The Four Gardens ~ An Easter Message from Ravi

In this classic message, Ravi Zacharias shares thoughts from the perspective of Easter as he delves into four gardens: the text, the context, the contest, and the conquest.

Ravi inspires with truths surrounding creation, the word, the cross, and the resurrection in presentations excerpted from the Jesus Among Other Gods group study. This presentation is a beautiful and thought-provoking reminder of all that Easter celebrates.

Some Systematic Theology on Gods Love (for clarity in conversation elsewhere)

To the original question:

If God created us out of love, is love higher than God? Why would he desire something unless he did not have it, or was it above him and wanted to improve?

I think you are missing a key theological ingredient here. The Holy Trinity. Systematic Theology, Vol II: God,Creation:

• Love Is Trifold

“God is Love” (1 John 4:16), and love involves three elements: A lover, a beloved, and a spirit of love. These three are one. One advantage of this example is that it has a personal dimension, in that love is something only a person does.

There is a lot to consume below. Remember, you asked for theology, theology begins with the assumption of God’s existence, as is entailed in your question. I will first excerpt a smaller portion of a larger chapter dealing with this topic from a favorite systematic theology text. You should at some point purchase this set as it will go through historical theology in a systematic way giving you a proper — historical — view of that which you speak (instead of setting straw men up… not on purpose, but merely due to lack of knowledge to that which you disagree. Enjoy. Remember, this is merely to add to your understanding, which I assume the question has as its goal. Also, I scanned all this in so there may be a mis-scan of a word or two, so if you read a sentence that is garbled, you know why.

Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, vol. I (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 122-125.

Previous titles before this discussion were: The Compassion of God; God is Love; Agape and Eros;.

Titles after this section: The Court, the Temple, and the Family; Grace and Mercy: The Forbearance and Kindness of God; Conclusion: The Blessedness of God.

Consummate Love

God’s perfect love is viewed in the Johannine letters in the context )of history’s end. The end of history is understood in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, which anticipates the end and through which believers can share in the end and therefore the meaning of history.

He who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him. This is for us the perfection of love, to have confidence on the day of judgement; and this we can have, because even in this world we are as he is. There is no room for fear in love; perfect love banishes fear. (1 John 4:16, 18)

Despite all the distortions of human loving, the faithful are enabled by grace to experience perfect love in the form of hope, viewed in relation to the end time. Perfection in love is precisely to have confidence in the work that God is working in Christ. That means, for  Christians, that perfect love lives out of a deep affinity with faith. For perfect love is none other than “to have confidence” in God’s redemptive work perfect love we can have. For it is within our reach, enabled by grace, to trust in God’s love (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, NPNF 2 V, pp. 450-54; On Perfection, FGG, pp. 83, 84; Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection VI, CWST II, pp. 26 ff.).

God is holy love. Holiness and love point directly to the center of the character of God. In God’s holiness all of God’s moral excellences are summed up and united. In God’s love, God’s holiness is manifested in relation to creatures (Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 84, NPNF 1 V, p. 151). God loves by desiring to impart holiness to creatures. The circle of this love is complete only with the answering love of the beloved, when the creature’s heart and life joyfully reflect the beauty of God’s holiness (Pss. 29:2; 96:9; Augustine, On Psalms XCVI, NPNF 1 VIII, pp. 472-74).

Holiness and Love Brought Together in Atonement

We must anticipate, at this pivotal juncture in the discussion of divine attributes, the issues of atonement to be thoroughly treated later in discussing salvation. But they pertain necessarily to this discussion, for where are we better able to recognize the coalescence of holiness and love than in the atoning work of God the Son? Atonement is the act of reconciliation (making “at-one”) that Jesus as mediator effected by his death for the redemption of humanity, satisfactorily repairing the breach between God and humanity caused by sin.

Keep in mind that the holiness and love made known in Jesus Christ is nothing other than God’s own holiness and love (Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word IV.6-16, NPNF 2 V, pp. 39-45). Christ is the once-and-for-all manifestation of the holy love of God that belongs to the essential definition of God, which is so crucial to God’s character that it is rightly called the pivot of the moral attributes of God.

Holy love is most radically beheld in God’s treatment of sin, especially in the cross of Christ, but this does not imply that prior to human fallenness these qualities were not melded in the divine character. Holy love is attested by Scripture of God from the beginning. The “Lamb that was slain” fulfills a promise set forth “since the world was made” (Rev. 13:8), even “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).

