Almighty Love Steve Sweetman
Love In Context
In a previous article I made this statement.
"The degree to which we can begin to understand the Almighty
Creator God, is the degree to which we can begin to understand Him as
our loving Father." To
put it another way, I don't believe we can begin to understand the love
of God until we begin to understand the almighty and powerful nature of
God. I write the following
to explain why I make this statement.
Do I Make This Statement?
First of all, I believe that in the western world at
large, and also in many Christian circles, we have adopted a lopsided
view of God. God created us
in His image, but in our minds, we often recreate Him in our image.
We humanize God to be someone we want Him to be, not who He is.
Therefore, our mental image of God is often not Scriptural.
Much of the prevailing thinking today views God as
simply a God of love, or worse still, just love, and we know the world
defines love differently than the Bible. Viewing
God simply in terms of love has implications.
From this lopsided view comes the philosophy of tolerance that
has no concept of Biblical morality.
It also results in a non-Biblical idea that God holds no one
responsible for his actions. An
over emphasis on the love of God can distract us from reverencing Him as
we should. A spirit of
familiarity sets in, making Him our buddy, when He's not.
We think we know God, when we don't.
We only know the imaginary god we've created in our minds who is
no different than the idols found in Old Testament times.
Both the idols and our imaginary concept of God are a product of
the human imagination, not Scripture.
How many times have you heard this question asked?
"If God is a God of love, why does He allow all the
suffering in the world?" This
is a logical question when you simply believe that God is love.
When you begin to see God in His totality, the question is easily
answered, and becomes almost irrelevant.
Beyond this trend to humanize God in our thinking,
what really motivated me to write my opening statement was the quote
that opens chapter 6 of the book entitled "The Shack".
Jacques Ellul, a twentieth century French philosopher said, "No
matter what God's power may be, the first aspect of God is never the
absolute master, the Almighty. It
is that of the God who puts Himself on our human level and limits
The author of "The Shack" has pulled
Ellul's quote from his writings which I haven't read, so to be fair, I
don't know the context of this statement.
If I understand Ellul right, he is saying that the first and
predominant way in which we should view God is as our loving Father who
has placed Himself into the limitations of humanity.
The idea that God is the Almighty Creator is a secondary aspect
of God that we shouldn't dwell on. I
certainly believe that God is our loving Father, but He is much more
than that. The rest of who
God is, is equally important. I'm
not convinced that one aspect of God is any less significant than
another. They are all
I don't pretend to know God as well as some suggest
they do. I really don't
think we can understand the totality of who God is.
I know some Christians will argue that point, but He is way
beyond our human ability to comprehend.
I may get in trouble saying the following, and I know I'm
generalizing, but I'll say it anyway.
When we were children, we played imaginary games.
We had imaginary friends, imaginary cars, imaginary castles, and
imaginary everything. We
didn't need store-bought props. We
could get so caught up in our imaginary world that the imaginary seemed
more real than the real world around us.
Sometimes I think we've carried this type of imaginary imagery
into our adult lives as Christians.
What we believe of God and sometimes experience might be more
imaginary imagery than Biblical truth.
I think this way because of some Christians I've met over the
years who appear to demonstrate this tendency.
Our concept of God is vitally important. If
we misunderstand some basic issues of God, much of what we believe about
Christian things will be misunderstood.
How we believe affects everything we do.
Biblical truth must be the foundation of our thinking.
Too often our imagination and our feelings take priority over the
Bible. That shouldn't be, because truth matters.
Here's an example of what I'm saying. In the King
James Bible, Jesus called the Holy Spirit the "Comforter" in
John 14:16 and 26, 15:26, and 16:7.
In the New International Bible Jesus called Him the
"Counselor" instead of the "Comforter", and I think
rightly so. When mentioning
this to one lady friend, she replied, "no way, the Holy Spirit is
my comforter. Counselor
sounds too clinical." Comforter
was her mental image of the Holy Spirit.
That is what she wanted the Holy Spirit to be to her, despite
what this verse said. I'm
not saying the Holy Spirit can't comfort us.
He certainly does, but once again, He is more than comfort. We
can't place our feelings and mental images over what the Bible says and
allow them to shape our thinking. If
we think differently than the Bible, we need to change our thinking.
God is far above our comprehension.
That's one reason why He became flesh and blood in the first
place. The only way I can
understand God is through Jesus. Whatever
Jesus said or did, is an exact expression of who God is.
So if you want to know God, take a very close look at
"everything" Jesus said and did.
Don't leave anything out. Sometimes
we pick and choose what we want to believe.
