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God Is A God Of Love Religion Essay

Abstract

Many people argue that if God is a God of love who cares for his people, then the world would not be full of suffering. They question God’s very existence. However, as we search the Old Testament and the New Testament we see a God of righteousness and love who is ever present and hears the cry of his children and responds. He delivers them from oppression and looks out for the widow, the orphan, the poor and the suffering.

Introduction

In this essay I describe why and how the God of the Bible responds to suffering in the world. I also explore how understanding the Trinity of God gives us a clearer understanding of God’s motivation and response to the world’s suffering.

Why God responds to evil and suffering

God is a God of Love

God responds to evil and suffering in the world because he is a God of love. He responds with love and compassion, alongside wrath and judgement to return the cosmos to its original state of perfect harmonious community. [1] God’s love is shown in the Biblical portrayal of his own suffering. Fiddes states in his article, ‘Why believe in a Suffering God’, that “love means at least a communication between persons, a self-expression of one to another in a way that creates true community and this also will involve suffering.” [2] Throughout the Old Testament the prophets speak of the suffering of God when his people reject his love. Jeremiah 31:20, “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.”” [3] The passage is just one of many examples that speak of the anguish of God because he is a God of Love of his love.

He is a God who has not abandoned humans, but a God who is actively involved in the day-to-day lives of his creation. God shows us his ultimate response to evil and suffering, with the birth, death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. It was through Jesus that God fully revealed the height and the depth of his love for his children. God’s genuine communication of love is found in Jesus suffering on the cross. [4] We worship a God of love who is a sympathetic God.

The story of God’s prophet Hosea gives us such a clear picture of how God suffers because of his incomprehensible love for his people. Hosea was chosen to marry a prostitute who would betray him and run off with other lovers. Yet Hosea’s love for his wife never fails, despite the suffering he goes through in knowing that his heart’s desire has turned away from him. [5] God shows us that he is like Hosea, who has a passionate love for his people and suffers every time they turn from him. He responds and continually calls us to him because of his eternal love for his children.

b. God is a God of Justice

God is not a God of silence, he responds to evil and suffering in the cosmos not only with action and compassion but also with justice. We see throughout the scriptures Gods wrath and judgement on sin and evil. Death was a result of sin and “Death is alienation. It is the enmity of the world toward God and itself. And, in turn, it is God’s sorrowful judgment on this rebel creation.” [6] 

We not only see God’s justice through death but through God’s judgement on Israel’s enemies and ultimately on the spiritual forces that rule this world. God’s action to relieve the suffering of his people and judge the Egyptians gave the Israelites answers to the worldwide question concerning evil and redemption. [7] God does not tolerate evil. The Egyptians came under his judgement and faced many plagues which ultimate resulted in the death of their first-born sons, while the Israelites were freed from slavery and remained unharmed.

There will come a time when all will stand before God on the Day of Judgment and give account for the suffering they caused his people. [8] The New Testament gives us the climax of Yahweh’s plan and purpose to overcome and destroy the evil powers that are present. Just as God defeated the Pharaoh in Egypt so he will defeat the kings and rulers who plot against the will and sovereignty of God and cause suffering of his people. [9] 

c. God Must Act

The defining characteristic of a fallen world, or the cosmos is Domination. These powers and domination are not just as a result of humanity’s sin, they are a result of universal sin. [10] God responds because he must; “evil exists in the society outside the individual and exerts and influence upon him or her.” [11] We are not capable as humans to defeat these powers and principalities without the help of God. God responds because the struggles we face are against the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. [12] 

How God responds to evil and suffering

a. He provides us with the bigger picture

The God of the bible constantly acts with the end in sight. “The point, the end, is that the Bible insists that God is entirely just, and that therefore ultimately justice will be done, and will be seen to be done. Because this entails appealing to the End, that is, to what has not yet taken place, it involves walking by faith.” [13] Jesus in Matthew 13, the parable of the sower, shows us the importance of keeping the end in sight. The workers of the field are not forbidden to pull up the weeds that have been sowed amongst the good grain. If the weeds are pulled up and evil and suffering dealt with before time the good grain may also be uprooted and die. Christ shows us that there is a time when the harvest will be ready and good and evil will be separated, but that time has not yet come. [14] 