Expressing the eternal purpose of God, the atonement in Jesus Christ occurred as a historical event, as a sentence of execution, a death, and a risen life. It is especially through beholding and respond­ing to this salvation event, Jesus Christ, that Christians have come to understand the holy love of God and the relation between God’s holiness and God’s love. As it was the love of God that sent the only Son (John 3:16), it was the holiness of God that required the satisfaction of divine justice through the sacrifice of the Son. These two themes are brought together powerfully in the first Johannine letter: “The love I speak of is not our love for God, but the love he showed to us in sending his Son as the remedy for the defilement of our sins” (1 John 4:10; John Chrysostom, Horn. on John XXVII, XXVIII, NPNF 1 XIV, pp. 93-99; Augustine, Horn. on the First Epis. of John VII, NPNF 1 VII, pp. 501-5; Enchiridion XXXII, LCC VII, pp. 411, 412).

Similarly in Paul’s letters, it is precisely in God’s act of love that God’s righteousness and holy justice “has been brought to light” (Rom. 3:21). “It is God’s way of righting wrong, effective through faith in Christ for all who have such faith—all without distinction” (v. 22; Luther, Comm. on Galatians, ML, pp. 109-15). Although holiness and love are not one and the same attribute, since there is a real difference between them, nonetheless they are unified in the cross of Christ, where love is the way holiness communicates itself under the condi­tions of sin and holiness loves with an unsullied, undefiled love (Clem­ent of Alex., Instr. 1.9, ANF II, pp. 228-32).

Wherever holiness is spoken of in Scripture, love is nearby; wher­ever God’s love is manifested, it does not cease to be holy. Neither holiness nor love alone could have sufficed for the salvation of sinners (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo I, BW, pp. 178 ff.). For love without holiness would not be just in ignoring the offensiveness of sin, and holiness without love would not be able to effect the reconciliation.

But God’s holy love bridges the gulf. “It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us; that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, NAB). At times God’s holiness seems to take the leading role in reconciliation, such as when Paul wrote that “God designed him to be the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death, effective through faith” (Rom. 3:25), yet that very faith immediately speaks of “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts” by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5, Kw).

It is God’s holiness that elicits divine anger at sin. For “men pre­ferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Yet this is preceded by the proclamation that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16, RSV). The most profound New Testament moral injunctions hold together God’s holiness and love precisely as they had become manifested in Christ: “Live in love as Christ loved you, and gave himself up on your behalf as an offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God” (Eph. 5:2; cf. Igna­tius, Letter to Ephesians I, ANF I, pp. 49 ff.). The mystery and power of this fragrance is to be found precisely in the delicately balanced dialectic of holiness and love.

Although God’s holiness detests sin, the motive of reconciliation is God’s love for the sinner, which is so great that it is willing to pay the costliest price to set it aright. That God loves sinners does not imply that God any less resists sin. Yet in Christ, finally “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13; Tho. Aq., ST I Q21, I, pp. 117 ff.). Holy love is manifested by the Father, through the intercession of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Augustine, On Trin. VIII.7, NPNF 1 HI, pp. 122, 123; cf. Pope, Compend. I, p. 352).


Here is theologian A.H. Strong’s input on the matter from his Systematic Theology (1886):

2. Mercy and Goodness, or Transitive Love.

By mercy and goodness we mean the transitive love of God in its twofold relation to the disobedient and to the obedient portions of his creatures.

Titus 3:4 —”his love toward man” ; Rom. 2:4 —”goodness of God” ; Mat 5:44, 45 —”love your enemies . . . . that ye may be eons of your Father” ; John 3:16 —”God so loved the world” 2 Pet, 1:3 —”granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” ; Rom. 8:32 —”freely give us all things” ; I John 4:10 —”Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

(a) Mercy is that eternal principle of God’s nature which leads him to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to his will, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice.

Mortensen: “Viewed in relation to sin, eternal love is compassionate grace.” God’s continual impartation of natural life is a foreshadowing, in a lower sphere, of what be desires to do for his creatures in the higher sphere — the communication of spiritual and eternal life through Jesus Christ. When he bids us love our enemies, he only bids us follow his own example.

(b) Goodness is the eternal principle of God’s nature which leads him to communicate of his own life and blessedness to those who are like hi in moral character. Goodness, therefore, is nearly identical with the love of complacency ; mercy, with the love of benevolence.

