and knowledge toward all, including among the Persons of the substantial Trinity.

                As a trinitarian theist, I absolutely affirm that God’s wrath is a function of God’s justice (and holiness). But as a trinitarian theist, I also absolutely affirm that God’s justice (unlike the sinful ideas of justice among rebel tyrants) is the fulfillment of God’s love and fair-togetherness among persons; consequently God’s wrath is also a function of God’s love toward the object of God’s wrath.

                When the goal of the wrath is accomplished, the thistles and thorns burned away, and the rebel penitently seeks to be reconciled to God, then the wrath is done away with and love remains loving in ways other than in wrath.

              4. John Thomson says:


                Agree with a lot you have said but not all.

                ‘But that which God essentially is, God must constantly do and be’

                I agree that love is at the heart of God but I do not agree that God must always act in love. God is not acting in love when he judges sinful man (at least not love for the sinner). He is not acting in love (love for the sinner) when he punishes him in hell. He is acting in holy judgement. We may say he is acting in love for justice and righteousness but it is a distortion to say he is acting in love to the unrepentant.

                This is why we have to watch when we absolutize what God ‘must’ do. We must allow our ‘musts’ to be guided by what is revealed and not by philosophical judgements.

                I would say God’s actions towards his people are always and only motivated by love, however, his actions towards the ungodly are not necessarily so.

                If God must act in love then what happens to the sovereignty of his love? What about texts like ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated’?

              5. Jason Pratt says:

                John (and afterward): {{I agree that love is at the heart of God but I do not agree that God must always act in love.}}

                Then we must disagree on God being essentially love. This has very serious theological corollaries, as it also involves denying that God is a single interpersonal unity, self-begetting and self-begotten, as God’s essential self-existent reality. That relationship is love, the ground of love, and the final fundamental standard of love (and justice); but if God is not love then God is not that mutual relationship of fair-togetherness between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Maybe that relationship somehow still happens, but it must be accidental to God’s existence if God is not essentially love.

                Having said that, I really have no idea which “lot” of what I said you agreed with! {g} (Maybe the fourth paragraph?)

                {{We may say he is acting in love for justice and righteousness but it is a distortion to say he is acting in love to the unrepentant. […] I would say God’s actions towards his people are always and only motivated by love, however, his actions towards the ungodly are not necessarily so. }}

                I think even Arminians agree that God acts in love to the unrepentant first, and so leads us to repentance; and I have heard it said on occasion that Calvinists are even more emphatic about this being true. I thought I was in agreement with both sides when I affirm that God does not wait for us to repent before He loves us unto salvation!

                But if in fact this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son, the propitiation of our sins (and not for ours only but for the whole world)–for while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, thus demonstrating God’s own love toward us; then it is not in fact a distortion to say that God acts in love to the unrepentant. We all were unrepentant; none of us earned (or ever could earn) the salvation of God, even by our repentance. God loves us first, thus leading us to repentance. (And if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, by the blood of the cross through which He is pleased to reconcile all things to Himself whether in the heavens or on the earth, much moreso, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life!)

                Yet again, if God acts to chastise us (as in Heb 12–a chapter with some reference to warning about Esau’s example, by the way), and does so in love, obviously we are not yet perfectly penitent in regard to our sins but are to some extent still unrepentant of them. Yet God acts in love to us.

                So before we begin to be loyal to God, God acts in love to we unrepentant sinners (a love that the scriptures testify may also be wrath), leading us to repentance; and after we begin to be loyal to God, God still acts in love to us (including with wrath) despite being partially unrepentant sinners. At what point then does it become some distortion of principle for God to act in love to unrepentant sinners even in wrath?! Does the distortion come when God is acting in regard to those unrepentant sinners of there instead of us (because they aren’t us)???

                {{We must allow our ‘musts’ to be guided by what is revealed and not by philosophical judgments.}}

                I would have greater sympathy for this approach if, when various things are produced from the scriptures as revealed testimony that might contravene Calvinist soteriology, philosophical judgments (or even mere assertions) are not attempted (tacitly or explicitly) in order to reconcile back in the direction of Calv soteriology instead of Arminian or Universalist.

                I don’t blame Calvinists for this, any more than I blame Arms or Kaths: any question of whether to interpret testimony A in light of testimony B, or vice versa, or both in regard to testimony C, will always be resolved by metaphysical principles of some sort (and so by philosophy).

