Welcome to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast, with longtime author and pastor, John Piper. Kenneth from Starkville, Mississippi writes in say: “Pastor John, I have been taking advantage of more and more of the resources at desiringGod.org lately. And one of the things that has stood out for me is the self-exaltation of God. You discuss how it is the most loving thing that God could do for us, namely, to exalt himself, while it would be a sin for anyone else to do so. My question is almost the reverse of this. Are there things that we are commanded to do by God, that would be a sin if God did them? Specifically, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Would it be a sin for God to love his non-human enemies like Satan and the fallen angels? Or, does he love them?” What would you say to Kenneth?
Let me take those two questions one at a time, because the first one that I hear is, I think, clear and easy to answer from Scripture. The second one, not so easy. First, Kenneth says: Are there things that we are commanded to do by God that would be sin if God did them? And the answer is clearly yes. I can think of half a dozen things that God commands us to do that would be sin for God to do. He commands us to confess our sins to each other in James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.” It would be sin for God to confess his sins, because he doesn’t have any, and that would be hypocrisy.
Second, every member of the body of Christ is told that we should never say to another person, “I have no need of you” in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21). “I have no need of you.” In other words, human beings are all commanded and expected to admit our dependence on others and our need for others. But it would be sin for God to admit for a moment that he depended on anything outside of himself.
Acts 17:25 says God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Or, to make almost the same point, we are commanded in Proverbs 3:5, “Do not lean on your own understanding.” And it would be sin for God not to rely on his own understanding. It would be sin because he is infallible. And to fail to rely on his own infinite wisdom would make him a fool, and God is not a fool. “His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28).
“To be creatures rather than the Creator gives us responsibilities and expectations the Creator does not have.”
We are commanded to worship our Creator, and God has no creator, so it would be a sin for him to try to worship his creator because he wasn’t created. And we are told in Romans 12:19, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” So, it would be a sin for God to renounce his prerogative of vengeance and judgment since it belongs to him uniquely and doesn’t belong to us. And the list could just go on and on.
So, to be a creature rather than a Creator puts a person in a position with responsibilities and expectations that the Creator does not have. The answer to the first question is, Yes. There are many things in the Bible that we are commanded to do by God that it would be a sin if God did them.
“Jesus tells us to model our love of our enemies on his love of his enemies.”
And then Kenneth asks, specifically: Jesus tells us to love our enemies. So, would it be sin for God to love his nonhuman enemies like Satan and the fallen angels, or does he love them? And he went in a direction here I did not expect him to go, and he made it too easy.
I am going to answer what he asked, but I think he wants to ask a harder question than that; namely, not just nonhuman enemies, but human enemies. That is the real tough question.
There is no evidence in the Bible that God loves Satan or the devils, and there is no evidence in the Bible that we are commanded to love Satan or his demons. All the commands go in the other direction. There is implacable opposition between God and the devil and us and the devil. So, I don’t think we are ever commanded to love the devil and God never gives any evidence of loving the devil. He is beyond all redemption and, therefore, he has been handed over to his rebellion.
“There is no evidence in the Bible that God loves Satan, and we are not commanded to love him.”
But the tougher question is whether God loves his human enemies the way he commands us to love our human enemies. And at one level the answer is yes, but not at every level. In fact, Jesus tells us to model our love of our enemies on his love of his enemies. Matthew 5:44–45, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good.” In other words, he loves his enemies and sends rain on the just and the unjust. So, you treat your enemies that way, too.
But there is a difference, isn’t there? We are finite and do not know the deep heart condition of our enemies. We do not know the final trajectory of their unbelief and their hardness of heart. Given our limitations, it is always right for us to pray and work for their temporal and eternal good until they are dead. But God does know the deep heart condition of our enemies. He knows the final trajectory of their unbelief and their hardness. He knows whether he will exert an omnipotent, saving, influence in their lives.
“What God expects from us in our ignorance isn’t the same as what he exercises in his infinite knowledge and power.”
Therefore, what he expects from us in our ignorance and finiteness isn’t the same as what he exercises in his infinite wisdom and knowledge and power. He expects us to pray for their salvation and work for their salvation until they are dead. But he does not always give that salvation (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:5; 2 Timothy 2:25–26).
So, I think the answer to Ken’s second question is: First, neither God nor God’s people are expected to love Satan. And, second, both God and his people love their human enemies, but not in the same way, since God is all-wise and all-governing, and we are finite and very limited in our understanding and wisdom.