Love requires self-limitation

Cross_HeartWhy does God allow what He allows? This is the question that has haunted mankind from the beginning. There have been many theories and even crazy stories made up about why God does what He does, yet it still remains a mystery.

The problem people often have with this is, if God is all powerful and can do anything He wants, why does He allow evil? (Called theodicy). I talked about this in a couple of posts last year. If you want to read them they are the following:

It’s the subject of the first post that I want to elaborate on here.

We know that the very essence of God is love, and love means freedom which requires self-limitation. Love, by nature, is other-centered and self-sacrificial. To love another, I must limit myself.

Love cannot be forced or coerced. It cannot exist without free will. You can either be “all-powerful” in a relationship…or love.

Love in relationship can only flourish between two free people who willingly limit themselves for the other. In fact, this is a hallmark of two people in love–they not only go out of their way to please the other, they trade their independence for interdependence, limiting their free time and other options for love.

When it’s all about me it’s no longer about love.

Selfishness and fear are the opposites of love.

I limit myself around other people by considering their needs, feelings, desires, by not taking over the conversation, by listening instead of waiting for my turn to talk …whenever I do these things, I show love.

I limit myself by not demonizing people I don’t agree with, by seeking to understand their heart instead.

Love makes room for another. Without creating this space, we feel swallowed up and smothered. So just like a good parent, God withdrew so that we could live and learn how to love. As it’s been said, He doesn’t hide from us, He hides for us.

When God created, He automatically limited Himself to His creation. This doesn’t mean He’s bound by His creation, or that He can’t intervene at all, but that He willingly limits His interventions because of love.

By limiting Himself for love, God takes the biggest risk of all—that the object of His affection will misunderstand His love and even hate Him because He didn’t give them what they thought they wanted. He risks that they will do things, even evil things, that are not His will or His heart at all.

God so loved us that He gave. There is no greater love than self-limiting , sacrificial love. Jesus so loved us that He became a man and subjected Himself to us, even our enmity, fear, and hatred that put Him to the cross.

Why do we place such a high value for those who give their lives for another if not because we know instinctively, innately, deeply, that this is the very essence of God’s love?

God is the Prodigal’s father (Luke 15:11-32), who waits for both sons to return His affections. He’s ever vigilant, patiently waiting, not willing that anyone be lost (2 Pet.3:9). This also means He must wait and watch while people deny Him, run away from Him, or serve Him without loving Him.

Think about it. God even limits Himself when His own people don’t actually want Him. When they want a whole host of other things…

When they would rather go to heaven, or escape this world, hell, or the Great Tribulation.

When they want religion instead of relationship, wanting social status, a successful ministry.

When they want to exercise His power and authority over demons, sickness and disease without being a conduit of His love to those so bound.

Some prefer a legal relationship with God, like that of a judge and defendant. It’s all about reward and punishment. It’s not about love.

Some just want Him to fix their mess; they just don’t really want Him.

Yes, God even demonstrates His self-limiting love by letting us busy ourselves with everything other than wanting an intimate heart connection with Him.

But even though we may forsake Him, He will never forsake us.

If we would ever but dare draw near to Him, we would see just how near He is to us.

Paul told us what God’s love looks like in us when he said…

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…

He continues by telling us what love looked like in Jesus…

…who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil.2:4-8 NKJV)

Yes, this is what love looks like. It’s self-giving, other-centered, and self-limiting.

I think God allows because He is love.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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12 Responses to Love requires self-limitation

  1. Heidi Viars says:

    Powerful post, Mel! Thanks!

  2. John Cummuta says:

    I believe God also intervenes, in ways that we might interpret as negative, because He is love.

    When I began reading the Old Testament through a Jesus lens, I realized that, even when he was instructing the children of Israel to kill every living thing in a region, or when God himself was destroying all life in a couple cities…or even across the whole earth, save a handful of people in a boat full of animals…He was doing it out of love.

    He was lovingly cutting out the cancers that would have eventually consumed his beloved children, those who had responded to his love. He regretfully destroyed those who had been invited but who refused relationship, to LOVINGLY protect the viability of those who had accepted relationship with him.

    It was always and is always love.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You bring up a good point. Everything God does is based in love, even His judgment. We have no mental grid for how barbarically evil civilization was when Israel was coming into the Promised Land. Human sacrifice was prevalent and vicious cruelty was the norm. God was actually being merciful and showing restraint! He was revealing THEIR nature in His actions. Think about it. He waited until there was only one family left before He brought the Flood. He definitely waits until the last possible minute before taking severe action.

      But when the “fullness of time” had come (Gal.4:4) God reveals who He really is in Jesus Christ. Jesus upgraded our view of God to the right view, not one in our own reflected image, like in the Old Testament. He always wanted us to love our enemies and bless those who spitefully use us, but we couldn’t understand that before Christ. The carnal mind only understands retributive justice…eye for an eye, if you will. But Jesus revealed a God who is restorative…full of mercy and grace. Now, we know God as He truly is because we not only have the example of Jesus, but His Spirit residing in us.