                Calvinists have a pretty strong track record of appealing to and philosophically applying doctrines of supernaturalistic theism, for example, in how to interpret scriptural testimony, including in soteriology vs. Arm and Kath soteriologies. I am doing no different, except to expand the doctrinal set to full trinitarian theism rather than only mere monotheism. Since soteriology depends on theology, I appeal to orthodox trinitarian theism (including the filioque, by the way) as a sound set of principles by which to interpret scriptural testimony on salvation and condemnation–at the very least not to contravene ortho-trin doctrines.

                So, to return to the immediate topic: {{If God must act in love then what happens to the sovereignty of his love?}} That is a philosophical question, answered not only with scriptural data (where possible) but by principle analysis (which is metaphysics.)

                My reply in principle is that, obviously, the utter sovereignty of God’s love, by which God is both sovereign and creator if ortho-trin is true (but not if not), is exactly why God must act in love: not due to some overarching standard, much less due to some standard less or other than God, but because God, as God, is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in distinct interpersonal union (neither confounding the Persons, as with “modalism”, nor dividing the Substance, as with the ironically mis-titled “unitarianism”–where there is only singularity in God, not a real unity.)

                My (rather overbrief) scriptural reply would be to ask whether the “path suited for transcendence” that Paul speaks of in 1 Cor 13 is a true love less than God’s? A true love other than God’s? A true love higher than God’s??! Or is it God’s own love?

                If it is God’s own love, then the sovereignty of God’s own love is surely not threatened in any way by the prophetic promise that when all other things have passed away, these three will be remaining, faith and hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

                {{What about texts like ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated’?}}

                What about texts where Esau is personally blessed through Jacob, and by God’s help reconciles with his brother (despite Jacob’s grievous sin against him) in one of the most beautiful passages of the OT? Or, what about texts where Edom (the descendants of Esau and one of the typologies of rebel nations), despite being destroyed to ruins and wilderness, shall at last be saved and restored by God?

                The hatred by God for Esau, or the rejection rather, is God’s sovereign choice to run the line of God’s salvation (the Son Incarnate) through Jacob and not through Esau: Israel is elected to be a light to the world and a blessing of mercy to the Gentiles. In inferring that this must also involve the hopeless dis-election of Esau, even by God’s sovereign choice, not only goes against the prophetic blessing of Isaac for Esau, and not only against the prophetic hope for Edom (though after eschatological punishment), but also against the scriptural context of the OT warnings quoted by Paul in Rom 9: where the saying about the potter and clay, and the warning about answering back to God, was applied against those who said that God was hopelessly punishing rebel Israel (and rebel Gentiles) and would never lead them to repentance and restoration!

                No place was found for Esau in being an authority and ambassador of the gospel, that is true. But a place was found, and will be found, for Esau in the hope of the gospel: the sure and certain hope of God’s victorious reconciliation.

                (But very much more could be said on that topic and my comment is running long already.)

              6. John Thomson says:


                Yes a long response but thanks for doing so. I am wrestling with grasping all you are saying.

                Are you saying all of creation must eventually be saved for the love of God requires this?

                If so, you’ll hardly be surprised to hear I disagree. I do not agree that to say God is love, even essentially love, means he must always act in love. My view on ‘essentially’ means ‘at the heart of’. I do not think it means God must always act in love. Love is not all that God is (as you point out). He is just and free to act in judgement to those who reject his love revealed in grace. He is free to choose to set his love on one and not another.

                He will both judge the nations and save the nations (judge Edom and save Edom). Within biblical story this ultimately means some from Adam will be saved and some will be lost.

                We are not invited to see the destruction of the wicked as an evidence of God’s love for the wicked. It does reveal his love of his justice and power, and his love of his people whom he rescues from those who have persecuted them by destroying (in eternal judgement) those who persecuted them.

                It simply is not the case that every act of God towards an individual is motivated by love for the individual. Consider the many, many acts of destructive wrath towards his enemies. We are never asked to consider these acts as love.

              7. Jason Pratt says:

                John (and hereafter): {{Are you saying all of creation must eventually be saved for the love of God requires this?}}

                Saved from sin, yes. The love of God could hardly require that sinners not be saved from sin; and what justice would require that the unjust not be saved from being unjust?–is justice fulfilled by final injustice??

                {{I do not agree that to say God is love, even essentially love, means he must always act in love.}}

                Well, do you at least agree that God is essentially holiness? And if so, does that mean you disagree whether this means God must always act in holiness?

                Relatedly, do you at least agree that God is essentially self-begetting and self-begotten in an active interpersonal union? If not, then we are not yet agreeing that God is essentially at least binitarian (much moreso trinitarian). But if so, then does that mean you disagree whether being essentially this means God the Father must always act as Father to the Son, and God the Son as Son to the Father?

