“HAVE YOU GIVEN HIM his evening medicine?” the manager asked. Alison looked uncertain and hesitated.
“Well, have you, or haven’t you? It’s a simple question!”
In fact the question was not that easy to answer. Alison had administered an injection at tea-time; the resident had said that he did not want any painkillers, and it was not time for his bed-time tablets. So it wasn’t a simple question.
This was an unfortunate situation, and probably a mistake. But sometimes questions are designed to trick people. For example, the Jews asked Jesus, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ (Mark 12:14).
Jesus showed them Caesar’s image on a Roman penny (a denarius) and replied, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (v. 17).
They ‘marvelled at him’, and no wonder. This very clever reply shows the foolishness of the question, while also summing up the life of a disciple. A Christian’s conscience is frequently challenged in the effort to obey God but wherever possible also to please other people, especially those in authority (Romans 12:18, 13:1).
Questions about religion are not always as simple or sensible as they might seem. For example, it’s often said that “God’s love is unconditional”. Is this true? Here are some facts:
All blessings come from God and He sends these on the good and on the wicked (Matthew 5:45, James 1:17)
God looks after those who trust Him and who try to obey Him (Psalm 37:1–11, John 12:26, Hebrews 13:5–6, 1 Timothy 6:17)
God hears some prayers but refuses to answer others (Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 1:15, Jeremiah 11:14, Micah 3:4, James 4:3)
Not everyone will be saved (Mark 16:16, John 3:18, 2 Thessalonians1:7–10).
Questions About God’s Love
The statement that God’s love is unconditional is very appealing, but the answer is not straightforward. It certainly does not mean what some would like it to mean— that we can do whatever we like, and God will still give us our reward.
The phrase ‘unconditional love of God’ does not occur in the Bible. When we use non-biblical language we are in danger of stating unbiblical ideas, and so believing false statements. It could be as bad as adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible, which is an extremely serious mistake (Revelation 22:18). Many believers try to summarise their faith in creeds. Tragically, these tend to introduce non- biblical language and so are prone to stating error and even contradicting the Bible.
There is a verse which is often used to justify the idea of God’s unconditional love:
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
So God does love everyone, and the offer of salvation is open to everyone—but only those who believe will benefit from His love.
The Bible says that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), but we need to understand what this means. God is the almighty Creator of the universe—much greater than us. Is it reasonable for us to tell Him how He should be or how He should behave? To define what we mean by ‘love’ and then expect Him to fit our definition? It is not even logical: different people will have conflicting definitions and God could not satisfy them all. He defines Himself and defines love—otherwise we are inventing our own god.
Bible Based Belief
So what is meant by the statement ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8)? John goes on to explain. We should always refer to the inspired Word of God which is absolutely true, in preference to our own opinions which might be wrong.
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 (1 John 4:9-10).
So the supreme love of God toward us is in giving us hope of salvation through the death of His Son. However, in order to be saved we need to know and believe this, and then come to Him on His terms. The only way to find out what God wants of us is to read the Bible.
Therefore we should believe the Bible and try, wherever possible, to use biblical language and ideas when discussing its teaching. We should not get flummoxed by, or waste our time on, questions which are ill-conceived. The care manager’s question was ambiguous and unfair. Similarly our questions about the Bible can be silly and can even amount to ‘ignorant controversies’ (2 Timothy 2:23). The more familiar we are with the Bible and its teaching, the more accurately we will express our faith.