(Lisa Robinson)

The title is more of a rhetorical question. In fact, its a question posed with an increasing chagrin as I see love fought against in the quest to avoid the slippery slope of liberalism. I started to name the title Love Really Does Win and I bet that would have raised the hackles on the backs of many necks. Why? Because when we hear that title, we think of Rob Bell and liberalism (which usually means anything to the left of what we believe). And we get concerned about love.

But here’s the thing: love really did and does win. When I read scripture about God’s reconciling work with his creation accomplished in his Son, I can’t help but see that everything he did was out of love (Romans 5:8; John 15:13; 1 John 3:1 ). It is because God loves us that we can love him (1 John 4:10). We are commanded to love him with all of our being and love neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Jesus said the way that his disciples would be known is because of their love for another (John 15:12) and John is quite emphatic that without it the love of God is really not manifest in our lives (1 John 2:10; 3:10). Paul insists that our gifts and contributions to the body are meaningless without love (1 Corinthians 13) and desires for our love to grow in the knowledge of God towards each other (Phil 1:9). Peter compels us to love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 1:22; 4:8)

And yet…

I observe that Christians of the conservative stripe, who really care about not losing truth and sound doctrine tend to downplay it. In fact, I think in some cases there is this fear that if we talk about love too much it will somehow unravel our theology. If we let love be our motive that somehow propels us into liberalism. Why is this? Why do we fear losing something of sound theology if we talk about love too much?

I can’t help but think that the fear of love stems from the threat of losing justice, as if they can be separated. But justice can only be wrought because of God’s active love. Just because there is an emphasis of love does not mean one is sliding down a slippery slope.

Craig Bubeck wrote this piece on love in Christianity Today from an obvious Wesleyan perspective. While I am not Wesleyan, I appreciate what he had to say as it struck at the nerve of what concerned me. He cites many instances of the biblical motive and command for love and indicates that does not mean a lack of justice in this section here;

God’s wrath is not an exception or counterpart to his love. Rather, it is a consequence of it. From their beginning, the Scriptures are clear that we must weigh the significance of the Fall itself on the scale of God’s love. The essence of Adam and Eve’s original sin act is the very same state we are all born into: God’s love distrusted, rejected, and unrequited.

The real concern for God’s wrath should be far more about our being born into it, over and above anything we could have done to earn it. Out of this inherited original divorce come all of the inevitable, unlovely, unloving consequences popularly known to be sins. Furthermore, it is this very state of our existence in God’s wrath that occasions his sacrificial love. It’s why he himself, God the Son, breaches the chasm that is sin, making our returning his love even possible.

In John’s first epistle, he makes this inescapably clear: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10, NASB). So in love, God preemptively provided propitiation. This atonement, this appeasement cannot merely be a Savior Son rescuing sinners from the hands of an angry God. Of all things in which God the Father, Son, and Spirit must be one, it is “that he loved us.”

It’s not so much a matter of appeasing an angry God as restoring within us the capacity to love. When we respond in faith, we return to him the love for which we were created. Tragically, those who choose to remain “in sin” are simply “without” in respect to God’s love.

This is exactly why God’s wrath cannot be about eliciting fear, as if salvation were about avoiding the frightening prospects of God’s retribution or hate—as if Jesus actually came to save us from some monster God. John is clear on this: You don’t legitimately love God or neighbors out of fear of wrath (1 John 4:18–20). We love because God first loved us, not because he threatened or scared us into something we call faith.

Did you catch that last paragraph? Fear is not the motive of love. Now I understand the concern for those who twist the definition of love to suit selfish and even sinful desires and acts while not properly appropriating a biblical definition. I get that some have truncated love and reduced it to some type of existential emotion. I’ve heard a number of times that ‘love’ is usually the code word for lax doctrine. In some cases, this is true. But just because some  mis-define, undermine or twist what love from a biblical perspective does not mean we can ignore how comprehensively the bible speaks of it, both from God’s character and our commands. There is no need to pit doctrine and sound theology (I prefer consistent theology) against love. If God is love and his acts were motivated by love, then theological articulations simply express a careful reflection on how this is manifested that needn’t rob the full array of attributes.

So I ask again, can we please stop fearing love?

Check out my blog at www.theothoughts.com

    12 replies to "Can We Please Stop Fearing Love?"

    • Indeed Biblical Love will always include Law & Gospel, simply & profoundly! But the biblical and theological definitions here must be worked in/with good old sweat and perhaps some tears?

