How Is God’s Love Different Than Human Love?

Art from Diane of 1of1doodles


germandreambaby asked a question:

Do you think that the love God has for us and for the entire creation is somehow different than what we understand as love? I mean, does the love of God have (entirely) different characteristics than human love? thanks for answering!


Hey dear friend, the short answer is: sort of yes and sort of no.

The love of the Christian God is so unique in that it purports no agenda, has no need for reciprocation, and has the motive of no-motive. God’s love exists simply because it does, for no reason except that He loves. There is no transaction, no equal exchange, no real economy. It is like a waterfall with no source and no ending, a constant wave after wave.

At the same time, God is unflinching when it comes to justice as being a part of love. Love is not merely sentimental, but also incorporates the safety and health of the other. That means telling the truth and keeping others accountable and gently persuading others away from the cliff of self-destruction. C.S. Lewis said it best: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  In fact, Lewis said this within the context of WWII, in the midst of atrocities, referring to how we can love the “enemy.”

Many of us will lean too much to one side or the other. In other words, every culture will have an incomplete misinformed idea of “love” because it’s either too sentimental or too safe. We go for sappy careless love and end up enabling and spoiling. We go for “tough love” and end up controlling and wounding. We get our boundaries wrong all the time, either too much or too little. We might pour out until we’re irresponsibly draining ourselves, or we might speak so much truth that we come off shrill and unapproachable. Sometimes we hold on too long or we let go too early. Such a perfectly balanced love is impossible for us, and we will never get it completely right.


Only God can persistently and consistently do both. He’s an endless well so He never has a shortage of supply. And His holiness is so attractive and beautiful that even His hardest truth is healing. God can pierce the heart in our most naked vulnerability until we are both rebuked and restored. Human love must work; God’s love just works.

The one similarity that our love can have with divine love is that love exists for who the person is and not what they can do for you. This idea in the Bible is called a covenant. It’s a “just-because-love” that keeps no score and has no prerequisites. There’s no list of pros and cons. It does not “marry for the money,” but simply for who you are.

I have always believed that the greatest sin is opportunism. All of Scripture and nearly every worldview is against using, abusing, manipulating, and deception. This is where God’s love can inform us the most. We can lean into people who are nothing like us, who can give us nothing back, who are inconvenient and even intolerable, but with wisdom and wise choices, we can pour out to the least likely — since we, too, were the least likely for God’s love towards us.

You can see this as far back as Deuteronomy 7, which says:

7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.


We only see a few similar types of love like that on the earth.

Parents’ love for their children are nearly instant the second the child is born; there’s no “dating” or “chemistry” required to get there.

Love can be seen in sudden sacrifice with life-and-death situations, even for strangers or the “unworthy.”

Love can be seen in adoption. Love is eventually seen when a child takes care of their parents in old age, long after the parents have become an exhausting burden. Love can be seen when parents take on their prodigal kids again and again. Love can be seen when a friend holds another friend accountable, regardless of how uncomfortable or tense it will become.

And love is there, when Jesus walked the earth, and he found even people like me you. We can do likewise with the person right in front of us, without counting them against them.

J.S.

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4 thoughts on “How Is God’s Love Different Than Human Love?

  1. Hi J.S.:
    You don’t seem to provide your first name anywhere in your blogs, so “J.S.” it is.

    You seem like a nice guy and, if I were Christian, I suppose I would attend church if there were someone around such as yourself. I have been reading your blog for a few months now and looking through some of your archives. You mention being a skeptic in several places. That interests me as I am thoroughly involved in the “Skeptical Movement” and by that I mean that I am a strong advocate for the widespread teaching and understanding of science and critical thinking – something I think of as a life-long endeavor. I would like to hear your story about how you moved from being a skeptic and an atheist to Christianity. If you have written a blog entry covering this, perhaps you could point me to it.

    But I’m not a Christian and, frankly, one of the “events” of my life that turned me away from Christianity was a crazy thing I did when I was in my early 20’s: I read The Bible.

    Today, I had to respond to this most recent post about “God’s Love”. I was going to refrain until you brought up that passage from Deuteronomy. If you are going to invoke anything from the Old Testament as a source of examples of God’s love then, OK, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

    In Exodus 21, God conveys detailed instructions as to rules around buying, selling, owning and disciplining of human slaves. It is, by the way, OK to beat them as long as you don’t kill them outright. It is, however, fine if they linger and then die a few days after the beating. You can only keep a slave for 6 years, then you have to free them. But God also describes a tactical maneuver to indenture them for life by keeping the slave’s wife and children as bargaining chips. The slave gets to choose between his wife and kids and his freedom. If he chooses the wife and kids, he becomes the owner’s property for life! Isn’t that great how God provided wealthy land owners with a divine loophole to enslave a human being and his family for their entire life? It’s almost as if it was a wealthy land-owner who counselled God on that particular amendment. But that, of course, is ridiculous.

