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Is God ‘forced by His nature’ to be loving?

Published: 20 July 2019 (GMT+10)

Emma G. from the United States writes:


Hello CMI!

Please feel free to point out any logical problems in my questioning, as I am not well versed in argumentation. Rather, please see that I am genuinely curious to understand more about our Lord.

I understand that God has no limitations outside of Himself, so does this mean that God’s character is fixed? In other words (this is where the logical issues may apply), does God choose to be loving and merciful?

From this point, was God obligated to send His Son in an act of love purely because if He didn’t, it would contradict His nature? I understand that God sent Jesus to fulfill His justness, but I’m having difficulty in seeing God’s genuine love for us if He had no choice but to do so.

This would also apply to creation: did God have no choice but to extend His love by creating?

Again, please point out all the issues with this line of logic. I’m desperate to figure this out.

Thank you so, so much. May God bless your ministry.

Emma G

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Emma,

Thanks for writing in.

Yes, God’s good character is unchangeable. God must act lovingly. After all, God is love (1 John 4:8)! How can an essentially loving being fail to love? It’s impossible. Even an all-powerful being couldn’t make it happen. An all-powerful being can’t make an essentially loving being sin. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be an essentially loving being. So, God can be both all-powerful and essentially loving.

But does He have to be merciful to sinners? Well, since He didn’t have to create anything (Process theism), let alone a world with sinners (Why did God allow sin at all?), there are possible worlds where God wouldn’t show mercy toward sinners.

Nonetheless, I do think God is necessarily predisposed to be merciful toward sinners. As James declares: “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Still, God owes nothing to any individual sinner (Job 41:11, Romans 11:35). But in light of James 2:13 I think it’s reasonable to say that God wouldn’t create a world where He knew all sinners would eventually go to Hell. So, in any possible world with sinners, it seems pretty clear that He would always save some sinners, consistent with His merciful character. But that’s not an instance of being ‘impossible to do otherwise’, since there are probably uncountable options available to God where He saves some sinners. In different possible worlds, He would likely save a different group of sinners. (And again, He didn’t have to create anything, so there’s no necessity here.) Just because God is necessarily predisposed to be merciful doesn’t mean He can only be merciful to one group of sinners in one specific way. He has the sovereign right and freedom to choose who to be merciful to (Romans 9:15).

Or, must God be able to be unloving to be meaningfully ‘loving’? Imagine the abject terror we’d constantly face if God could fail to be loving! We’d always be fearful of Him turning on us. And what could stop Him? Nothing. If God can turn on us, then we can’t trust Him for anything, let alone eternal life.

But look at the idea a little closer. Is God even God if He could fail to be loving? If nothing can be greater than God (Ontological argument: God is uniquely supreme), and moral goodness is a great-making property, then nothing can be morally better than God. And what’s greater than being the very paradigm of moral goodness? God is the standard of goodness. That entails that God must be morally perfect. How can He be the standard of goodness if He can fail to be good?

Rather, if God could fail to be loving, He could fail to live up to a standard of goodness outside Himself (What is ‘good’? (Answering the Euthyphro Dilemma)). Will anything sit in judgment over God? Clearly not. Otherwise, what we call ‘God’ isn’t really God at all. He’s just another limited being. And we shouldn’t worship limited beings (Deism and divine revelation).

So, is God necessarily loving and merciful? Yes. As the standard of goodness, it’s simply what He is like by definition. Does He ‘have to be loving and merciful’ to fulfil some duty? No. God doesn’t have ‘duties’ as if He’s under some law that He must abide by. He is the ultimate Lawgiver. Does God ‘have to be merciful and loving’ because, regardless of His desires, He runs up against the ‘brick wall’ of His nature? No. God’s good nature entails not only that He will act lovingly and mercifully, but also that He will want to. A mother may be ‘constrained by her nature’ to save her drowning son, but not because she is so constrained against her desires. Rather, ‘being constrained by her nature’ is simply a way of saying that she will inevitably want to save her son and act accordingly. And why would she? Out of love for her son. As with the mother saving her son, so with God sending His Son to save us. God sending His Son to save us is simply a natural outpouring of His love and mercy toward sinners (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9–10).

