21 March 2010

John Owen and the Affective Love of God

In a word, there is not the meanest, the weakest, the poorest believer on the earth, but Christ prizes him more than all the world besides. (John Owen, Communion with God, 218)

The main way God is growing me in Spring 2010 is by teaching me of the affective, intensely personal nature of Christ's love for me. John Owen has been the crucial helper.

I come from a (Reformed) theological tradition, one I love and wouldn't trade for anything, in which we often portray God as being 'satisfied,' his justice vindicated, his wrath turned away, in Christ's atoning work.

That is unspeakably precious. God helping me, I would die for it.

But God's affection for his people is sometimes less clearly articulated. The motivation of love is often included, but it's still easy for us to emphasize the satisfaction-of-justice to the neglect of the sheer love of Christ, the endearing tender-heartedness, the flowing mercy, the 'when Jesus looked on her he had compassion,' the 'Jesus wept,' the undiluted affection of Christ. Zephaniah 3 captures it best: God rejoices over us with singing--consider it--with loud exultation (see this book). The nature of the transaction in all its glorious exactness must not dampen our sense of the sheer explosiveness of his hesed, his lovingkindness. Indeed, the two are mutually reinforcing.

My sense is that many believers today cherish and champion the transaction wrought in the atonement while harboring secret doubts that God is truly happy over them. They do not doubt that God is now obliged to love them; to fail to do so would be unfair, in light of the cross. But they continue to doubt whether God enjoys loving them. Does God, in Christ, begrudgingly love or eagerly love? Sure, we're no longer condemned; but, at the least, God's lips are pursed, right?

The picture of the father in the prodigal son answers such doubts. Picking up his robe, running, putting his ring on him, embracing, kissing, throwing a party. The sheer exultation of the father--of the Father--over his miserable, foolish son makes us blush. Feel uncomfortable. Awkward. Our lips speak Luke 15; our hearts smirk.

That resistance to God's indomitable affection is sin that should be repented of. If you're going to be an atheist, fine. At least you won't be two-minded. If you're going to be a Christian, be a Christian all the way. No more inner cowering. No more suspicions of his love. Be liberated. His love doesn't slouch; it sprints. 'And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran . . .' (Lk 15:20)

John Owen was, according to Roger Nicole, the greatest theologian ever to write in the English language. Including Jonathan Edwards. And what I did not know till recent weeks is that the greatest Protestant, English-writing thinker had a greater sense of God's fatherly affection than anyone I've read--including, I think, Edwards.

To hell with the doubts. That's where they belong. He loves us. Each one. And he enjoys loving us.

1 comment:

Gene said...

Another solid post that encourages. I follow all the Ortlund blogs (I think all, there are so many of you!)since you all have so much to share. I agree that the image of the prodigal's father rushing to greet is probably the strongest picture of God's heart toward us. The Good Shepherd leaving the flock to rescue the errant lamb is also a fave. Right on, er, ugh, write on... Also, thanks for the tip, I'm getting me some Sam Storms...

Grace Junkie