Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart’ (Deut. 29:18-19a).
The words of Deuteronomy 29 come in the context of God, through Moses, laying out for the people the blessings and curses of the covenant. Following these words, God, through Moses, puts forth these words of warning. The person envisioned believes he will be okay even if he walks in the stubbornness of his heart. I think we see this same spirit at work in our own day.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, our culture has a skewed definition and conception of love. This can be seen, for example, in Simon May’s book Love: A History. May is a philosopher who specializes in the works of Friedrich Nieztsche. When one reads this book it becomes apparent that May is in his comfort zone when he’s explaining the intricacies of Plato and Aristotle. Unfortunately, when he moves from the discipline of philosophy into the realm of the Bible, his lack of sophistication becomes quite glaring. His lack of familiarity with the Bible, hermeneutics, and the history of biblical interpretation are in plain view to the informed reader.
The errors present in May’s analysis are typical of the broader culture. May carries within himself a presupposition and self-interpreting conception and definition of love, and then uses that conception and definition as a basis to judge Scripture. When he does this, he finds Scripture wanting. This is necessarily the case because what the Bible reveals about love and God doesn’t coincide with his independent understanding of who he thinks God should be and what he envisions love to be. The world of Scripture is not supplying his definition of love. Of course, this is to be expected.
Here’s what I’ve learned: May (and others) assume that in order for God to be loving, universalism must be true. In other words, the only way May and others can fathom that God could possibly be loving is if everyone, no matter what they believe, is going to heaven. This, of course, entails a complete failure to understand God’s grace. Grace, be definition, cannot be owed. If God owes everyone grace, then it’s not grace. When a person gets what they deserve, it’s called justice. May’s failure to comprehend grace is made explicit when he says that God’s love and forgiveness are not unconditional because he requires people to repent in order to receive it! In May’s mind, if God requires people to repent in order to receive forgiveness, he’s unloving!
In one sense, this should not surprise us as believers. I harbor no ill will toward May. I realize that our presuppositions are vastly different. The Bible is my authority. It’s not his authority. However, when one’s misinterpretations of Scripture are so glaring, they must be pointed out. Philosophers usually engage in metaphysical speculation, not biblical exegesis. (Seriously, that’s the case. Read Richard Creel’s book Thinking Philosophically: An Introduction to Critical Reflection and Rational Dialogue. He makes this point on pages 36 and 60.) Thus, when May (or anyone else) attempts to interpret Scripture and then writes for publication, they open themselves up for criticism.
The point to remember in all this is that God hasn’t left it up to us to define love. He defines love. This is necessarily the case because God defines what is. As John Piper writes, “We do not negotiate what we want for reality. God defines reality.”
God showed us what love looks like when he sent his Son Jesus Christ to earth. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). And he did that for sinful humanity. He “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). I can already hear the laughs and the mocking of certain persons reading those words. And I’m okay with that.
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26).