God Loves Himself.
An example of respectful critical reading
A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
One of my favourite quotes from T.F. Torrance:
It is in the Cross of Christ that the utterly astonishing nature of the Love that God is has been fully disclosed, for in refusing to spare his own Son whom he delivered up for us all, God has revealed that He loves us more than he loves himself.
Torrance’s characteristic precision is clear as he writes about the love that God is rather than has (1 John 4:8) and reminds us that we see God’s great love for us most clearly at the cross. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, to die!
But I believe Torrance is wrong when he says God loves us more than he loves himself. I understand the sentiment; God’s love for us was certainly costly! But Christ died on the cross precisely because God loves himself! God loved us and wanted to redeem us, so Christ had to die in our place or God had to change. If God forgave us without the death penalty being carried out for our sin, he would have been changed. He would no longer have been perfectly righteous.
Because he loves the beauty of his holiness and the perfection of his justice and righteousness, in other words, because he loves who he is, he had to provide a Saviour to bear our guilt and die in our place, and only his own Son could do that. That’s why Paul says in Romans 3:25-26 (emphasis added):
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
He was already just, and now he has become “the one who justifies” us, without ceasing to be who he has always been, and has loved. So, God does not love us more than he loves himself, he simply does what he asks of us; he loves us as he loves himself. Perhaps that’s why James calls this the “royal law” (Jas 2:8); it’s a law that God himself keeps.