John answers that question in these familiar words: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Salvation began in the great ocean of God's love. "For God so loved the world." The first verse most children learn is the hardest to believe: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). It is easier to believe God is passive or God is angry than to believe God is love. Why? Because from the earliest age most us experience ourselves as objects of disapproval. Every child learns to say, "No," before he/she learns to say, "Yes." It is easier to believe that God ignores us or God is mad at us than to believe God loves us.
How much does God love us? How can love be measured? In pounds? In yards? In gallons? In hours? If human love cannot be measured, how much less can we compute God's love? Paul prays that "you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:17-19).
Can you calculate the capacity of a box with these dimensions: length, infinite; width, infinite; height, infinite. Infinity times infinity times infinity equals infinity. That's the size of God's love. Although he does not measure the infinite, Paul gives us
First, consider the breadth of God's love. The Bible doesn't say, God so loved the Jews, or God so loved the church, but God so loved the world. His love is without the kind of barriers that limit lesser human love. Jesus said, "As the Father loved me, so I love you" (John 15:9). We see God's love in Christ. His love was without class barriers: he dined with Zacchaeus, the despised Publican (Luke 19:5). His love was without race barriers: he responded to the plea of the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:26). His love was without national barriers: he honored the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10). His love was without popularity barriers: he befriended sinners and social outcasts (Matthew 11:19). His love was without financial barriers: he praised the widow who gave two mites (Mark 12:34). His love was without pride barriers: he washed the disciples feet (John 13:14). His love was without denominational barriers: he rebuked the disciples for their intolerance toward a follower who was not one of the twelve (Mark 9:37). His love was without age barriers: he enjoyed the company of little children (Mark 10:15). Jesus loved everybody without discrimination.
Second, consider the length of God's love. It is without end. Jeremiah declared, "God loves you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). Paul asks, "What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither things present nor things to come (neither circumstances nor contingencies) can separate us from the love of God which in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 5:7-8).
Third, consider the depth of God's love. It is without self-interest. There is no reason for God's love except for God's will (Romans 9:11-16). You don't have to change and be good to be loved by God. You are loved by God so that you can change and be good. And after a thousand years of changing and growing into the likeness of Jesus, God will still love you not one bit more than he does right now. No matter what you do, you can't make God love you nor can you make him stop loving you. Love that you do something to deserve is not love at all. It is usually the product of a sick home and produces a sick theology. God's love can't be earned. It is total and unconditional. God loves you; not because you are lovable but because he is love, not because he needs to receive but because he delights to give.
Fourth, consider the height of God's love. It is without hypocrisy. Jesus, who showed us God's love, never lowered his standards for anyone, regardless of how important they were and however much their discipleship would have helped him. He was interested in them, not in his own advantage. To Nicodemus, politically great, he said, "You must be born again" you have to start all over from the beginning (John 3:3). To the scribe, ecclesiastically great, he said, "Follow me, if you like, but you will have nowhere to lay your head" (Matthew 8:19-20). To the rich man, financially great, he said, "Your riches are your hindrance, give them to the poor" (Matthew 19:16-22). To Simon the Pharisee, socially great, he said, "You love little for only in a little way have you sought or received forgiveness" (Luke 7:39-48).
When the gospel says God loves you, it means he really loves you not with a grandfatherly benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not with the cold philanthropy of a do-gooder whose charity serves his own tax advantage, not with the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guest BUT the consuming fire himself, the love that made the worlds, persistent as an artist's love for a painting, despotic as a master's love for a pet, jealous as a husband's love for his wife or a wife's love for her husband. Even so, God loves you!
He loves you in spite of your feelings of insignificance.
God does not love the world generally, but you specifically: you, one
person out of two billion inhabitants on earth; one generation out of
thousands of generations, one planet out of multiplied millions of planets
and stars. If God were to send an angel to look for our world amid the
glittering hosts of heaven, it would be like sending a child to Huntington
Beach to find one particular grain of sand. But God found you and embraced
you with his love. If God has a wallet, your picture is in it. You are
one of his children. A few years ago when my children were small we needed
to buy a new car. I asked my daughter to suppose a man offered me a choice
between two things: a brand new car, the best car ever made, or you. "Which
do you think I would choose?" I asked.
And he loves you in spite of your feelings of unloveliness. God showed his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He loved an adulterer, a cheater, a beggar, a demoniac and YOU! He loved you so much that if you were the only sinner in the world, he would still have gone to the cross for you alone. "It was his love for me that nailed him to the tree to die in agony for all my sins." It was love held him to the cross. The nails were only symbols to those who would doubt.
The love of God is not something to be admired from a distance, but something to be experienced personally. I can understand why someone would run away from the wrath of God, but why would anyone run away from the love of God? Read this aloud with your name inserted: "For God so loved _________ that he gave his one and only Son, that if ___________ believes in him __________ shall not perish but have eternal life."