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

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Readers’ comments

Alexio G.
I would rather think of it as God could be bad if he wants but he always chooses to be Good. Saying it's impossible for him not to love would thus make him not all powerful
Shaun Doyle
I explained why this objection doesn't work in the article, but I'll expand the reasoning a bit. Saying God can't sin doesn't make Him less than all-powerful; it just says that 'all-powerful' is a logical concept.

An all-powerful being can't make an impeccable being sin (since 'impeccable' just means 'unable to sin'). Even if we were to conceive of an all-powerful being and an impeccable being as separate beings, this would be true. Why? An impeccable being that sins is like a married bachelor; it's logically impossible. Even an all-powerful being can't do the logically impossible. So, unless an impeccable being is impossible, and I see no reason to think it is, then to define 'all-powerful' in a logically coherent manner, we have to accept that an all-powerful being can't make an impeccable being sin.

But if this is true when considered in separate beings, it's true when considered within the one being too, i.e. God as both all-powerful and impeccable. Therefore, the fact that God can't sin isn't a problem for Him being all-powerful. God can be both without contradiction.

And since God being the standard of goodness is greater than Him just happening to be good by some standard external to Himself, God is the Good, which entails that He is impeccable, since the transcendent standard of goodness cannot itself fail to be good, or it wouldn't be the standard of goodness. See What is ‘good’? (Answering the Euthyphro Dilemma) and If God can do anything, then can He make a being more powerful than Himself?
Russell N.
Thanks Shaun.
I especially like how God let the ancient Jews in the Old Testament know about His love for them in Deuteronomy 7:7-9 (10-11). God's love is all about who God is, His love & mercy, & what He chooses to do for us. The O.T. Hebrew word, chesed, is a tremendous study in & of itself, about the lovingkindness/love of God. And the New Testament says a lot about the love of God, such as John 3:16 (15-18); & as you mentioned Romans 5:8 & 1 John 4:9-10. I especially love Romans 5:8: "For God commendeth [showed, proved] His love for us, in while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The love of God in the Bible is undeniable. I love John 1:12; John 3:16; John 6:37, 47, as this proves God will receive & forgive everyone that comes to Him with a repentant heart & receives Jesus into their heart to forgive them of their sins & get eternal life. Who wouldn't want to love a God like this?! Yet people reject God by the millions. Too bad & so sad. No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem before He went to the cross. It had to have broken His heart, the Jews as a nation rejecting Him as their Lord & Messiah. And very unwise people do the very same thing today.
Noel O.
God also chose NOT to allow the fallen angels to repent and be saved. In fact, hell was created for the fallen angels, not for mankind.
Lassi P.
This article is a great example of someone knocking the door and the door being opened.

My answer to the same question would've been in lines with "God’s good nature entails not only that He will act lovingly and mercifully, but also that He will want to", but Shaun's answer got into much more dept viewing the issues from a wider range of angles.

One can not separate a beings nature from the being. I have an inherited sin nature for example and that's precisely the answer to the question: what am I like in my own flesh, and that's why I need Christ!