When the glory of Jesus returns, suffering and evil will no longer exist, it will be the final chapter in a loving God returning the earth to its original intention. “But one of the perspectives that helps is the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth-and hell. The entire totting up is not yet complete.” [15] All of God’s actions and interventions into humanity are made with the end in mind, that God will reign and community will be restored. In this new heaven and new earth that God has promised to his children, there will be no more tears, no more evil and no more suffering. God has acted to save and restore his children to a harmonious community of love for his glory. In the book of Romans, Paul focuses on the freedom and glory we have as children of God, however we do not have this freedom in its full measure. We are called to wait patiently through the suffering so when Jesus Christ comes again and his glory is revealed we will have eternal hope. [16] “The risen Christ is the down payment on that time of ingathering, a preview of the coming attraction. The future of God is assured. And the way to that future is the suffering Love that triumphed over sin and evil, and now the last enemy, death.” [17] 

b. Restoring the Cosmos and Redeeming Creation

We see in the book of Daniel, “a well defined case of an evil spiritual being ruling over an area with explicitly defined boundaries.” [18] Daniel 10 also speaks of demonic forces or beings ruling over nations. [19] Without God’s intervention, our world would be a place of untouched destruction. God responds because we are helpless to conquer, he will restore the cosmos to its rightful owner. “God’s saving work is holistic in terms of humanity, history and nonhuman creation.” [20] He has already disarmed the powers of this world through the cross, however it is the final salvation that creation groans after where God will restore his kingdom and there will be no evil and suffering. [21] 

God responds by saving his people

One of the very first stories recorded in the bible about God’s heart for and response to the oppressed is found in the story of Exodus. We see God’s people bound by slavery and suffering under the evil dictation of an Egyptian Pharaoh. It was here in Egypt that Israel first encounters Yahweh, as they cry out to him to relieve their pain. They cry out for compassion and we see the heart of God move as he intercedes on their behalf. “What is crucial about the exodus as it is remembered in the Old Testament is that God graciously intervened “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” in what seemed to be a hopeless, ‘no-exit’ historical situation to provide for his people precisely a way out.” [22] We see a God who saves his people.

God not only saves from evil and suffering but provides guidelines for the Christian to live by in order to live a life free of evil and suffering. At Mt Sinai God wrote on stone tablets the Ten Commandments and gave them to Moses to pass onto his children. The book of Leviticus provides his chosen people with God’s moral law, which showed the Israelites and us today God’s heart to see the poor, oppressed and suffering cared for and looked after in a world of evil. The “moral law in the hands of Christian love reads justice as equality of option to fill every need, freedom as liberation from all tyranny, order as the civilizing boundaries that make social existence tolerable, and mutuality as the community necessary for human life together.” [23] Later on with the introduction of the Davidic monarchy the theology of the Old Testament stressed that the king was the instrument chosen by God to protect the interests of the poor. [24] God often acts throughout history through his servants; he calls his people to reach out to the poor to be his hands and his feet.

God’s ultimate response to evil and suffering was to send his son Jesus Christ to earth and offer his body as the atoning sacrifice, to conquer death and disarm the powers and rulers of this world. “The Christian Story in the New Testament in the story of the good news of Jesus Christ who triumphed over the power of death, the punishment for evil, through his resurrection.” [25] Christ is the Lamb that was slain, the Lion of Judah whose blood defeated evil and rescued human beings and the world from its tyranny. God’s salvation for us from sin through Christ not only allows relationship restored between humans and himself but is a comprehensive salvation that will ultimately restore perfection between creation and himself. [26] This was the ultimate act of God. Without the sacrifice and the suffering of Jesus, Easter would have no response to suppose that good will prevail over evil. [27] The cross of Christ speaks not only of an atoning sacrifice for the sinfulness of humanity; it speaks of God’s redemptive solidarity with suffering. [28] 

d. God responds by Using His People

God responds by choosing to use his people to act on his behalf. “The very presence of the prophets to declare God’s curses and blessing upon people of all nations testifies to a God who actively intervenes in the affairs of humanity on behalf of the oppressed poor, the widow, the orphan and the refugee.” [29] God is actively calling his people to reach out to the poor and suffering, it is the only true religion that he accepts. [30] Thus when we see people suffering in the world we are moved into compassion and action because of our experience of God’s grace. [31] Just as we see God use Moses as the tool to free his people from the bondage of slavery to the Egyptians, so God will use us to achieve his purposes of responding to the suffering cries of his people. [32] 