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    “By limiting Himself for love, God takes the biggest risk of all—that the object of His affection will misunderstand His love and even hate Him because He didn’t give them what they thought they wanted. He risks that they will do things, even evil things, that are not His will or His heart at all.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Your last sentence is an even more concise summary: “God allows because He is love.”. Everything He does (or does not do) is always driven by love, because everything He is–is love. So good. Blessings to you!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Cindy. It’s the last sentence that people who get mad at God don’t understand. The same freedom that allows love is the same freedom that allows evil. Without this freedom you have neither love nor evil. You cannot have love without freedom, so evil is allowed to exist. Much of this is still a mystery, but we know there will come a Day when there will be no more evil! And what a Day that will be! Hallelujah!
      Blessings to you, too.

  4. Lance says:

    “they not only go out of their way to please the other, they trade their independence for interdependence, limiting their free time and other options for love.”

    That’s good Mel, really good. Even His “correction” is His restraint, don’t you think? Prodigal comes to mind. Thanks bro. Yay God!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, what Jesus tells us about His Father with the prodigal is that His heart is restorative, not retributive. We, in the West, have been more like the elder brother. We want retribution, but God throws a party instead! This makes religious people’s heads spin. 🙂

      God’s correction (as we see in Heb.12) is like that of a good father (imagine that!), to show us something we’re still missing in our experience in Christ. He reveals something in us that is still damaged that He wants to heal. But spiritual orphans view correction as rejection. That’s why they won’t be corrected. Spiritual sons, on the other hand, view correction as the Father’s love for them, healing them and shaping them into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why sons LOVE correction; they see it as an act of love.

  5. Gahigi says:

    Hi Mel,

    Your timing is interesting! I just don’t know what to take away from this. My mother passed 2 weeks ago and we had her funeral yesterday which is when I read this but I didn’t have time to comment. My pastor would say we allow bad things to happen not God. I don’t know how that works because if we can stop bad things from happening I don’t know how grace fits into that. Because then it seems like if we do it all right then we avoid these things and if not we won’t. Where are the things He wants to bless us with that no amount of works is going to make those things a reality. My mother faught against cancer and in the end it got too hard and she couldn’t do what she needed to do in the natural since it was hard for her to eat and drink. I understand God can’t force her to do those things but I would have loved if He healed her miraculously just as He did in the gospels for many that didn’t deserve it. I just hoped she had at least 30 more years or so. I don’t understand it all but I still trust Him. I don’t know what else to do. Thanks for the post.

    • Mel Wild says:

      First of all, I’m very sorry for the loss of your mother, Gahigi. That’s very hard to take, especially if she could’ve lived many more years. I hate cancer!!! It’s truly an evil disease that has the devil’s footprints all over it–it truly steals, kills and destroys.

      Anyone who is familiar with divine healing will tell you that it’s a mystery why some are healed and some are not. I’ve personally seen many get miraculously healed of cancer and some not get healed. I honestly don’t know why it works that way.

      There are a few things that I do know about it. First, I know that it’s NEVER God’s will for people to get cancer or to die from it. He’s never teaching anyone a lesson or giving it to them for a special purpose! Second, we don’t just inhabit the planet, we co-habit it. There are demonic spiritual forces at work that inflict people with disease and sickness. This is clear from Jesus’ ministry. He rebuked the spirit of infirmity, deaf and dumb spirits, etc. This doesn’t mean that the afflicted are possessed, but are the victims of this malicious intent. Third, we live in a fallen natural world full of toxicities and things we’re not even aware of that affect our health.

      But I also know that this life is not all there is, so even death is temporary. We will be with our loved ones much longer in the next life than in this one! Hallelujah! Jesus also said that in this life we will have trouble (John 16:33), but we overcome, in spite of what circumstances befall us, in Him.

      As far as your questions about grace, it is a free gift. First, it’s Jesus’ finished work on the cross that saves us if we will believe. Grace is the power of God living in us for us to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace empowers us to face hard things, like losing someone we love. Grace empowers us to live Jesus’ life by faith.

      But grace doesn’t mean we have no participation in the workings of God. Quite the opposite. We are given His Spirit to partner with heaven on the earth, by prayer and by exercising our authority in Christ. The kingdom of heaven does not respond to need but to faith. We.ve been given the earth to rule over (Psalm 115:16); we are to exercise Jesus’ authority over sickness, disease, and all the works of the devil like Jesus did (Acts 10:38; Matt.10:7-10; John 20:21; Mark 16:17-18; 1 John 3:8; 4:17). And like Jesus did, we don’t ask God to do something He told us to do. We rebuke sickness and disease in His name. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean we will do it perfectly, so people aren’t always healed. And, as I already said, there are many other factors involved, so in the end it’s a mystery.

      I pray for you as Paul prayed, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Blessings to you. Know that you are loved and that He will never let go of you.

  6. Pingback: The longevity of love | In My Father's House

  7. Gahigi says:

    Thanks Mel. I never really thought about the fact that in eternity we’ll be together a whole lot longer. And thank you for praying this prayer. I know we need peace and joy and anything else the Lord wants to give us during times like this.

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