For us to grasp a new concept, we must be able to relate it to something we know. Therefore, whenever a good frame of reference is lacking, we find that our comprehension is limited.
Personally, we may have witnessed and experienced extraordinary expressions of self-sacrificing love on the part of humans. Yet, even the most remarkable example of such love pales alongside that of the Most High and his dear Son.
The apostle Paul very much wanted fellow believers to grasp the greatness of Christ’s love and also that of his Father. Still, the apostle recognized that this love simply could not be comprehended in all its fullness. This, however, did not keep him from praying that fellow believers would, to the extent possible, grasp the width, length, height and depth of Christ’s love, a love “that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18, 19; NRSV)
We cannot fully fathom what the Son of God willingly gave up to become a human on earth and then to live among persons who, with rare exceptions, spurned his kindness and compassion. Repeatedly, he was misrepresented in a hateful way one in league with the Devil. Finally, the intense hostility and envy of the most influential and powerful men among his own people reached its climax in their maneuvering of Roman governor Pontius Pilate to have him executed in a cruel and shameful manner. Because of his love for humankind the Son of God willingly undertook a course that he knew would be extremely painful and terminate in a hideous death. Nevertheless he found delight in doing what he knew to be his Father’s will, opening up to all members of the human family the opportunity to become his dear brothers and beloved children of his Father. This priceless relationship could be theirs by accepting, in faith, his sacrificial death as the means for having their sins forgiven. (Hebrews 2:10-18)
In what Christ has done for us individually, we can also see the greatness of his Father’s love, for it was he who gave his Son. (John 3:16) While a change in an individual’s circumstances may result in even close relatives and friends distancing themselves, our heavenly Father will never withdraw his love from anyone who has, in faith, accepted his Son’s sacrifice and regards it as priceless and totally unmerited. As the apostle Paul wrote: “For I am certain of this: Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, NJB)
This is indeed the abiding love of a caring Father, a love that has been revealed in a most wondrous way through his Son. Accordingly, even the most loving and compassionate people in our life will never love us more than do our heavenly Father and his Son. After coming to a greater appreciation of God’s love for her, one young mother was moved to say: “I now know that I have a heavenly Father who loves me more than does my own father, and who loves me more than I do my own son.” Although the Scriptures reveal that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), indicating that love sums up all that he is in his very being, many who profess to be his children tend to limit that love. Others find it very difficult to reconcile expressions of his anger with his love.
Since “God is love,” there is never a time when he ceases to be other than a caring, compassionate heavenly Father. As God’s Son said when applying the point of a Shepherd’s searching for a strayed sheep: “Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14, NJB)
The apostle Paul pointed out that God’s wrath is primarily expressed in his letting humans experience the painful effect from acting contrary to the voice of conscience, the objective being that they might be moved to change their ways. (Romans 1:18-2:11) The plagues that are mentioned in the book of Revelation are probably to be regarded in the same light. These plagues may be understood as God’s abandonment of humankind to the bitter consequences of their defiance and outright hatred of his ennobling ways. The object in view, however, is not simply to let humans experience retribution for their actions but to lead them to repentance. This is confirmed by the fact that, with reference to those who survive the first series of plagues, the inspired record says: “The rest of the human race, who escaped death by these plagues, refused either to abandon their own handiwork to stop worshiping devils, the idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood that can neither see nor hear nor move. Nor did they give up their murdering, or witchcraft, or fornication or stealing.” (Revelation 9:20, 21; NJB) The mention of their refusal to change indicates that they could have done so but chose to harden themselves in pursuing their hateful, God-dishonoring ways. Even the final expression of divine anger (seemingly represented by the emptying of seven bowls upon the earth) does not rule out the possibility for repentance. (Revelation 15:1; 16:1)
Just prior to the emptying of the bowls of divine wrath, the conquerors or victors, by reason of their having resisted the intense pressures to become worshipers of the wild beast and its image, are depicted as standing in the proximity of God’s throne. (Revelation 15:2; compare 4:2-6.) This suggests that all genuine Christians have attained their heavenly inheritance. Gone, then, will be their influence for good among humans on earth. Therefore, when the Almighty, in expression of his anger, totally abandons humankind to the bitter consequences of their having suppressed the voice of conscience, they will reap, in an unmitigated manner, the fruitage of their course. Still, in the face of the divine judgment that lies ahead, the song of those who gained the victory resounds with a refrain of hope. “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3, 4, NAB) What a grand testimony this is to God’s love! Even in the final period of judgment, the door to repentance remains open to people of all nations. The expectation of the singers is that many, on account of the righteous judgments, will come to have a reverential fear of God and will worship him. In being part of his prophetic word, this song must be fulfilled.
Thus, God’s love and compassion are not concealed even when he is expressing his wrath. No one will lose out on the joys and blessings our heavenly Father desires to bestow on humankind unless individuals deliberately and defiantly choose to trample upon his love. Whereas the fullness of his love surpasses our comprehension, we can have every confidence that he will never forsake anyone who wants to be his child and appreciatively accepts what he has done through his beloved Son.