Theology of the Trinity

The Trinity of God gives us a clear understanding of the heart of God and his response to evil and suffering. In the Christian tradition, love (specifically unconditional love, or agape love) is an expression of the essential nature of God. A God of love says something of his person, his essential nature. 1 John 4:8 states “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” [33] Agape love must be given to one another; it cannot be experienced by only one being. [34] As John states that God is love, this leads us to an understanding that God is a plurality of persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Agape love is the very fundamental nature of the Trinity. “Throughout all eternity the Father loves the Son, and the Son reciprocates the Fathers love.” [35] 

The beginning of the fourth gospel, John helps us in our understanding of the Trinity. It speaks of “the personified Word of God that ‘is’ God. The Word is not the totality of God but part of the reality of God.” [36] John’s gospel goes on to say that the Word became flesh and came into the world (Jesus Christ, sent by the Father). [37] Jesus himself throughout the gospels in one hundred and eighteen references made a reference to ‘Father’. [38] The Father and Son work in perfect harmony and community and it is in creation that we can see this agape love and community working. God the ‘Father’ is the creator of all things, yet Jesus Christ the Son also has activity and involvement. The Son is the Lord Jesus Christ ‘ through whom are all things.’ [39] 

Biblical theologians use the ‘spirit’ to describe God’s eternal nature, thus the Holy Sprit or the third person of the Trinity comes into play. It is through Jesus’ baptism that we see interaction between the Trinity and the three-foldness of God. The Spirit in the form of a dove comes down into Jesus and God the Father speaks to his Son. [40] “The Spirit is variously identified as ‘the Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit of Christ’. It’s major function here, as in the fourth gospel, is to designate the present work of God and Christ in the life of the faithful.” [41] We see in the Trinity three persons working in complete harmony and perfect community; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the task of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity to establish God’s eternal community. “The Spirit therefore is the dynamic of God at work completing the divine program. He is the divine love at work drawing creation into fellowship –into true community.” [42] The Trinity is the ultimate example God could give us of love and interpersonal communion.

We can see God’s response to suffering, evil, the poor and the oppressed expressed through the community of love in the Trinity. “Even the early experiences of God’s Spirit are experiences of how new beginning is made toward restoring the community of God’s people. They are experiences of the forgiveness of sins, of the raising up of the ‘crushed and oppressed’, and of the renewal of the forces of life.” [43] 

As Christians we have the Holy Sprit dwelling in us, which testifies to the work of Christ and effects righteousness in us. It is the spirit that teaches Christians to know the Father in Jesus the Son. [44] If we as Christians understand the Trinity of God we realize that God is not about power and self-sufficiency and authority but about equality and love. [45] It is this doctrine of the Trinity that speaks to our souls and helps us to understand and intimately know the mystery of God’s love and it guides us in our understanding to see God’s nature and the way and reasons he responds to suffering. Because God is love he wants to see that true community and agape love restored in his creation. “A genuinely Christian reflection on social issues must be rooted in the self-giving love of the divine Trinity as manifested on the cross of Christ; all the central themes of such reflection will have to be through from the perspective of the self-giving love of God.” [46] 

Conclusion

Throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures we see a God of love that responds to evil and suffering. We see a just God who intervenes in human history to lift up the oppressed and suffering and bring deliverance. We see a God who offers salvation to his children and who promises a day when all suffering will be gone and evil will be no more. It is through an understanding of the community and love shown to us in the Trinity of God that we can truly understand God’s response and intervention in the cosmos.


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