The Rule of Love
By Jonathan Leeman
It’s hard to get our finite and fallen minds around the win-win dynamic of God’s love and glory, especially its inward push toward God’s self-exaltation. Movie actor Brad Pitt, explaining why he abandoned the Christianity of his youth, spoke for fallen humanity when he said: “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” Pitt’s words make intuitive sense. Human glory, as we experience it, is so often a zero-sum-game proposition. The glory one team receives by winning the championship game depends upon another team losing. It’s how the system works.
Yet there are at least three problems with Pitt’s line of thinking. First, he places God and humanity in equivalent moral positions, as if God and humans were entitled to the same things—worthy (or not) of the same things. And if my life shouldn’t be “about ego,” neither should God’s. This assumption fails to recognize that God is not one of us!
Second, God is triune, which means “self ” love necessarily involves more than one person. Giving and receiving are merged.
Third, human glory is finite and uncreative, while God’s glory is infinite and creative. Pastor John Piper has likened human glory to a leaky bucket of water, and divine glory to a wellspring of water. One quickly runs out. The other offers an unlimited supply of life. It’s an excellent illustration. My glory means your loss, but God’s glory means your gain, if you belong to God. That’s the win-win.
As with God’s glory, so with his God-centered love. When God the Father loves God the Son for God’s sake, the whole universe gains. Indeed, the universe gets created in the first place! Do you see the life-creating power of God’s God-centered love? When you or I love our children ultimately for our own sake or even for their sakes, the universe begins to shrink around us and them. Loving them ultimately for our own sake means exploiting them. Loving them for their sake means spoiling them. In both cases, things get ugly, and we’re back to the black hole. Therefore, we must love our children, like God, for God’s sake.
True love, Augustine put it so well, is always with respect to God. Any love for spouse or children, friend or neighbor, house or work, that is not given with respect to God is not true love.
Loving God—and loving others with respect to God—then, requires Spirit-empowered obedience. It requires us to internalize God’s law, God’s culture, God’s way of being, as Jesus did. It requires divine mimicry. This is what it means to participate in the divine nature—obediently living and loving like God for the sake of God. This is how we open ourselves up to an infinite universe of divine beauty, while closing ourselves off to the black hole of sin and death. And what else shall God’s people do throughout eternity, but discover the vaster and farther reaches of God’s wisdom, love and righteousness?
In fact, here’s what the Serpent in the garden never wanted us to see: To obey God is to share in his rule. Walking in God’s ways, for Adam and Eve, meant ruling over the earth with a crown of glory (see Ps. 8). By submitting to the heavenly Father, Jesus, ironically, assumed the authority of the Father. “To be in authority,” theologian Oliver O’Donovan has remarked, “you have to be under it, and if you are under it you are in it.”
How different from the love we find on today’s movie screens and in university classrooms. Love, says the world, is utterly free, constrained by nothing. Yet love apart from God’s law is like an expanding universe trying to ignore the laws of physics. It is like an adulterous free-for- all. You love one thing, then another, then another, until everything is cheapened and sucked dry. In your trail are the charred remains of once-precious lives, while your own universe has contracted and shriveled, like a vacuum in space with all inside and no outside.
Excerpted from The Rule of Love by Jonathan Leeman, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, Crossway.org.