I've heard people say, "my Jesus wouldn't do that" when
in fact He did do that. Yes,
Jesus did get angry when He overthrew the money exchangers tables in the
temple. The Bible clearly
states that apart from Jesus, it is not humanly possible to know God.
The apostle Paul said that in this present life we
know and understand these things dimly. (1 Corinthians 13: 9) These
words are from the lips of a man who on one occasion found himself in
heaven. He saw things that
he was not permitted to tell anyone. (2 Corinthians 12:4) Even
with this exclusive knowledge, Paul said he understood things in part.
If this was so with Paul, how much more so is it with us?
Paul's understanding was limited.
My understanding is therefore even more limited than
In the articles that follow, I will not attempt to explain who God is in His totality, because I can't. I will merely point out a few Biblical passages and concepts that I believe give us a glimpse of who God is, and how He thinks about us and things we do. So, the degree to which we begin to understand these things, is the degree to which we can begin to understand and appreciate the love of God. I am convinced of that.
Defining God in His totality is a subject way too big
for this format. Besides, I
can't do that. I only wish
to share a few Scriptures that state the awesomeness of the God we
serve. I seldom use the word
awesome because I think it should only apply to God, for He only is
awesome. If we can see just
a little glimpse of God's awesomeness, it should humble us.
At that point, we'll begin to appreciate His love.
Therefore, the degree to which we can understand the awesome
nature of God will be the degree to which we can begin to appreciate His
Despite Jacques Ellul's quote found in chapter 6 of
The Shack, the first aspect of God we see in the Bible is the Almighty
Creator God, which Ellul says is not the aspect of God we should first
think of when we think of
Genesis 1:1 says that "Elohim" created the
heavens and the earth. Elohim
is a Hebrew word and is the first name for God that we see in the Bible.
It expresses His Almighty Creative power that Ellul says is a secondary
aspect of God. "Elohim"
simply spoke all things into existence with absolutely no effort.
Man has hardly begun to understand His creation, even though many
scientific minds believe we have. The
name "Elohim" clearly expresses the almighty and awesome
nature of our God.
The next aspect of God we see in Genesis is that of
is associated with the loving nature of God because this name is often
linked to God's covenantal promises he spoke to the patriarchs of
The next aspect of God we see in Genesis is in
Genesis 15:2 when Abraham
recognized God as His "Sovereign Lord".
That's "Adonai Yahweh".
The Hebrew word "Adonai" implies ownership.
Abraham was saying that "Yahweh", the eternal "I
AM", owned him. "Yahweh"
was Abraham's master. Abraham
did not think for a minute that "Yahweh" was his buddy.
Now that's something to think about in our "I'm my own
The next aspect of God seen in the Genesis account is
reflected in yet another name associated with God.
In Genesis 28:3 Isaac recognized God as "El Shaddai",
or, "God Almighty" in English.
The earliest meaning of "El Shaddia" that we know of
seems to be symbolized in the term "The Mountain One",
suggesting strength. Thus
the term "Almighty" in English.
Once again, "almighty" according to Ellul is a
secondary aspect of God.
Exodus 6:2 and 3 in the NIV reads, "God also
said to Moses, 'I am the Lord. (Yahweh) I
appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, (El Shaddia)
but by my name the Lord
(Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them."
God is saying that He appeared to the patriarchs as "El
Shaddia", the Almighty One. That
was their mental image of Him. Even
though the patriarchs used the term "Yahweh", they understood
Him as "El Shaddai", the Mighty One. It
appears that the name "Yahweh" was further clarified during
the days of Moses.
The reason why I mention Exodus 6:2 and 3 is for its
context. God was going to
judge and deal with
If you stop and think about it for a bit,
"Elohim", "Yahweh", "Adonai", and "El
Shaddai" are four inseparable aspects of God. I
don't see that any one aspect of God is more important and predominant
than any other. These
aspects of God, and others as well, all show the powerful and awesome
nature of God that Ellul says is a secondary aspect of God.
I don't think we can simply view God as love and ignore the rest
of who He is.
So there you go.
I've only scratched the surface of one Old Testament book that
clearly shows the Almighty Creator aspect of God.
We can't ignore this or else we are ignoring the Bible that
Christians claim is the authoritative Word of God, or at least we used
to make that claim. That
seems to be changing these days.
Just in case you think Elohim has changed since Old Testament days, we'll see that He hasn't changed in my next chapter when we take a look at the New Testament.
And The New Testament
1:3 says that Jesus is the exact representation of God.
So, if you want to attempt to understand who God is, according to
the Bible, you must take a serious look at Jesus.
That includes everything He said and did. Don't leave anything
no argument that Jesus is the embodiment of love, but to bring balance
to the discussion, He is more than love.
