While much attention has been given to the conquest narratives in the Old Testament (which skeptics commandeer to disprove a loving and good God) and how Christians can responsibly advocate for divine love in lieu of these episodes, one potential issue has gone relatively underappreciated and therefore unanswered—How is God’s love witnessed in the eschaton in which His wrath is existentially poured out on the world? Would a loving God really destroy a world and the majority of its people, sending them to an eternal lake of fire, and only preserve those who follow Him? Or, as has been popularly promulgated, does love win in the end and everyone eventually receive a reward in glory?
The book of Revelation seems to argue that God’s love does win in the end—God’s special love for his people—and this, as will soon be argued, seems to be an argument in favor of divine goodness. However, to understand this appropriately, one must appreciate at least one important image that is employed throughout the Canon to illustrate the love and goodness of God—marriage.
Both God and the God-man have been portrayed as a husband for thousands of years. However, God is never portrayed in Scripture as being married to the world. Instead, he is said to have been and is depicted as married to Israel in the Old Testament (Isa. 54:4-8; 62:1-5; Jer. 3:14; 31:31-33; Hos. 14:-20) and to the church in parables (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13), comparisons (Eph. 5:22-33), instructional material (2 Cor. 11:2), and prophecies (Matt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-31; Lk. 22:14-23). The marriage image is even revisited at the very end of Revelation itself as it describes the much anticipated marriage supper of the Lamb.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’” (Rev. 19:7-9)
These passages not only portray the love exchanged between God and humans, but something of its exclusivity. To be sure, theists believe that God loves the world (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). However, these same theists also affirm that God’s love is not applied in the same way to everybody. Instead, as depicted above, God appears to especially love certain groups (see passages above). This special love, applied to Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament, is ultimately and in part a product of God choosing (volitionally) those who have pleased him (upon his evaluation) and will persevere in a relationship with him that will continue to the end.
In fact, “choice” is something engrained in the very semantics of “love” as it appears in the Scriptures. For instance, אהב seems to involve choice in the context of Malachi 1:2-3 when it says, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” Not only that, but the New Testament suggests that in order to follow the Lord one must choose Him over one’s family and oneself—signifying superior love for the former, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14:26). Most agree that “hate” in both these contexts is not equal to disdain as much as it is comparable to allegiance in relationship. In other words, Jacob was chosen and therefore involved in a special relationship with God and, in that relationship, and object of God’s special affection. Similarly, Luke 14:26 suggests that anyone hoping to be a disciple of Jesus chooses Him over and above all others, thereby entering into a relationship with him that does not compare to anyone else.
Nowhere is this most appropriately encapsulated than within the context and image of marriage. In a marriage, a groom has chosen a bride above all others to remain with him until death. He does so in the best of situations, not under compulsion, but because his wife is pleasing to him and within the context of their marriage, he knows that she will consistently bring delight and affection into their home. Most, even in today’s morally deprived world, agree that a man who loves his wife in special and exclusive ways can be called “good.” If he loved every woman in the same way, he would otherwise be labeled a reprobate and/or womanizer.
The same is true of God as witnessed in Revelation. God’s hatred and wrath poured out over a world that has rejected him (witnessed in John’s graphic apocalyptic and prophetic presentation) indicates not only his holiness and justice, but his incomparable love for His wife—the church. God’s love, and by proxy, his goodness, might be called into question if he showed the same love and granted the same rewards to everyone in the end—even those who never responded positively to his constant overtures.
Therefore, one might say that “love wins” in the end, but not in the way it is popularly promoted. God’s love for his bride wins in the end and this is an eschatologically significant consideration pertaining to His goodness. If love for all wins, God’s love would not be particularly special or meaningful—God would not be as good as the faithful husband he is presented as through the Scriptures in general and in the book of Revelation in particular.
Image: "Jesus" by x1klima. CC License.