Q&A: God Loves Pagans Too

God Loves Pagans Too

Question

It is generally agreed by Calvinists that the love of God is for the elect only. How is this reconciled with the rich young ruler where it is stated that Jesus loved him?

Answer

Actually, this is not the general agreement of Calvinists. Mosts Calvinists believe that God loves people other than the elect. They do, however, believe that God has a special love for the elect that is different from his love for others. Most Calvinists recognize at least two general types of God's love for man: love for the elect; and the lesser love for mankind at large. Many (including we here at Third Millennium) add a third category to this: God's love for his covenant people. We believe that God's actions and words in the Bible demonstrate that his love for his covenant people is greater than his love for mankind at large, but less than his love for the elect.

The reason we believe in these three types of love is that the Bible portrays God as demonstrating greater and lesser degrees of kindness, mercy, grace, care, concern, protection, compassion, etc. to these different groups of people. Of course, these ideas also depend on a flexible definition of the word "love" that understands it to mean different things in different contexts. In the case of the wicked, it is true in one sense that God hates them (e.g. Ps. 5:5), but it is also true in another sense that he loves them just as he instructs us to do (e.g. Matt. 5:43-45). This love is not great enough to cause him to elect them to salvation, but it is enough to cause him to show them patience and kindness.

In the particular case of Jesus and the rich young ruler, there are several answers that Calvinists offer. First, some argue that the statement that Jesus loved the rich young ruler indicates that the man was actually elect. After all, none of the texts that mention him say that he perished in his sin (Matt. 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27). The assumption that he was not elect has no more foundation in the text itself than the assumption that he was elect. Others argue that the love Jesus expressed for the rich young ruler was God's general love for mankind, or even his covenant love, as distinguished from his electing love.

Still others think that there is a different dynamic in play. Specifically, although Jesus is God incarnate, the New Testament frequently if not usually portrays him from the perspective of his humanity. Jesus could have loved the rich young ruler (just as we are to love everyone) with a human love, without necessitating that in his divinity he felt the same kind or degree of love for the man. Because each of Jesus' natures retains its own attributes, it would in fact be impossible for Jesus in his humanity to love the rich young ruler with a divine love. Finally, others argue that more than one of the aforementioned explanations are simultaneously true.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.