If we simply view
Jesus as being the embodiment of love, which I think the book entitled
"The Shack" does, then we have a lopsided view of Jesus, and
therefore a lopsided view of who God is.
John 8:1 to 11 Jesus meets a prostitute.
Did He show godly love to her?
He certainly did. Did
He "tolerate" her sin because He loved her?
No. He told her to
stop sinning. That's called
repentance. His love for her
did not minimize her sin.
John 3:18 says we are to love in "action and truth".
We all understand the need to put our words of love into actions,
although that doesn't always happen.
What we don't seem to understand is how to love according to
Biblical truth, which is both responsible and intelligent.
Biblical truth places boundaries on how and when we express love.
We don't express love indiscriminately. Indiscriminant
love is both irresponsible and sloppy, and maybe shouldn't even be
called love. That's why
Jesus didn't overlook the prostitute's sin.
Jesus cannot minimize sin by crossing the boundary line that
God's truth sets down for Him. This
puts love, and especially God's love in proper perspective.
Matthew 18:6 Jesus said that if anyone causes a child to sin, he'd be
better off with a rock tied around his neck and thrown into the sea to
drown. How can a loving
Jesus say such a drastic thing? The
answer is simple. Jesus
expresses love responsibly, based on truth and justice.
Jesus is the embodiment of love, but He is also the embodiment of
justice. You cannot stress
His love to the exclusion of His sense of justice.
Biblical love demands accountability.
Standing on the side of truth is just as important to Jesus as
loving one's enemy.
Jesus love His enemies as He tells us we should?
The cross of Christ shows He does, but once again, Jesus' love is
balanced by truth and justice. In
Revelation chapter 1 Jesus is portrayed as a mighty man of war who will
bring all enemies, all nations on earth to their knees in severe
judgment. This judgment ends
in the destruction of the earth as we presently know it, only to be
replaced with a new earth. Some
people struggle with this image of God, but I remind you that God seldom
thinks and acts like us. We're
lights years apart in that respect. (Isaiah 55:8 - 9)
We tend to tolerate sin. God
doesn't. We confuse love
with tolerance, thinking they're the
same thing when they're not. God
knows the difference.
envision the various aspects of God on a bar graph.
I think many people see God's love on a bar graph as going right
to the top of the graph, while other aspects, like His wrath, only rise
slightly from the bottom of the graph.
I don't see it that way. I
see every aspect of who God is rising right to the top of the graph.
God's sense of justice rises to the top of the graph alongside
His love. He is 100% just,
and He is 100% love. He is
the Almighty Creator, and He is our loving Father. Ellul,
who is quoted in chapter 6 of "The
Shack" seems to
disagree with me on this point.
Almighty Creator God is seen in the first chapter of the Bible.
The Almighty Recreator God is seen in the last chapter of the
Bible. From beginning to
end, God is almighty and powerful. This
aspect of God is no less significant than any other aspect of God. I
will close this chapter by reminding you of what Paul said in 2
Thessalonians 1:7 through 9. Paul
tells us that Jesus will return to earth in blazing fire to punish with
everlasting punishment those who do not obey the truth of the gospel.
There's the word "truth" again.
Truth matters to God, and it should matter to us.
The Almighty Elohim will send Jesus in this blazing fire of
judgment to the earth. Now
you tell me, should this aspect of who God is be ignored, or relegated
to the back of our minds as "The Shack" suggests?
I don't think so.
emphasize the almighty nature of God at this point in this series of
articles to bring balance to the discussion.
I will speak to God's love later to maintain a proper balance,
but once again, "the degree to which we can begin to understand the
Almighty Creator God will be the degree to which we can begin to
understand and appreciate His love."
It seems to me that in many Christian circles we downplay
some central elements of the gospel of Christ.
Sin and repentance are two examples.
Talk of sin and repentance is too negative for our
"hyper-positive confession" churches.
It's too bad John the Baptist missed out on this "hyper-
positive confession" teaching.
It would have made his life much easier.
Instead of being a lonely voice crying in the desert, he could
have been a renowned conference speaker at the Jerusalem Hilton.
The Greek word "hamartia" is translated as
sin in the New Testament. The
simplest definition of this word is "to miss the mark".
We've all heard that before, but there's more to understanding a
Greek word than its simplest meaning.
More often than not, the context of a word gives further clarity
to its meaning. With this in
mind, "hamartia" is used three ways in the New Testament.
It's used in reference to specific sins; to an external power
that has influence over us; and to our sinful nature.
Adam and Eve's failure to obey God resulted in God
pronouncing judgment, not only on them, but on everyone born after them.
Subsequently, all human beings are born sinful.
