God’s Love Is Unrelenting
There has been a running debate in the pages of the New Oxford Review on the nature of God’s love. Several published pieces (e.g., “Is God’s Love Unconditional?” article by Carmelo Fallace, Feb. 2008; “‘Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner’: Not Scriptural, Not Catholic Doctrine,” guest column by Erven Park, June 2006; “The Same Old Yada-Yada,” New Oxford Note, Oct. 2005; and numerous letters to the editor) have presented the important point that our relationship with God depends on our remaining in a state of grace. We cannot do whatever we wish and expect to remain blessed by God. Damnation is a very real possibility, and Hell is not empty. However, these articles leave us with an incomplete picture.
There is no change in God. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This is made clear in several verses of the Bible (e.g., Num. 23:19; Heb. 7:21; Jas. 1:17). If we take love and hate to be opposites, and say that God hates the unrepentant sinner but loves him when he repents, as the above articles argue, we are saying that God changes.
Throughout my life I have changed my opinion about things. At one point I did not like rainy weather. Today, rain brings me joy. My new attitude regarding rain reflects a change in me. Likewise, if God hates (and does not love) a man who is in a state of sin, and then loves (and does not hate) him once he has made a good confession, God has changed as a result of human action. The sin of a righteous man makes God change from an attitude of love to hate. The sincerely repentant man who seeks out a priest for confession makes God change from an attitude of hate to love. This is theologically untenable.
Some verses of the Bible seem to show God changing His mind, threatening punishment to sinners and then “repenting of the evil He intended.” Other verses speak of God’s strong right arm or the palm of His hand, or of God walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day. We recognize these as anthropomorphism, using human terms to make God more understandable to man. But God knew from all eternity that the people of Nineveh, for example, would repent as a result of Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3:10) and intended to spare them. He did not “change His mind.”
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Willa Cather, in Death Comes for the Archbishop, offers a clear literary portrait of a man who sees the divine in the ordinary.