Agatha Christy wrote: “A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”
You’ve seen the mother of a convicted murderer standing at his side. Even though she knows he did it and even though he shows no remorse or repentance or sorrow whatsoever, she is still there loving him. It doesn’t matter how bad he is; she will not leave his side. Do we have any records of a mother who said: “I’m sorry son, but if you don’t repent I can’t love you.”? Don’t think so.
Christians and Jews have long said this about their God. He shows no partiality; he lays down no conditions; he loves us like a mother. His love never fails (Psalms 52:8), it endures forever (Psalms 106:1), it’s uncalculating (Proverbs 30:5); he doesn't just love us-he IS love (1 John 4:16).
But what if we’re sinful, unrepentant, and arrogant like the murderous son of that mother? It doesn’t matter: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Mt. 5:45)
Hold on! I don’t think Paul believed this. I can’t read Paul’s epistle to the Romans and believe that his God has unconditional love for all of us. Just read chapter 9. Paul makes a point of citing the prophet Malachi (1:2) who quotes Yahweh saying: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” And Paul concludes: He shows mercy to whom he wills and hardens whom he wills.” (Rom.9:18)
His entire epistle is saying that God can love whomever he wants to love and hate whomever he wants to hate. The mother seems to have no choice; she will love her son—unconditionally—regardless of what he does. According to Paul, God definitely has conditions and he chooses those he wants to love. You don’t like this? Paul says: “Who are you to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) Paul and the Evangelists who followed him have always said: “God doesn’t reject sinners; sinners reject him” and that’s why God’s love stops. But it doesn’t stop the unconditional love of the murderer’s mother. She loves that ugly sinner right up to his day of execution. What’s going on here? Are we misinterpreting Paul’s epistle? I don’t think so.
Paul maintains that God is justified in rejecting those who practice the Roman and Greek religions of his day. He says they should have known that Zeus and Apollo and all the rest were false; they should have recognized that the Christian God was better. They should have recognized him through nature (through what he has made.) But they didn’t, so God just “stepped aside” and let them do what is morally wrong, (Rom. 1:28) and then let them suffer the wrath of God.
Paul is hard to read—even in Greek. We have to remember that he’s writing a letter, not a theological treatise. He doesn’t have a computer with spell-check. He’s scratching with a pen on a piece of parchment and doesn’t have the luxury of making too many corrections. Besides, he’s on fire with his new religion and doesn’t have any patience with those who “don’t get it.” He doesn’t have google or fact-check, and never even spoke to Jesus himself, but he feels confident—maybe over-confident—that whatever he writes will be understood. He knows his people trust him.
So what am I to believe? Does God love me unconditionally like a mother—or only if I follow all his laws, even those I don’t know? Should I follow one part of John’s gospel and relax because God is love and no matter how badly I screw up he will, like my own mother, still love me—or should I quiver in my sinful boots before a vengeful God because Paul says so?
We know the answer, don’t we? Or do we? Are there still some Christians who believe that God will not love and save all those millions of people who reject Jesus Christ? You know, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Baha’i, and Buddhists? Is our God a ‘just judge’ who punishes those who don’t follow the Christian law, regardless of their intentions, or is God a ‘loving mother’ who loves us all with an unconditional love and pays no attention to all of our laws and restrictions?