Our nature, right to the core of who we are, is sinful.
That's why God judged the earth with a flood.
That's why He wiped out
Many people don't think a loving God hates anything.
Look up the word "hate" for yourself
in a concordance. You'll see that's not so.
Here are some examples. In Psalm 5:5 God hates all men who do
wrong. In Psalm 45:7 God
hates unrighteousness. In
Isaiah 61:8 God hates robbery and iniquity. In
Malachi 2:16 God hates the unfaithfulness that results in divorce.
Amos 5:21 and 22 reads, "I hate, I despise your
religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies … Away with the noise
of your songs! I will not
listen to the music of your harps!" What?
Did I read that right? God
hates something religious. Can
that really be? I
wonder if He hates any of our religious gatherings today?
Anyway, you get my point. In
case you think that's just Old Testament, lets turn to Romans.
If you want to understand the basic concepts of the
gospel, you must study the New Testament book of Romans.
It won't take long for you to see that God hasn't changed since
Old Testament days. In
Romans, Paul explain the gospel in a logical and systematic way.
He sets forth the important and central elements of the gospel
that we should cherish. The
first element of the gospel he speaks about is God's wrath and our sin.
That's only logical. If
we don't know we're sinners, we won't know we need a Saviour.
That's why talking about God's wrath, our sin, and repentance is
important, even though it's unpopular in some pulpits. A
"positive confession" that ignores God's wrath and sin might
be fine for the Oprah Winfrey show, but it's not fine for the pulpit. In
today's world, the idea that God can be angry is seen as a relic from a
polytheistic past period of time, when people viewed the gods as being
angry. That's not what the
After Paul's opening remarks, he begins his
discussion in Romans 1:18. The
NIV reads, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against
all the godlessness and wickedness
of men ..." Paul
would have failed homiletics in Bible college for beginning his message
with such a negative thought. Homiletics
is the art of preaching, and you're taught not to lose your audience in
your opening statement.
The Greek word translated as wrath in this verse and
elsewhere in the New Testament doesn't simply mean being angry.
It implies an uncontrollable explosion, or outburst of
"serious anger". It's
a much stronger word than simple anger.
Like a volcano, God's wrath can't be contained. It explodes with
violent and devastating force. That
may be hard for us to understand, but the book of
Revelation shows this to be true.
God is just as capable of exploding with horrific wrath as He is
capable of expressing unprecedented love.
Romans 1:21 and 22 state that man's thinking became
futile, and his heart was darkened with foolishness.
Paul says we're foolish because we've exchanged the Biblical
understanding of who God is for our own man-made understanding. In
times past this was expressed in stone and wooden idols.
Today it's expressed in our humanistic mental concepts of who God
is that look nothing like the God of the Bible.
Both are equally sinful.
Romans 1:24 says that God gives us over to sin.
Simply put, God says, "if you want to sin, go ahead and sin
all you want. Just remember
the consequences." Romans
1:28 says we have a "depraved mind".
Paul probably lost a few intellectuals with that one.
It looks like we're all mentally impaired to one degree or
You might want to study Romans chapters 1 through 3
yourself. I'm just hitting
some high-lights, or should I say some "low-lights".
Romans 2:2 states that God will judge the sinner and that His
judgment is based on truth. There's
the word truth again. God
does judge, and His judgment is according to truth, not love.
In Romans 2:5 Paul says that every time we sin, we
store up wrath for the day of judgment.
Every time we sin, a bit more wrath is set aside for us.
Of course there is a way to escape this judgment.
I'll get to that later.
In Romans 2:8 Paul says that those who are
self-seeking, who follow evil instead of truth will experience both
God's wrath and His anger. Paul clearly differentiates between wrath and
anger here by noting they are two different things.
From Romans 2:17, into chapter 3, Paul says that
religious people aren't any better than the blatant sinner.
Romans 3: 8 and 9 says that the religious man is under the power
of sin just as much as anyone else.
We're all in the same boat when it comes to sin, and that boat is
in the process of sinking.
If you think all that is bad, read the scathing
report of man's condition found in Romans 3:8 through 18.
It paints a dismal picture of us.
The conclusion is found in Romans 3:20. I
know it's not socially acceptable, but Paul says we're all sinners.
You're a sinner. I'm
a sinner. Everyone's a
I've just pointed out a few verses from one passage of Scripture. I could say more. I'm sure you get the picture by now. I hope you don't fall into a deep depression because of what I said, and please don't jump off a tall building. There are some really unbelievable good things I will share later that should make your heart leap with exceeding joy. I just want us to understand that the degree to which we can begin to understand the almighty, powerful, and just nature of God is the degree to which we can begin to understand and appreciate His love.
