Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine On the Love of God the Father

saint_augustine_by_philippe_de_champaigne

I think one of the hardest things for people to get about Christianity is the love of God the Father. The images throughout history of a wrathful, angry, miserly, simply pissed off God the Father, are frequent enough that he ends up as a trope in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was perhaps wise of the Eastern Church to refuse to paint him, and the Reformation Church to cast aside all depiction to avoid misunderstanding (at the very least). This angry Zeus image is often countered by a placid, loving grampa or cosmic jolly Santa Claus.

I’ve struggled with seeing God the Father as loving; his love always felt conditional. The possibility of him blowing up at the slightest misstep always kept me on my toes, my knees, as I resented him for being so angry.

I tried to self-medicate the broken image of The Father by imagining him as my “Abba” my Dad, but it only worked in starts and fits. It always felt like that angry God was lurking behind ‘Abba.’ After a long time, however, I’ve slowly come to see God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ: The eternal Loving Father who love me, and the world, enough to deal with my sin and my shame.

My journey through this will take too long to account in this post, but I think that this quote from Augustine summarizes how I’ve come to see my eternal, loving, heavenly Father.

The love, therefore, wherewith God loveth, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own.

Let not the fact, then, of our having been reconciled unto God through the death of His Son be so listened to or so understood, as if the Son reconciled us to Him in this respect, that He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemy is reconciled to enemy, so that thereafter they become friends, and mutual love takes the place of their mutual hatred, but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because of our sin. Whether I say the truth on this, let the apostle testify, when he says: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

He, therefore, had love toward us even when we were practicing enmity against Him and working iniquity; and yet to Him it is said with perfect truth, “Thou hatest, O Lord, all workers of iniquity.” Accordingly, in a wonderful and divine manner, even when He hated us, He loved us; for He hated us, in so far as we were not what He Himself had made; and because our own iniquity had not in every part consumed His work, He knew at once both how, in each of us, to hate what we had done, and to love what He had done. Tractates on John cx.6. 

 

There are a few things that this passage hits just right on the head:

  1. The Father’s love is not dependent on the Son’s work of reconciliation. He loved us from before the creation of the world. In fact, his love, as Augustine says is ‘immutable’ unchanging. That is indeed good news.
  2. The Son’s work of reconciliation was not because the Father hated us. Instead, it is because the Father loved us in our sin and estrangement. We were dead in our iniquity, and in his love, God the Faher sent his only beloved Son to rescue us. We were created good, and God the Father with his Son and Spirit, saved us from the deformity of sin, not to make us loveable but because he loved us, and wanted to make us lovely once more.
  3. Because God is our creator and Savior, because he knows what we were created for, he can hate the sin in us, while loving the one he created to be with him and without sin. He hates the deformity in us, with the goal of saving and healing it, and he loves us who have been deformed, again in order to make us new.

While Augustine does not hit on wrath in this quote, I think it is worth saying something about that in conclusion. There are a few misconceptions about wrath, first that it is somehow a particular feature of the Father – that caricature again. It is more appropriate to attribute wrath to the Father, Son, and Spirit together. The Triune God is wrathful against sin, not just the Father. Further, Wrath is perhaps better understood as a sub-attribute of God’s love, rather than an eternal attribute. God is eternally existing in the abundance and plentitude of his Triune life. God freely creates out of this life, and in that creation, sin comes about in creaturely rebellion against God. God’s eternal attitude towards his creation is love and grace, presented in the fact that he sustains creatures existence. Wrath is God’s love turned against the rebellion and destruction of his good creation. Thus, wrath is an attribute of his love that arises in the external works of God in his creation. God hates the sin, has wrath against it, while loving the creature he created – to the point of destroying sin in us. Finally, the triune God’s wrath against sin is poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross against our sin and death. The work of Christ death was a Triune action to deal with sin and death in the context of the Trinity’s own eternal and abundant life.

(I submit these thoughts without an expectation that I am right in all cases. I share these thoughts in submission to the Lord of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his Scriptures, and for the edification of the Church).

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