                (I ask this because I have met nominally trinitarian theologians who nevertheless seem to disagree with that! And they teach this, inadvertently or otherwise, to other people.)

                {{Love is not all that God is (as you point out). He is [also?] just}}

                We appear to be disagreeing here over whether justice has nothing intrinsically to do with love. Thus even if God is justice (not merely that God is just), this does not mean God is an eternally coherent interpersonal relationship acting with and toward one another in fulfillment of love (fairly or justly so, as we might say), i.e. that trinitarian theism is true, but rather that fair-togetherness between persons is one kind of justice God might or might not do and there is another kind of justice opposite from this or apart from this or anyway totally separate and different from this fair-togetherness between persons that God might do instead.

                Thus it would not be dissonant if God acted to fulfill non-fair-togetherness between persons, since God is not intrinsically a relationship of fair-togetherness between persons. He may be Justice, or if not that at least He may be ‘just’. But not in that way necessarily. Or maybe at all.

                I think I would have some trouble agreeing to the proposition that God essentially is things which are not even related to one another (except maybe accidentally), even if “essentially is” meant only that such mutually exclusive things were at the heart of God. But in any case when I want to know what love and justice primarily are, I look to the Trinity for my standard: the ultimate living standard Who convicts me of my sin precisely in that I act to fulfill non-fair-togetherness (un-righteousness) toward other people. I don’t find love and justice to be mutually exclusive there. I find love and justice to be mutually exclusive among sinners instead.

                {{We are never asked to consider these [many, many acts of destructive wrath toward His enemies] as love.}}

                If you mean there are times when this is not mentioned, yes that’s true.

                If you mean there are no times when this is mentioned, that isn’t factually true, but I think I can agree that this is usually true.

                But whether they are mentioned as acts of love or not, I am obligated to read any destructive acts by the Holy Trinity in light of the Holy Trinity: where God’s love, justice and power are substantially identical, not in schism from one another. Just as where all Persons are in operation where one Person is in operation, so is love in operation where justice is in operation and vice versa. They are no more opposed to one another in God than the Father is opposed to the Son or the Son to the Father (or the Spirit to either).

                God’s grace to you this weekend! {bow!}

  20. John Thomson says:


    This too is correct in my view. I fully accept that there is no reason for God to love but he loves nevertheless.

    He sees no good in Israel but he has committed himself to them and cannot let them go.

    Hos 11:7-9 (ESV)
    ​​​​​​​​My people are bent on turning away from me, ​​​​​​​and though they call out to the Most High, ​​​​​​​he shall not raise them up at all. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​How can I give you up, O Ephraim? ​​​​​​​How can I hand you over, O Israel? ​​​​​​​How can I make you like Admah? ​​​​​​​How can I treat you like Zeboiim? ​​​​​​​My heart recoils within me; ​​​​​​​my compassion grows warm and tender. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​I will not execute my burning anger; ​​​​​​​I will not again destroy Ephraim; ​​​​​​​for I am God and not a man, ​​​​​​​the Holy One in your midst, ​​​​​​​and I will not come in wrath. ​​​

    The truth seems to be he loves us and will make us lovable, something of moral beauty.

    Eph 5:25-27 (ESV)
    Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

    1. Tony Byrne says:

      Older theologians also distinguish between love of benevolence and love of complacency. Love of benevolence stands for God’s good will toward all humanity created in His image. Love of complacency is God’s delight in obedient creatures, as when a parent (who already loves the child as His child) also has a delight in the child that obeys. While Jesus and the Father love all creatures with the love of benevolence, Jesus is talking about a love of complacency in the following verses:

      NKJ John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

      NKJ John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

      The distinction is useful (and necessary) for verses such as these.

      1. John Thomson says:


        Thanks again. Both aspects can be seen in the Father’s love for Christ; he loves him simply for who he is but he loves him too because he lays down his life.

        John 3:35 (ESV)
        The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

        John 10:17 (ESV)
        For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

        We see it in parental love too. We love our children just because they are our children but we love them too when they make us rightly proud.

        Of course, this first relational love in God for those made in his image struggles at a couple of points. 1)I don’t think we are ever told we are loved (as sinners) because we are made in his image at creation 2) in fact God’s love for as as sinners seems to be presented as incomprehensible and unprovoked (would it really be appropriate to describe this incomprehensible love as merely the love of complacency c) elective love distinguishes even among those made in his image.

        There are imponderables here no doubt.

        Carson’s little book ‘The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God’ is also an excellent read (I need to go and re-read it. It is available (or was) as a download on this site.