Thank you CMI!
North N.
I am a Christian, but I seem to ask tricky questions. If God is loving by nature, what made God's nature? If it was always, then is good the objective nature of God's eternally? If so, what reason would God have to be this thing you and I call good eternally? If God chose to become good and made it part of His nature, how did He do it? Did He create a sense of good and bad or did He just choose a way of action which He would say is good rather than bad? In the beginning God said let there be light, He called the light good. Why did God call the light good? What properties of light make it better than darkness. Did God choose light to be good or was there something of its characteristics that caused it to be good? Why does God "see" something as good? If something is objectively good, would it not be eternally good? In other words, if even good is truly good, would it not have to be eternal? Is God relative in truth or Objective? If He is relative then all truth is only determined by God and God chooses it to be good or bad which would seem to be when God saw the light in Genesis to be good. If He is objective, then the truth must be eternal which seems to make no sense because truth must only be governed by God like when Moses issued the certificate of divorce which would be a change in God's plan. This seems confusing if God was eternally anything, so how can God therefore in any characteristic be eternal? He would seem to have made Himself what He is and then had a beginning at one point in time. I am younger in age and I do ask lots of questions, sometimes I overthink things, but this seems to be a philosophical argument that needs a good solution.
Shaun Doyle
Many of these questions you'll find answered on our website. On God's goodness, please see What is ‘good’? (Answering the Euthyphro Dilemma). On God's eternity, please see Who created God?, Could God cause the beginning of the universe?, and How does God relate to time? On God and light, please see What does “God is light” mean? On God and objective truth, please see ‘That’s nice for you, but it’s not for me’.
Colin N.
I wonder if we can go further and suggest that a perfectly loving and perfectly logical God might be obligated to maximise love. There is no greater way of demonstrating love than dying for someone. So perhaps God allowed a situation where we need a Saviour to die for us, because only in that way can He most fully demonstrate His love. And our jeopardy on account of sin also has to be real, not limited by God somehow being constrained to show mercy at the end in any event, because only thus can we be forgiven much and accordingly love much in return (Luke 7:41-48).
Shaun Doyle
I suggest something similar here: Why did God allow sin at all?
Mitch C.
It is important to remember that God's love is a righteous love. He would not be loving to endorse (or to love) sin or rebellion. That is why hell exists--because to love what is right and good means that He must hate what is contrary to whatever is right and good.

To put it another way, God's supreme attribute is His holiness, which is the only attribute that is expressed in scripture using the superlative "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). In comparison, Scripture never says God is "love, love, love" or "mercy, mercy, mercy".

As you showed from Romans 9:15, God's display of mercy to sinful humans is a sovereign choice to be merciful--to show mercy to whomever He wishes. He is not required to be merciful to any sinner, and His love is equally satisfied in either (a) punishing the sinner in hell for his sins (thus satisfying God's love for righteousness) or (b) punishing His dearly-beloved Son, Jesus, on the cross to save the sinner from his sins (which also satisfies God's love for righteousness, since the penalty for sin is borne for us by Christ).

When scripture says "God is love", it clearly does not mean that God gives eternal life to everyone, for many will perish in hell. It doesn't even mean God must provide a redeemer, since He did not provide a redeemer for the angels who sinned (see Hebrews 2:14-16; Matthew 25:41).

If God were required to be merciful to everyone, then there would be no such thing as grace. Grace is the act of showing mercy when mercy is not required. God is free to show mercy to whomever He chooses. He is not obligated (even by His own nature) to show mercy to anyone.

Recommended viewing: R. C. Sproul's book and videos on "The Holiness of God".

Thanks, Shaun!
Clifford R.
Shaun, the final paragraph along with the analogy of a mother saving her drowning son was spot on and an exceptional conclusion to the question. MGB
Donald M.
"God is love" is truth, and we see that He IS love, but by choice. It makes no sense for Jesus to tell us "Do by choice what I do by nature." Same with "God is holy." "Be holy for I am holy" is obeyable only if God has chosen to be holy.
Shaun Doyle
God commanding us to be loving or holy clearly presupposes that we can fail to be either, but it doesn't tell us anything about whether God can fail to be either. The commands stand even if God is necessarily holy and loving. Indeed, since the Bible says that God can't be tempted by evil (James 1:13), He clearly cannot sin.

Regarding Jesus, just because He was tempted, and experienced temptation as we do, doesn't mean he could've fallen to temptation. Being impeccable only guaranteed that Jesus wouldn't sin; it doesn't tell us anything about how He experienced temptation and fought it. And since Jesus has a genuine human way of thinking and acting, He experienced temptation in his human experience as we experience it. Thus, He felt the lure of temptation. However, in His human experience He had to resist temptation in the same ways we are called to resist them: trusting the Father and the Spirit, discipline, and familiarity with the Bible.
Andy E.
I can certainly accept your reply in full, however, can the same logic be applied to fallen angels or even to Satan himself? I can find no Scripture that would indicate the existence of a "plan of salvation" for the rebellious angels. Are they capable of repentance? Would God's love extend to them if they did repent? Or are His Love and Mercy reserved for the descendants of Adam and Eve?
Thank you!
Shaun Doyle
All I said was that, since God is necessarily predisposed to be merciful toward sinners (as per James 2:13), He would save some sinners in any possible word He might create with sinners in it. Anything beyond that, however, I think is open to God's free choice, as per Romans 9:15.