You may find this comment strange, but the word love
is one over-used and misunderstood word.
Listen to any pop song and you'll see how the world defines love.
1 Corinthians 13 provides the Biblical definition of love.
That chapter is often read at weddings but is often forgotten
about once the wedding is over. I
won't comment on 1 Corinthians 13. I
will attempt to show you a bit of how God Almighty demonstrates love
The world tells us that we can't love others until we
love ourselves first. Jesus
thinks differently. He told
us to deny ourselves. Denying
self implies sacrifice, and Jesus doesn't tell us to do something He
Himself doesn't do. We'll
see that God's love is all about sacrifice.
In this series of articles I've briefly attempted to
show that God is the Almighty Creator.
The motivation for what I've said is based on Ellul's quote in
chapter 6 of "The Shack".
He said that God's almighty nature is a secondary aspect to who
God is. I say no aspect of
God is secondary. They're
God is almighty.
There's no doubt about that.
He spoke all things into existence without any effort. He
is sinless. He is perfectly
good and right in who He is and what He does. He
hates sin. He is just as
much the embodiment of justice that demands judgment as He is the
embodiment of unprecedented love.
If God hates sin so much, you might wonder why He
made us capable of sinning in the first place.
I could be wrong, but I think He made us capable of sin in order
to show how serious He is about love.
Romans 5:6 through 8 says, "… Christ died for the ungodly
… very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man … but God
demonstrated His own love for us: while
we were still sinners Christ died for us."
Paul's point is simple. Anyone
can love a nice guy. It's
hard to love someone who isn't so nice, but if you can, you prove your
love is real. Making us
capable of sinning, and knowing we would sin, demonstrates that God's
love is real.
Most of us think we're pretty good.
We think this way because we compare ourselves with others who we
perceive aren't as good. God
thinks differently. He compares us with Himself, not to the murderer
incarcerated in prison. I
may be just as good as the next guy, but compared to God, I'm a
miserable sinner. That's not
a popular statement to make these days.
Humanly speaking, you might think God has found
Himself in a dilemma. His
wrath is raging because of our sin.
He has no other choice but to condemn us in judgment, but how can
He when He loves us? This is
where sacrifice comes in. God
made His plans about this apparent dilemma before He even created us.
(Ephesians 1:4) It wasn't an
after-thought once Adam and Eve sinned.
Prior to creation, God chose to demonstrate sacrificial love by
joining us in sinful humanity. It
sounds like an incredible fairy-tale, but it's not.
When God entered humanity, He wasn't born into
wealth, power or prestige. He
was born into a simple working class family who lived in a hick town in
the hills of
Before His death, Jesus wept bitterly for His
murderers and for the city He loved.
I don't think the degree of sorrow
behind His tears has ever been felt by us.
Jesus' death wasn't an ordinary death.
God's violent wrath exploded on Jesus in death.
He actually "became"
sin while hanging on the cross. (2 Corinthians 5:21) That's
why Isaiah 52:14 says that He became unrecognizable as a man. Sin
actually disfigured His body. It's hard for us to understand, but the
One who hates sin, became sin.
Jesus did rise from death, and return to be with His
Father. Many of us haven't
thought this one through. Jesus
returned to heaven, but not in the same state of being that He had
before becoming human. From
my study of Scripture, Jesus was the divine Word, or mind of God, prior
to His entrance into humanity. He
left that unity when Mary conceived Him, and will never return to it.
Instead, after His resurrection, his human body was transformed
into what we call a glorified body.
When we see Jesus in the next life, we will see His glorified
body, nail-prints included. For
this reason, Jesus has altered His state of existence for all of
eternity, just for us. He
didn't become one of us for 33 short years, but forever.
That's sacrificial love. Anyone
who rejects this love is left to experience the same wrath that Jesus
experienced while on the cross. (Hebrews 10:26) That's "heavy
stuff" as we used to say in the 1960's. That's
also a Biblical truth that is being rejected in many ecclesiastical
circles these days.
My explanation of
who God is and how much He loves us doesn’t come close to doing
Him justice. Humanity can't
explain God properly. If you
take the time to think about these things, and study them in Scripture,
you will begin to see who God is. You'll
also see who you are, which probably isn't who you thought you were.
Only at this point will you begin to appreciate God's love.
That's why I say, "the degree to which you or I can begin to
understand the almighty, awesome, and just nature of God, will be the
degree to which we will begin to appreciate His love." For
this reason I disagree with Ellul's statement in chapter 6 of "The
Shack". The Almighty
Creator aspect of God is something that should never be relegated to the
back of our minds.