        1. Tony Byrne says:

          Of course, this first relational love in God for those made in his image struggles at a couple of points. 1)I don’t think we are ever told we are loved (as sinners) because we are made in his image at creation 2) in fact God’s love for as as sinners seems to be presented as incomprehensible and unprovoked (would it really be appropriate to describe this incomprehensible love as merely the love of complacency c) elective love distinguishes even among those made in his image.

          I am not sure what you mean by “relational love” in the above. Love of benevolence or love of complacency?

          1) Though God’s love of benevolence is not stated explicitly as “God loves His own image” in scripture, I think it is implied when we are warned against cursing people created in His image and likeness (James 3:9). We should bless (not curse) those made in God’s image, which is to say that we are to love them. Why? It is because God Himself loves them who are in his image and likeness. There may be other arguments, but this is the first one that came to mind.

          2) I am not sure what you mean by your second point. Although God’s love exceeds our grasp, we can know some things about it truly/analogically. There must be an univocal element between our love and God’s, otherwise we don’t know what it is. Also, God’s love of complacency is, in a sense, conditional. Not all men or adopted children are obedient. God only takes delight in the obedient with the love of complacency, but all men receive God’s love of benevolence.

          3) Yes, electing love discriminates, as it is a special love, not the general or common love of benevolence. We might also distinguish between electing love and love of complacency. God has an electing love upon some (the unbelieving elect) that are disobedient or still dead in sin.

          I just wanted to offer the above as further clarification. It seems we are on the same page in our essential understanding.


        2. John Thomson says:


          By relational love I meant love of benevolence (it is based on image-bearing).

          By #2 I was saying the difficulty of benevolent love (based on relationship of image-bearing in creation) comes up against the Bible’s teaching that God’s love is unprovoked. There is no reason for it (#1) and every reason against it… while we were yet enemies Christ died for the ungodly etc. My question was whether the bible intends us to see the ‘unprovoked’ sense of this love as applying only in the sense of ‘complacency’. Is it not intended to be viewed more absolutely to embrace both benevolence and complacency.

          I was simply considering some of the weaknesses of a view that I also think has merit. Yes I am with you I believe. There are, as I say, imponderables in this matter.

  21. Jason Pratt says:

    The only thing I would disagree with in the paragraphs quoted from Don Carson is that we look to the cross to see God’s wrath, if by this DC means God’s wrath against Jesus (as this would involve a schism of the Persons, or perhaps of the two natures of Christ.)

    I would have no disagreement with those paragraphs at all if he means that on the cross God voluntarily shares the punishment of sinners with sinners.

    I will however observe that it is usually an Arminian or Universalist idea that God is still actively loving sinners in hell (and not always an Arminian notion either!) I do not recall offhand what position DC takes on that, but I am pretty well aware of what the usual Calvinist position is on that: a denial that God must love sinners because that is the kind of God He is (thus of course God need not and does not love sinners in hell. Or perhaps the non-elect at all.)

    Interesting quotes from Don (via Tony) at any rate, Justin. Thanks!

    1. Chad S. says:

      This is well put.
      I love hell because it shows God’s glory and justice.
      Without those attributes, He is not God.
      Hell is a powerful and wonderful display of God’s glory.
      It is second only to the cross.

      1. Jason Pratt says:

        I agree with each of those statements, Chad. But to clarify my position: as a trinitarian theist, I understand God’s glory and justice to be the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons (as it is in the Trinity, at and as the foundation of all reality, especially as the foundation and standard of all ethical behavior.)

        Consequently, from a coherently trinitarian theology, the punishment of God (even in hell) must have the fulfillment of positive justice in view: that the persons God is acting toward, even in wrath, shall become just, as God is just.

        I affirm then that God must love sinners because that is the kind of God He is: the interPersonal unity of the Trinity.

        (If God, to give one of many contrasting examples, was only a single-person monotheism, such as Muslims believe, or Arian Christians in various ways, I would have no particular reason not to deny that God must love anyone. Love would only be, at best, something God partially or occasionally does. Not what God essentially is. Ortho-trin theism has strong uniqueness among theologies in this regard.)

  22. Paul Adams says:

    Wow….a blast from the past. I have this edition and recall reading this profound insight, which tweaked my view enormously on God’s love/wrath.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  23. The wrath of God exists because He is infinitely holy and just. “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.” (Job 34:10) It is an impossibility that His wrath (including the actions that flow from it) could be wrong in any way.

    Consider that the single sin of Adam alone was enough to bring judgment upon the whole world. This is not because God is unloving or unfair, but because sin is horribly worse than we think it is. A violation of God’s law is awful beyond our understanding. And it is only because of God’s mercy, which is new every morning, and which is over all of His works, clouds us into thinking otherwise.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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