For those of you who would rather hear the whole Sunday School lesson as one 47 minute lecture, you can find it at my home church's web site. FWIW, I commend all the sermons there for your edification.
Now: the reason we got out early, in discussing the Goodness of God, is that we either had to stop where we were, or dive head-long into another hour at least on the principle example of the goodness of God. Louis Berkhof says this about the Goodness of God:
When the goodness of God is exercised toward his rational creatures, it assumes the higher character of Love, and this Love may again be distinguished according to the objects upon which it terminates. In distinction from the goodness of God in general, [the love of God] may be defined as that perfection of God by which he is eternally moved to self-communication. … He does not even withdraw his love completely from the sinner in his present sinful state, though the sinner’s sin is an abomination. … At the same time, he loves believers with a special love, since he contemplates them as his spiritual children in Christ. (P 71)We respect our theologians for their precise language, and we agree with Berkoff’s definitions. What he says here is utterly true, and completely orthodox. But consider this: what if a man approached a young woman and said to her, “I am moved eternally to self-communicate to you, and make you the object of termination from me of any and all of the goodness I have – because you are certainly a rational creature.” I think it is unlikely that she would be influenced in any positive way toward him – whether she was a good reformed girl or not. The reason, I think, is because such an expression, falls short of the declaration and command Paul makes in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.”
It is certainly right, in the case of systematic theology, to examine the point that the goodness of God gets serious, and specific, and somehow specialized, when God deals with mankind, and with particular men and women. But somehow it also seems to miss the point to say that this is only about God expressing Himself. It is not merely that God is eternally moved to self expression, and terminates his goodness on the rational objects in His created order. Somehow, we have to get it right, as the apostle John expressed it:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.The topic today is the Love of God. It seemed really obvious to me when Paul asked me to teach a little this summer that if I were to cover the Goodness of God, I would also have to cover the Love of God – because, as Berkhof says, it is Goodness’ higher character. And as we covered last time, it is the ultimate expression of God’s goodness that he loves us somehow, in such a perfect and final way, according to the Psalmist, that it must lead us to the purpose in the work of Christ.
But think about this for a second: I was able to find over 200 essays on the Providence of God, and over 150 essays on the Sovereignty of God, and 125 essays on the Glory of God – but less than a few dozen on the Love of God. Most systematic theologies spend less than a full page on the topic, preferring to spell out Justice, Holiness and so on. These are the grown-up topics of theology – the ones that really engage us and make us feel like we are in big church.
Just as with God’s goodness, we again sort of classify as one of the rudimentary parts of theology and faith. We make up a child’s prayer to express Gods goodness –“God is Great, God is Good, let us Thank him,” – and we make up preschool songs for the sake of God’s love. “Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes: Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
There is nothing wrong with making children’s songs up for the rudimentary doctrines of the faith, is there? Of course not. I think the danger is in whether or not we assign a doctrine as foundational and necessary as this one only to the children’s catechism and hymnal. Is this a doctrine that we know all the words for, but somehow they are only words to us?