Is God ‘forced by His nature’ to be loving?
Emma G. from the United States writes:
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.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
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).
Creation Ministries International