I think most English-speaking Christians are familiar with the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me,” which begins with the words, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I’ve appreciated the fact that within our little congregation we don’t consider it unworthy of adult attention, and hymn 1014 in Songs of Faith and Praise has made it into our worship repertoire multiple times this year (thanks Winslow and Warren!) Even if we didn’t have a congregation half-composed of children, it is an appropriate hymn to have in constant rotation (to borrow a radio term).
The belief expressed in the first three words of the tune (“Jesus loves me”) are so widely held and seem so obvious that it would be fair to say they are axiomatic (“self-evident or unquestionable”1). Even if we insist on actual evidence that Jesus loves us, the most famous verse of the Bible quickly comes to mind:
“For 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, English Standard Version).
Deductive reasoning. God loves the world. We are part of the world. God loves us.
Or does He?
About a week ago I was following a Twitter conversation between two men I respect: Mike, a preacher in northwest Arkansas, and Steve, a famous Christian musician (who is now also a pastor in Florida). They were at odds discussing God’s love and hate (for example, what does it mean to say that God hated Esau in Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13?) and then Steve tweeted, “You’ve got it. Amen.”
Hmmm…but Mike had posited, “Hating in Hebrew means loving less”…immediately followed by a tweet that gave context to his statement…and I was pretty sure that Steve felt hate meant “real” hate…as in “not love.” So I replied to the pair with, “Not sure exactly where you ended up 🙂 Steve, are we to love everyone? Does God love everyone (at least to some degree)?” Steve responded:
God doesnt love everyone, forgive everyone, nor is He a respector of persons. His love, as is His grace, is salvific & not common.
(Please note since Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, it is common to leave off nonessential punctuation…and to make typos.)
So much for axiomatic, eh? If Steve, and the majority of his “reformed” calvinistic brothers-and-sisters are right, the first verse of the song in question should be, “Jesus loves me because I’m a Christian”2 and the first words of hymn number 1015 should be “Jesus loves the Christian little children…” Jesus loves you only if you have repented and believed in Him (see Acts 2:38 and 16:31) and not a moment before. (Well, since they also believe in the elect being predestined to salvation, it might be more accurate to say that Jesus only loves you if you happened to be one of God’s arbitrarily chosen).
Although our hymnal’s version doesn’t include the following words (I heard the St. John’s Children’s Choir sing them to me thanks to iTunes), perhaps where many of us separate from Steve’s theology is encapsulated the line, “Jesus loves me when I’m bad, though it makes him very sad.” Biblical Christians agree that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that we are all in need of the robe described by Isaiah:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10)
We can concur with Steve that without that garment we will not enter through the Pearly Gates…and that we are seen as “bad” without it…but he would argue that until we don it Jesus does not love us when we are bad, and (I suspect) he would also say our sins not only make Him sad, but downright furious—wrathful.
Now, in fairness to my favorite Christian artist, believers are often mistaken when it comes to the love of God. Whether it be universalists who heretically hold that everyone will be saved or many others who think that the quote “love the sinner and hate the sin” is actually in the Bible, we can often anthropologically apply degraded human standards of love to God’s holy character, or dissect our Lord’s nature in such a way that we lose track of His justice and…yes…wrath.
And…to wrap up part one of this discussion…let’s also give folks like Steve credit for trying to be scriptural. Before we can conclude what the confines of “Jesus Loves Me” is we will have to, without marginalizing the product of the Holy Spirit, explain references like these:
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers (Psalm 5:5).
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence (Psalm 11:5).
Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
there I began to hate them (Hosea 9:15a).3
And, of course…
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13).
Does God love those who haven’t entered the Body of Christ? Next week we learn from a different Christian singer—this one the two year old daughter of another Twitter friend, Daniel…
1 Definition of axiomatic in the Mac Dictionary, Version 2.1.3
2 A Reformed friend of mine took exception to me suggesting a Calvinistic modification of the first verse of “Jesus Loves Me” be “Jesus loves me because I’m a Christian” since no Reformed theologian would ever claim we are saved first and then loved (correctly pointing to Romans 5:8). Although I wasn’t trying to make any comment about the order of salvation versus love (just that in their system of beliefs God only loves the saved)…it probably would be safer to propose (if I am claiming a Calvinistic context) “Jesus loves me because I’m part of the Elect.”
3 Credit for these references goes to http://carm.org/does-god-hate-anyone (accessed Nov. 27, 2010)