Omnibenevolent and Loving

By James M. Rochford

The term omnibenevolent comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “good” (benevolentia). The English word love has so many meanings that it is difficult to define. People say, “I love this song” or “I love my grandma” or “I love hot dogs.” The term is thrown around so frequently that it’s necessary to define this important term (see 1 Cor. 13:1-8).

Put simply, love is “willing the good of its object.”[1] Divine love is “God’s concern for the welfare of those whom he loves,” where he “unselfishly seeks our ultimate welfare.”[2] God “eternally gives of himself to others,”[3] and this is “one of the grandest themes in all of Scripture.”[4]

Specifically, God’s love is (1) sacrificial, (2) emotional, (3) confrontational, and (4) forgiving.

Biblical Basis

(1) God’s love is sacrificial. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). He also said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus said these words on the eve of his own torture and death. Indeed, Jesus died for us “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8). In his parables in Luke 15, Jesus depicts God as the one who initiates and seeks us out: God is the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, the woman who searches for the lost coin, and ultimately the Father who ran to his lost son.

(2) God’s love is emotional. The psalmist writes, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Ps. 56:8 NLT). God told the nation of Israel, “My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled” (Hos. 11:8). Jesus experienced anger at sin (Jn. 2; Mt. 23), grief (Jn. 11:35), compassion (Mt. 20:30-34; Lk. 18:35ff), and even fear in the face of taking up the Cross (Mt. 26:36ff; Lk. 22:44). This is why Scripture tells us to express emotional love toward one another (Rom. 12:15; Eph. 4:32).

(3) God’s love is confrontational. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19). The author of Hebrews writes, “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6). If nothing was wrong with us, God would have no need to discipline us. However, much is wrong with us! Therefore, it’s only loving for God to confront us in love.

(4) God’s love is forgiving. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”[5] Well, God did practice it—fully and totally. While Jesus hung from the Cross, Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). Paul writes, “God made you alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14). Peter writes, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8), and Paul writes, “[Love] does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:5).

God’s love is conditional only on his own nature and his choice. Moses said, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 7:7-8).

God’s love is so deep and so vast that he loves the entire world. Despite the rampant idolatry and sin of Israel, he continues to love them with an “everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). To a far greater degree, John records, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16). He loved the world that rejected him, hated him, and ultimately killed him (Jn. 1:10-11).

Love is essential to God’s nature. John writes, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8), and he is “rich in mercy, because of His great love” (Eph. 2:4). Isaiah writes, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you… He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry” (Isa. 30:18-19). Taking away love from God would be like taking away one of the side of a triangle. God would cease to be God.

Because God loves Jesus, God loves us. Even before creation, God gave and received love within the persons of the Trinity. Jesus prayed, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24). Nothing has changed since then. God still loves his Son. At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt. 3:17). Later, at the Transfiguration, God once again said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5) Apparently, God doesn’t get tired of talking about how much he loves his Son and how proud he is with him.

Because you are “in Christ,” this means that God has this view toward you too. Because you are “in the Beloved,” you are deeply loved (Eph. 1:6). We can see the logic like this:

  1. God loves and approves of Jesus: fully, totally, and at all times.
  2. I’m identified with Christ, and I’m “in Christ.”
  3. Therefore, God approves of me: fully, totally, and at all times.

This caused the apostle John to absolutely marvel at the love of God. He writes, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). The term “how great” (potapēn) originally meant “of what country.” It refers to a “reference to class or kind” or “of what sort or kind” (BDAG, p.856). Every single time this word is used it “always implies astonishment.”[6] Stott writes, “It is as if the Father’s love is so unearthly, so foreign to this world, that John wonders from what country it may come.”[7] John is thinking about the love of God, and he asks his readers, “What kind of love is this? It’s out of this world!”

If God wasn’t all-loving, what implications would this have for our lives?

If God wasn’t all-loving, we would shrink back from him in fear. The infinite God would terrify us if it wasn’t for these three words: “God is love.” Indeed, this is why John writes, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).

If God wasn’t all-loving, we would wonder if he would ever reject us. Yet, Paul writes, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10). Jesus died for us when we were “helpless,” “sinners,” and “enemies.” If he died for us in this condition, why would he reject us now that we are dearly loved sons? Keller writes, “If he was able to save us when we were hostile to him, would he fail us now that we are friends? If he didn’t give up on you when you were at war with him, what could you do to make him give up on you now that you are at peace with him?”[8]

If God wasn’t all-loving, we wouldn’t believe in the Cross of Christ. It would just be too difficult to believe that the Cosmic Creator would humble himself to that extent, taking on the form of a human and dying the death that we deserve (Phil. 2:5-11). However, if God is omnibenevolent, the Cross is precisely the sort of extraordinary act of love that God would perform.

If God wasn’t all-loving, we might think that God doesn’t want to be close to us. Yet, Moses told the Israelites something remarkable about our intimacy with God when he wrote, “God guarded [Israel] as the pupil of His eye” (Deut. 32:10). Scholars struggle in translating this Hebrew idiom:

  • “…like the pupil of his eye” (NASB, NET, HCSB).
  • “…as the apple of his eye” (KJV, ESV, NIV, NRSV).
  • “…as he would guard his own eyes” (NLT, NIRV).
  • “…as those he loved very much” (NCV).

Literally, the Hebrew word (ʾiyshown) literally refers to “the little man of his eye.”[9] Have you ever been so close to someone that you can see your reflection in the other person’s eyes? That’s what this is talking about. Moses is referring “one’s reflection as seen in the pupil of another person’s eye.”[10] Very few people in your life fit that category. In fact, you can probably count on one hand how many people you allow to get that close! But this is the sort of intimacy God wants to have with you.

If God wasn’t all-loving, we wouldn’t care as much about his view of us. The importance of a person is directly proportional to that person’s view of me. As C.S. Lewis once remarked that if he wanted admiration for his books, he wouldn’t care if his dog barked his approval.[11]

When Michael Jackson did his famous “moon walk” for the first time, his hero Fred Astaire called him the next day to tell him, “You’re a hell of a mover! Man, you really put them on their @sses last night!” Reflecting on that phone call, Jackson later said, “It was the greatest compliment I had ever received in my life, and the only one I had ever wanted to believe.”[12]

The same is true for you. The higher the importance of the person, the more their words mean to you. When you encounter God, no greater being could possibility exist. Therefore, his love for you is ultimate. The only being in the universe whose approval really matters looks at you with love, affection, and approval.

Your role is to make this truth the center of your life.[13] Very easily, you can make these truths abstract concepts rather than life-changing realities. Does this describe you? Some people roll their eyes at the love of God, saying, “I’ve heard all of this, and I’m just as irritable, depressed, and bitter as ever!” But this sounds more like a confession than anything else. The question isn’t, “Do you know these truths?” Rather, the question is, “Do you focus and reflect on these realities?” and “Are these truths becoming the greatest treasure of your life?” As Jude writes, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21).

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 585.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 318.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 199.

[4] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.349.

[5] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1958) 27.

[6] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 132.

[7] John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 122.

[8] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (The Good Book Co., 2014), 118.

[9] E.S. Kalland, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p.204. Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill), p.44.

[10] D. L. Christensen, Deuteronomy (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), p.797.

[11] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1958), 93.

[12] “Inside Michael Jackson’s Iconic First Moonwalk Onstage,” Rolling Stone (October, 2015).

[13] I am indebted to Gary DeLashmutt for the main content in this concluding paragraph.