But with angels, Hebrews 2:16 is clear: "For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham." God is free to do that, if He so wishes. As long as He has shown mercy to some sinners, He is consistent with His merciful character. There's nothing about God's merciful character that says He has to save some sinners from every species of moral being He creates.

If I were to speculate why God saves some humans, but not any angels, I would start from Hebrews 2:14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

That seems to suggest that we are subject to a form of slavery the angels don't experience. Our sinful and death-cursed estate is more pitiable than that of angels who sinned in God's glorious presence.
Christopher J.
Brother Shaun Doyle, you answered this question with so much class I thought I was in school again! That was fantastically insightful! God bless you and CMI.
Jaroslav L.
Interesting article. I would add this. In my opinion, God’ s character is primarily based on His righteousness rather than on love. In other words,His love never compromises His righteousness. Because He is righteous, He, for example, could not kill Noe with the rest of the world. Because He is righteous He cannot let die some of the sinners who struggle to be like Him. Thus, His love is reflection of His righteousness.
Antonio F.
It needs be kept in mind that 'to sin' is to disobey God, so sinning is relative to God. We know the Law is good because throughout history God established a civil way of acting toward each other and so gave us the Law. The Law itself though doesn't bind us since although it reflects God's nature, man and thereby extension the fallen angels have corrupted what was once an unadulterated form of it. It doesn't mean if you break the Law that a person has sinned. I was once with fanatic Christians who swore that if you didn't stop your vehicle before the line at a traffic light on a red that you had sinned and that if you drank alcohol you sinned because you were a stumbling block to drunkards. They obviously didn't have a clear understanding of what sin actually was. The Law is complex and simple like our Maker. It has overriding principles that nullify other sections of the Law, like the traffic light example, 'Stop before the line if safe to do so' otherwise go through the orange. The reason why God wants us to have 'Mercy over Sacrifice' because life is not black and white but a myriad of colours.

As for sending Jesus, Jesus is God the Father. He comes from the Father and is of the same essence as Him and the Spirit. So although God the Father sent the Son to die on the cross, it was Jesus that chose to be sacrificed. It was because Jesus, like the Father is Love. The garden of Gethsemane shows that the sacrifice was real, the human form He took would mean that Jesus and by extension the Holy Father and the Spirit would experience the worst for those that choose to know Him. As alluded to, Their very character is something that they will not deny because otherwise They would cease to be.
David S.
So in essence, all-powerful means able to do all things that are logically possible. So when scripture says, “with God, all things are possible”, it is true because things that are not truly possible (logically incoherent) are not truly things. They do not exist at all. Therefore, God can do all ‘things’ that are actually and truly ‘things’ (logically coherent things). Am I getting there?
Shaun Doyle
Roughly, yes. I find it helpful to think of 'all-powerful' as God alone having an absolute sovereign 'veto power' over all things and circumstances that can exist; i.e. He alone has (and must have) the final causal 'say' in whether they are created, sustained, or annihilated.

This precludes logical nonsense (e.g. impeccable sinners) and metaphysical nonsense (e.g. a prime number as a prime minister). It also precludes comparisons between God and other beings over some of the powers that a creature might have that God doesn't, since no possible being would have its powers unless God actively willed them to.

And it's important to remember that the metaphysical issues (i.e. about what's real, or can be real) surrounding omnipotence in a theistic worldview really centre around God. For instance, a world with just bunnies and no God is metaphysically impossible because God is a necessary being, even though there's no immediately apparent contradiction in conceiving a world of just bunnies.

There are all sorts of other issues that need to be explored in a fully fleshed-out understanding of omnipotence, but this is a very brief sketch. See also If God can do anything, then can He make a being more powerful than Himself?

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