Much has been, and could be, written about yesterday’s SCOTUS rulings. I want to focus on just one small part.
But before we get to that, I want to urge everyone (and here I am preaching too to myself) to keep a cool head, bearing well the holy name we took on as Christ followers, remembering who bought us (if indeed you’ve been saved) at what price and who our Head is. God is Sovereign. His Christ reigns. He shed His blood for those whom He called and predestined. He laughs at the schemes of those who persistently rebel against His authority (e.g., see Psalm 2). Even so, the door remains open. He would graciously accept their repentance in faith, as he does ours.
As brother Michael Brown put it yesterday on his radio show, our enemies are not people. Please keep this in mind. Ours is a spiritual battle. We must fight with spiritual weapons.
Satan would destroy any and all of Adam’s race. The means by which he achieves a soul’s damnation are immaterial to him. The poison of sin has many flavors. He would destroy some with sexual sin. He would destroy others with arrogance. If he can provoke both, playing both ends of a worldly conflict off the middle, so to speak, then so much the better. Such set-up cage fights will be the main features of hell, the kingdom divided.
Another thing to keep in mind is that what we are seeing, in these rulings, and well beyond them, is as old as the serpent’s lie. They are the late-stage symptoms of the deadly disease wrought by that rebellion.
An observant Roman Catholic friend wrote, on her Facebook page, “As it ever had been, and ever shall be, LOVE IS LOVE.” (Caps in original.) She was echoing, and expanding upon, the president’s words ‘Tweeted’ yesterday, immediately after the DOMA & Prop 8 SCOTUS rulings came out:
First, let’s look at the origins for the wording of his Tweet, deliberate and carefully crafted.
Anyone who’s lived in a Christian culture for any length of time — never mind if they’re a believer or not — is familiar with the phrase, ‘God is love,’ which the Apostle John used, with Holy Spirit inspiration, in penning the fourth chapter of his first epistle.
Out of context, and especially around here, near Boston, I’ve seen it used most often (in church or not) in the same sense in which the Beatles sang, ‘all you need is love’. (True, but not in the sense they meant it!!)
The logic goes something like this:
- I know instinctively, in my gut, what love is. I don’t need anyone to tell me what it is.*
- God’s love must be a reflection of my understanding of it. (I.e., my understanding is normative.)
- God cannot be anything other than that which I know and define as love.
- Anything which doesn’t fit my definition is ungodly and thus unlovable, worthy of hate.
It’s precisely upside down, putting man and his felt needs — i.e., individual perception and ego — at the center, as all sin does. The proper logic begins with acknowledging that we can only know, much less extend love by God’s grace (common or salvific). His love in Christ is the ultimate (and only valid) reference point for what love is.
*(In the West, we’ve all grown up indoctrinated into the idea that ‘love’ between two non-family adults has sexual overtones, or is sexuality-centric by definition. Pop culture and especially pop and rock music since the early 60s, have driven relentlessly in the direction of making ‘love’ sex-centric — and in increasingly audacious ways. In some realms, e.g., between siblings, or parents and children, the word still has mainly non-sexual connotations. Between any pair of adults however, the connotations have become overwhelmingly sexual, pushing all other meanings aside. Even in a church context, I have learned that I have to be very careful in telling another man that I love him (much less a woman!) The ‘in Christ’ (agape) aspect of such a statement — the way the word ‘love’ ought to be taken in that context — seems foreign to many. The fact that the word ‘love’ between two men in the church makes some nervous gives us a measure at just how far such unholy cultural norms have infiltrated the body.)
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
One could spend volumes expositing such a rich text. Let’s cover just a few basics:
In the verses which precede his first use of the phrase ‘God is love’ (1-6) John urges his readers to take seriously the task of testing spirits and making distinctions between them. Some are not from God, but rather, from the enemy. (Keep in mind that, in the original, there were no section breaks or verse numbers — attributes which are helpful in some senses, but which can cause us to improperly segment the text into discrete little buckets, disconnecting the flow of thought.) I believe John wanted us to consider that some dark spirits present themselves as ‘loving’. They are not from God, but just the opposite — anti-love and antichrist, opposed to God and His eternal will.
In verse 7, just before the ‘God is love’ phrase, John speaks of loving ‘one another’ and being ‘born of God’. In the context of the epistle (especially 5:13), as well as the rest of New Testament scripture, it becomes clear that John is talking about the special kind of agape love which transformed, eyes-opened, born-again believers (and there is no other kind) share with one another in Christ, via the Holy Spirit. To be sure, we are to love non-believers, striving to do so as Christ did, but, by necessity, light can have no fellowship with darkness. Our love for the world, like Christ’s (John 3:16) is not for the fallen mess around us, but in sure hope of its redemption and the salvation of some. Such love involves giving ourselves up, by our gracious words and sacrificial lives, suffering as needed to spread the gospel to a dying world that doesn’t think it needs Christ.