    • pgepps

      We have nothing to fear from the pursuit of perfect charity. But the pursuit of perfect charity is harmed by the rhetorical abuse of “love” to mean the truncation of God’s work to those parts which accord with our desires. Therefore, as we pursue perfect charity, we will constantly be struggling against false loves, just as we struggle with false expectations and beliefs as we build true faith and hope, which are the necessary precursors to perfect charity and marks of true love here-and-now.

    • I am convinced that we must distinguish between God’s love which opposes evil (can real love just sit by and on do anything about how people treat each other) and mere indulgence that just accepts and affirms people however they behave. We need to recognize that indulgence is not real love.

    • cherylu

      It seems to me that as human beings we often struggle with knowing how to show love without at the same time condoning or endorsing wrong behavior or doctrine. Or at least seeming to do so. There can be a fine line there many times with us often falling on one side or the other. Jesus is the only one that had the perfect balance.

      I think for those of us that are mere mortals this is likely an area that we are going to have to struggle with for the rest of our lives.

    • Jason Pratt


      On one hand, if one kind of theology is true, God never has had and never does have and never will have saving love for some sinners, in which case we ought to be afraid to love those sinners with saving love. Moreover in such a theology true love has nothing inherently to do with bringing people together in loving unity, and so nothing to do with establishing righteous behavior, or God would be loving all sinners with saving love, in order to empower and lead them to righteousness.

      On the other hand, if another kind of theology is true, God’s saving love will fail for some sinners, and so the fear of failure comes in, or the fear that God’s wrath will sooner or later overcome His love.

      The only way to stop fearing love would be to discover that true love never fails (as one kind of theology strongly affirms) and hopes for all things (as one kind of theology strongly affirms).

      But that means getting rid of a belief in final hopelessness, and final unrighteousness.

      (Not getting rid of a belief in punishment–far from that–but getting rid of a belief in hopeless punishment.)

      And there comes the third prong of the problem: many scriptures seem to testify to a final failure, or to an ultimate lack, of even God’s love.

      That fear of God’s chastisement, for ourselves or for other people, is what leads to a fear of love (instead of perfect love casting out fear of chastisement).

      But neither do I think it’s fair to criticize conservative believers as though they have no reasons to fear love. They do think they have good, scripturally sound reasons for final hopelessness, and since they very rightly “really care about not losing truth and sound doctrine”, they don’t want to lose what they believe to be sound doctrine about final hopelessness and unrighteousness, under God, for at least some sinners.

      So they lose the assurance of God’s scope of saving love, or the assurance of God’s persistent saving love instead. Because they find one of those untrue instead.

    • craig bennett

      I think that true love is treating all people with dignity and respect.

      Paul tells us what love is in 1 Corinthians 14

      4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

      I think we need to constantly analyse our own understanding of love, against what Scripture tells us it is.

    • […] Lisa Robinson has written an excellent blog article on Parchment and Pen called, Can We Stop Fearing Love, linking to a article on Christianity Today.  She writes,  […]

    • […] Lisa Robinson has written an excellent blog article on Parchment and Pen called, Can We Stop Fearing Love, linking to a article on Christianity Today.  She writes, […]

    • david carlson

      “tend” to down play it?

      That’s generous

    • theoldadam

      Hopefully, as He works in us, it will become easier for us to love without so much of the taint of self attached to it.

    • Brother Stumblefoot

      Thanks Lisa,
      You have made some good points. If the Evangelical could only recognize that some of us who emphasize God’s great love, that we are not Unitarian, it would surely go a long way.

      And yes, the Evangelical (I am one too, even a little Fundy) is sometimes afraid of too much love. Love is seen to take the teeth (the effectiveness) out of Justice, but I think rather, the more common concept of justice takes the teeth out of love.

      Of course there is a wrath of God, and it will be extremely frightening for any to stand before God, unprepared for judgment. But if judgment automatically means eternal
      Hell, then it would have been better for most humans to have been born as a chimpanzee or a pack burrow, death is the end for them. Something to think about.

    • Lora

      Thank you for the great article Lisa 🙂

      I can’t help but think that the fear of love stems from the threat of losing justice, as if they can be separated. But justice can only be wrought because of God’s active love. Just because there is an emphasis of love does not mean one is sliding down a slippery slope.

      Yes – we need balance…..

      Book that has helped me to find this balance is

      Love Within Limits by Lewis Smedes

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