    Throughout “Numbers” and “Deuteronomy”, Moses, always under the council of God, directs his people to commit one act of genocide and mass murder after another. I tried to keep track of it all once but it was overwhelming. It went on and on from Exodus right through to Joshua and beyond.

    “And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them”
    – Deuteronomy 7:4

    “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” – Numbers 31: 17-18

    Honestly, I just quickly scanned Numbers and Deuteronomy and picked out a tiny fraction of the “highlights”. These things I knew nothing about, after attending church all of my life, until I picked the book up and read it myself.

    Yet, you surely know, J.S., that there is more, much more, genocide, rape, slaughter and cruelty carried out by Moses, and later Joshua, and all at the behest of God himself.

    I guess there should be a question at the end of all this, and here it is:

    How do you open up a book and select a single isolated passage that seems to profess a reasonable expression of God’s love, knowing full well of the other passages in close proximity containing nothing but descriptions of Gods cruelty, and genocidal nature?
    Thanks,
    Mark

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    1. Admittedly, it is difficult to understand slavery and marriage as it was in that time.

      First, we need to understand that a servant was someone who had likely sold off rights to his property (which he would have returned at the Jubilee, receiving another chance) and also probably most of his possessions. Further, no redeemer from his family had stepped up. You didn’t end up a slave unless you were destitute with nobody to care for you.

      Second, we need to understand that marriage was effectively the only way (other than a father caring for them) that a woman would be provided for at that time. The wife of the servant was a woman who’s parents could not (or, sadly, would not [1 Timothy 5:8]) support her and so had sold her off to be supported by the master.

      The concept of a benefactor is huge to understanding all of this within the culture at hand. Was slavery beneficial to the master? Absolutely. However, it was also beneficial to the servant. It was not out of the question for servants to attain roles that were more honorable and rewarding than most jobs are today. In the case of Joseph, even to the point of leading a nation (Genesis 41:41).

      The scriptures about this topic are not encouraging slavery, but rather seeking to reduce the likelihood of oppression of the poor within the economic model that involved slavery. Reading the prophets shows just how seriously God took oppression of the poor.

      Could God have forced the implementation of our more “civilized” economic models of today? He certainly had the option.

      Children are increasingly more likely to grow up with only one parent. That parent likely puts them in daycare because they can’t both be involved with their child’s growth and support them financially (this even happens with two parent households). People actually celebrate this as a social success now!

      If a person is financially ruined, they have little hope of climbing the ladder to something akin to upper management. Instead, we limp them along with barely enough to live on indefinitely, with no impending Jubilee.

      Effectively, we’ve mastered oppressing the poor and the vulnerable and whitewashed it in the name of personal freedom and being more civilized. The slavery model of that time certainly had it’s abuses and issues. However, imagining we’ve reached a pinnacle of human flourishing with our current social programs requires that we ignore an awful lot of suffering people.

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      1. Hey Jason, some good thoughts. I think people forget about Jubilee and other important historical factors, like context. I wish the word “slavery” in the Bible could be re-worked since it’s so baggage-laden; not that it wasn’t without its problems in biblical history, but it keeps getting confused with anachronistic misinterpretation.

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    2. Hey Mark, thank you so much for your kind words and also the very fair, generous questions you asked.

      First, I hope you’ll allow me the grace to point you to some posts, which you can browse or skip altogether:
      https://jsparkblog.com/2015/02/23/why-is-god-so-homicidal-in-the-old-testament/
      https://jsparkblog.com/2014/01/06/question-god-seems-a-little-crazy-in-the-old-testament-a-mega-post-on-the-ot/

      The truth, of course, is that I absolutely wrestle with many parts of the Bible. There’s quite a lot of “cringing” when I read certain sections. I think some of the stuff about slavery is rather misinterpreted (the part about “beating your slave” and such has certain mistranslations, though I know that sounds like a cop-out), and some of the stuff on genocide is not as clear-cut as it might seem. I’ve found quite a few good defenses about what’s actually happening here in these passages that make them less troubling, while probably still leaving some unanswered questions. I’m certain I will wrestle with these until the very end; there’s no hand-waving all the craziness of the OT. I have no advice or snappy reply, but rather, I can only honestly wrestle with the tension between reconciling these passages with a loving God.

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