In verses 9 and 10, immediately following the first use of the ‘God is love’ phrase, John speaks plainly and directly about the quintessence of love: Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection — His mission to save from sin. I hope you’re beginning to see how abominable is the misuse of the ‘God is love’ phrase when divorced from this context — to say nothing of the ‘love is love’ phrase which excludes him… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In case some were prone to ‘go there,’ as many have, the second chapter of John’s epistle speaks of the definition of antichrist spirit: anyone who does not confess that God came in the flesh as Christ. By extension: anyone who would imagine that if they have ‘God’ and ‘love’, they’re done… and Christ can get in the back seat (or the trunk).
In verse 15, immediately before his second use of the ‘God is love’ phrase, John makes this same point again, linking ‘abiding’ in God to ‘confessing’ Jesus as the Son of God. One must admit the futility of one’s rebellion, confessing Christ as Sovereign Lord: ruler of one’s life. There is no escaping the construction of John’s argument. The Holy Spirit won’t let us.
In verses 16b and 17, John makes the point that the process of abiding in God’s love entails being as Christ was in the world (outcast, outspoken and maligned, yet gentle, bearing the good news with truthful persistence and grace) — a way of being only made possible out of the overflow of gratitude for our own salvation!
He also links it with final judgment. ‘God is love’ does not mean that He loves everything and everyone forever. Judgment necessarily involves justice and separation. If I love black people, I cannot also love slavery as it was practiced in America. If I love children, I cannot also love pedophilia. If I love Jews, I cannot also love Nazism or Islamic jihad. I cannot love that which would destroy the object of love!
The place many get hung up in this is in the fact that Jesus came to save sinners — e.g., maintaining the extreme examples: slave-owners, child molesters and Nazis. That fact is central to Who He is — to His amazing grace. He came to save them. He came to save us. The fact that I stole a pencil from a classmate’s desk in third grade is enough to condemn me to hell. Praise God, He took that punishment, on the cross. Yet, as was true in Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, many would and will not accept that substitution. They will not repent, acknowledging their sin problem, turning to accept His gracious offer of forgiveness, the debt paid in full.
Now, here’s the kicker. Those who bind up their identity with their sin are confounded. To the degree that I say, ‘this sin is me’ and refuse look at it otherwise, I am eternally lost. It’s the sense in which David says, in the Spirit, of the Most High God, in Psalm 5:5b, ‘You hate all workers of iniquity.’ Not just works, but workers.
I know. This is hard. Stick with me and don’t jump to conclusions. (As many as have ignored this entirely are those who have taken this too far, imagining it gives us a license to hate in our own power and tiny wisdom.)
Those who, as it were, are employed by Satan — workers beholden to him as their boss to the bitter end… those who say ‘no’ to every grace Christ offers until their dying breath… those whose life ends defined by their works of iniquity, unredeemed in Christ… God necessarily hates. Why? Because He hates sin. It’s one of the reasons behind the millstone-around-the-neck mini-parable. Those who hold onto their sin, not looking to Jesus, sink down to death.
God loves people, surely — all kinds of people — but those who say ‘I’ll do it my way no matter what,’ insisting on re-defining sin in their own image, to fit their own agendas — they foreclose His love. They cannot accuse God of not having gone to extreme lengths in extending it to them.
So, why would the President of the United States Tweet ‘Love is love’?
Very simply, because it removes the eternal God, Jehovah, from the equation. It takes the flawed, self-centric logic many use to interpret the ‘God is love’ phrase and moves the decimal point over one (or two) spaces to the right.
Instead of merely implying that God is made in man’s image, the Tweet says, in effect: We don’t need Him at all. ‘Love’ is self-evident. ‘Love’ yourself. ‘Love’ the one you’re with. ‘Love’ whatever and whoever, however you see fit, the more the better. This is our world now and we say that love is now whatever we want it to be.
As my friend inadvertently editorialized in her Facebook post, the ‘love is love’ meme takes the eternal, amazing, multi-faceted, unfathomably marvelous and holy love, defined by the eternal God, in Christ — and especially His love for His bride, the church, the model of all proper marriage — and re-purposes it for self-serving, secular ends.
As with all things Satanic, it hews close to the paths opened up by the True God, mimicking them. Just as was true in the Garden of Eden, such a grand lie relies on a paucity of relational knowledge of Who He really is, through His Word and Spirit and a kernel of trust in self over Him. Where the love of many has grown cold, the one offering fake love (‘your eyes will be opened!’) steps in and wreaks havoc.
May God (the real one) have mercy on our terrible sinfulness, as individuals, as a church, and as nation — for being party — in so many ways, both passive and active — to this nation’s steep, awful plunge towards the pit.
UPDATE: No sooner had I pressed ‘Publish’, than a ‘Spotlight’ e-mail from Youtube turned up in my in-box. It was entitled ‘Proud to Love’ (an oxymoron in Biblical terms*, Bono’s wonderful, Christ-alluding tune notwithstanding). Here’s the main graphic it contained:
*In the NKJV, the words ‘proud’ and ‘love’ show up in just one verse, Psalm 31:23. Here it is in context:
18 Let the lying lips be put to silence, Which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous. 19 Oh, how great is Your goodness, Which You have laid up for those who fear You, Which You have prepared for those who trust in You In the presence of the sons of men! 20 You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence From the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion From the strife of tongues. 21 Blessed be the Lord, For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city! 22 For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications When I cried out to You. 23 Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person. 24 Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord.