I have never forgotten a question asked by the wife of one of my longstanding mates. The question was, Does God love Saddam Hussein? Because back then I found the question rather difficult to answer, I had no other resource but to quote John 3:16: For God so loved the world... An answer which I have found difficult to believe about the one-time infamous president of Iraq and a cruel dictator. Therefore it came as no surprise that this married Christian had qualms on how God sees him throughout his lifetime.
Then other national leaders come to mind. Leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi, who was president of Libya for more than 42 years and the longest to hold power by a non-royal. There was also Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation or the PLO, Osama Bin Laden, who led the Al Qaeda, an extremist Islamic group responsible for the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers in New York. Then there was Gamal Nasser, president of Egypt, and Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious and political leader of Iran. How could God love people such as any of them? After all, every one of these leaders, now all deceased, were hostile to the Jews, the nation of Israel and its Zionist philosophy and agenda. Which brings me to mind a verse found in Genesis 12:3, where God, in calling Abram, promised a blessing to those he blessed him and his descendants, and curses those who cursed the same. If these referred to are the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then their descendants must be those referred, those known as the Jews to this day.
So the children of Israel were, and still are, an earthly nation chosen by God, and anyone who curses them will themselves be cursed by God, so the Bible says. Therefore did God love those enemies of Israel to the point of these leaders passionately wanting to "push them into the sea?"
I guess I could go on. Did God really love Adolf Hitler, who had up to six million Jews needlessly annihilated, just because they did not share the "master race" genome, ethnicity and culture as he and his German people did? Difficult it may be to believe, indeed God did love Hitler, very much so. Not only did he sustain the dictator's breath of life and his involuntary heartbeat, but placed into the position of authority by God himself, according to Romans 13:1-7.
I could go on. For example, Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung, founding leader of the Chinese Communist Party, forced his political power "out of the barrel of a gun" as he himself boasted, and therefore had up to 45 million killed between the years 1958-1962 during Mao's Great Leap Forward. No authority except that which is instituted by God? Of course I can go on. The founding leaders of Soviet Communism had between 15-20 million killed. Yet, Joseph Stalin, one of the Soviet's most oppressive leaders, was put in position of power by God and therefore was also loved by him too.
But I need to ask: Did God love them because of their deeds or because of their position of power? Or was God's love for them based entirely on the death of his Son, his burial and Resurrection? All these issues, I must admit, I find difficult to swallow. For God so loved the world? Perhaps it's only human to feel that one person can be less deserving of his love than another. Yet Paul the Apostle, who wrote to the church in Rome, was under the reign of Emperor Nero, who was the first to initiate Rome's persecution of Christians in AD 64 - as well as marrying two young adolescents for a life of pederasty, and allegedly murdered his own mother to rid himself of her dominance. Yet Paul was sure that Nero's authority was established by God to keep evil in check. Therefore it can be concluded that Nero's place in power was an act of God's common grace to keep all which is bad under restraint, to quell civil oppression, and to allow the Gospel to spread, even under persecution. Nevertheless, as a British Christian attending a very middle class church At Royal Ascot, I find it so difficult to realise that God loved Nero no less than he loves each of our church elders, and me too.
And here is the snag when it comes to growing up in the second half of the Twentieth Century, let alone becoming a Christian towards the end of 1972. I grew up spiritually to believe that Bible verses such as John 3:16 only applied to nice people of English middle class calibre. Of course God loves nice people. After all, they are the more deserving of such love, aren't they? Therefore I shouldn't be that surprised that the wife of one of my friends was also grappling with the possibility of God's love for Saddam Hussein, and my difficulty in explaining his universal love.
However, history - both ancient and recent - looks to have questioned the meaning of John 3:16 more so than our present day culture. For instance, on one occasion, it was God himself who instructed King Saul to slaughter all the Amalekites - men, women and children, including babies, and all their livestock - through the mouth of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15). And this because their ancestors managed to upset Moses during the time of the Exodus, several hundred years earlier, and God himself looking to be wanting revenge, even from a generation alive long after the death of Moses. Yet despite all this, did God love the Amalekites? He must have done. They continued to exist for hundreds of years since Moses' time, each one of them sustained by God as they breathed, their heartbeat continued, and their food eaten, digested and defecated - even if they kept the memory of Moses alive by means of annual celebrations and partying. And there is still a good chance that their descendants are with us to this day.
And here is the irony. Leaders such as Hussein, Gaddafi, Arafat, Mao, and Stalin lived out their lives into old age or close to old age (although Hussein and Gaddafi were eventually executed), they were nevertheless sustained and loved by God. Yet any young child who were unfortunate enough to be born of Amalekite parents hardly saw the light of day, let alone order the slaughter of many! Perhaps this could be one of several reasons why the atheist finds the Bible so repugnant. The slaughter of innocent infants by direct orders of the Almighty himself, whilst such leaders were allowed to live out their full lifespans.
Yet the universal love of God is revealed through one of the sayings of Jesus Christ. On one occasion, he reminds his audience that his Father sends rain on the just and the unjust alike as well as having the sun shine on both the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45). Also a lesson can be learnt through parenting as well. Jesus asked that if you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who asks him? (Matthew 7:11). With God's generosity and universal love, he has no qualms in sending both sunshine and rain to the good and bad alike. And I'm pretty sure that all the aforementioned leaders, and the Amalekites as well, evil as they might all have been, still loved their own children enough to give them gifts without merit on their kid's part.
Yet there is no authority existing which wasn't established by God. And so as Paul wrote to the Romans. Therefore this must not only include our Government under a benign Queen, but great institutions such as the National Health Service is also established by God, with every staff member, from the local GP, to hospital porters, administration, nurses, surgeons and consultants, as actual God's servants to minister healing to the sick and infirm. An idea thought up by Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee, the concept of a public purse sustained by a deduction from every earning worker in the land so to make the service free on the point of use, all this has made the NHS the envy of the world.
As the saying goes: There by the grace of God go I. This seems to be a universal or common grace of God which isn't the same as regenerative or saving grace, which is received by all believers of Christ's death, burial and Resurrection. It is common grace which sustains all of humanity, and all of life on this planet, whether fauna or flora, on land, in the sea, or in the air. It is universal grace that gives the human being his sleep at night, his work during the day, his roof for shelter, his food and clothing. And various pleasures for him to enjoy, whether it's on the football pitch or at the fairground, in the ballroom, at a bar, or a trip to the beach.
Or travel - one of my favourite topics of discussion. I realise that travel is from the common or universal grace of God. Anyone can go overseas, as both believer and unbeliever can buy an air ticket and depart. It was the common grace of God that allowed me to set foot abroad, always to find a room or bed at a hotel or hostel without having to spend a night in the street. But that could also apply to an unbeliever as well, who pushes the existence of God far from his mind. God will still ensure that a bed is provided for the night and have enough food to eat, and is able to stay warm and dry in adverse weather conditions.
It is the universal grace of God which allowed me to board a airline right on time for a flight to New York during a French Air Traffic Control strike in 1978. It is the grace of God to walk through the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Jerusalem, Singapore, or Sydney without any threat of harm by potential mugging, gang violence or street robbery. It is the grace of God to swim in the tropical ocean, leaving my shoulder bag with all my gear, including a large wad of Traveller's Cheques, unattended on the beach, and still see it there, untouched, when I eventually scramble back on the beach after a wonderful swim. It is the grace of God not to be bitten by a shark whilst bathing in the ocean, nor suffer attack by any other marine creature - the jellyfish in particular.
It is the common grace of God to stand in admiration of a row of Traveller's Palms forming a natural wall of overlapping leaves, to gaze at a fast flowing stream, to look up a mountain, or in my case, to look into the crater of a live volcano and still come away unharmed. It is the grace of God to enjoy panoramic views from a hill, to take in the wonders of the Grand Canyon, to have the stamina and ability to hike, to gaze at the display of stars in the clear night sky, to wonder at the Milky Way streaking across the Australian night sky. It is also the common grace of God to enjoy a cycling burn-up through deserted roads early on a Sunday morning during the height of Summer, or to ride a bicycle from one end of the country to the other without coming to any harm.
|Travellers Palms - like those I saw in Singapore, 1997.|
The same applies to education and careers. Here too it's the common grace of God for someone who is an ardent atheist such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to write books debunking God's existence and achieving fame as their books sell well on the market. As with the student in medicine, computer engineering, or accountancy - whether Christian, religious or atheist, their success in graduation and their ability to settle down and progress in their chosen career is out of the common grace of God.
But what I believe is the greatest asset of the common grace of God is to have a marriage partner. To experience love and intimacy for the most important person in your life - this is experienced by both believers and unbelievers alike. Of course, among believing Christians, marriage should be far more enhancing. It is the common grace of God that I have Alex and Alex has me. We have become inseparable, the reality of Christ and his bride being the perfect illustration, for the groom gave his life for his bride. But because marriage is enjoyed by unbelievers as well, I have categorised this as from the common or universal grace of God rather than regenerative grace.
And that may be why we suffer in life - illnesses, poverty, warfare, evil dictators and oppressive governments, natural disasters, frustrations of various kinds, a job one hates, slavery, breakdown of car, public transport strikes, exam failures, and perhaps many more bad things - all these defining a fallen world, its initial beauty marred by sin and death. And let's face it, if God withdrew his common grace, we would all instantly die. Not a single human being can live for an instant without God's common grace.
Therefore I thank God for the other side of God grace which is for believers of Jesus Christ - his death, burial and Resurrection. This is regenerative grace, redemptive grace or saving grace. Whereas common or universal grace has only a temporary effect - for the entire present lifetime of the recipient - saving grace has eternal implications - it first allows the believer to get to know God on a personal level before spending eternity with him after death, after which to enjoy his presence in a resurrected, glorified body. That is regenerative or saving grace. The good news is that this grace is universal in a sense that it is available to everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ and his redemptive powers.