Notice, however, that transitive love is but an outward manifestation of Immanent love. The eternal and perfect object of God’s love is in his own nature. Men become subordinate objects of that love only as they become connected and identified with its principal object, the image of God’s perfections in Christ. Only in the Son do men become sons of God. To this is requisite an acceptance of Christ on the part of man. Thus it can be said that God imparts himself to men just so far as men are willing to receive him. And as God gives himself to men, in all his moral attributes, to answer for them and to renew them In character, there is truth in the statement of Nordell (Examiner, Jan. 17, 1884) that “the maintenance of holiness is the function of divine justice; the diffusion of holiness is the function of divine love.” We may grant this as substantially true, while yet we deny that love is a mere form or manifestation of holiness. Self-Impartation is different from self-affirmation. The attribute which moves God to pour out is not Identical with the attribute which moves him to maintain. The two ideas of holiness and of love are as distinct as the idea of integrity on the one hand and of generosity on the other. Park : “God loves Satan, in a certain sense, and we ought to.” Shedd: “This same love of compassion God feels toward the non-elect; but the expression of that compassion is forbidden for reasons which are sufficient for God, but are entirely unknown to the creature.” The goodness of God is the basis of reward, under God’s government. Faithfulness leads God to keep his promises; goodness leads him to make them.


And here is a response by a theologian to similar streams of thought within Christianity. Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity, by Douglas F. Kelly.

The divine love is not deficient without human love

In an otherwise fine chapter on ‘God is love’, Moltmann seems to limit God’s lordship in yet another way, when he says that: ‘In this sense God “needs” the world and man. If God is love, then he neither will nor can be without the one who is his beloved.’ But this is to neglect the foundational truth that within the Trinity there is the fullest, most satisfying, and complete interchange of love amongst the three holy Persons, so that God does not stand in need of anything from His creatures. It is profoundly and encouragingly true that ‘God will not be without us’, but that is based on the generosity of His grace, not His need. As Barth says in another context: ‘There is total sovereignty and grace on the part of God, but total dependence and need on the part of man.’

And as Staniloae has shown, the fully sufficient divine love within the Trinity does not stand in need of, nor is it somehow made complete by created human love. Instead, it is the foundation of all human love:

From eternity the divine persons remain perfect, for their love is that perfection of love which is not able to increase the communion among them. Were this not the case, the origin of all things would have begun from utmost separation, from absence of love. Love, however, presupposes a common being in three persons, as Christian teaching tells us…This unperfected love [i.e. of humans] between us presupposes, however, the perfect love between divine persons with a common being. Our love finds its explanation in the fact that we are created in the image of the Holy Trinity, the origin of our love. From supernatural revelation we know that God is essence subsisting in three persons. But nothing like this exists in the created order, and even if it did exist, it would differ wholly from the tripersonal subsistence of the infinite and uncreated essence. Hence, even expressed in this way, it remains a mystery.

To say, as Moltmann does, that God ‘will not be without us’, who are His beloved, is profoundly true, and should be grounds for much rejoicing 2′ But His creation of us and His determination not to be without us, are the overflow of His infinitely generous love. They do not point to a defect in the God who has always existed in the most joyful and fulfilling inner-personal relationships within the one divine Being.

Jonathan Edwards (about 1722) expressed well the perfect eternal joy and beatitude in God, apart from and prior to the creation rTo some degree, he uses the Idealist language of his century to do so, but his content is biblically faithful to who God always is:

The image of God which God infinitely loves and has his chief delight in, is the perfect idea of God. It has always been said that God’s infinite delight consists in reflecting on himself and viewing his own perfections or, which is the same thing, in his own perfect idea of himself, so that ’tis acknowledged that God’s infinite love is to and his infinite delight [is] in the perfect image of himself. But the Scriptures tell us that the Son of God is that image…

The perfect act of God must be a substantial act…The perfect delights of reasonable creatures are substantial delights, but the delight of God is [much more] properly a substance, yea, an infinitely perfect substance, even the essence.

The Holy Spirit is the act of God between the Father and the Son, infinitely loving and delighting in each other: If the Father and the Son do infinitely delight in each other, there must be an infinitely pure and perfect act between them, an infinitely sweet energy which we call delight. This is certainly distinct from the other two…It is distinct from each of the other two, and yet it is God. It is in the Spirit that God is eternal and pure act.”

Father Justin Popovitch (1894-1979) has expounded the eternal beatitude and perfectly fulfilled love within the Godhead, prior to any of His external works:

1) Beatitude [makariotes] is, ceaselessly and immutably, the eternal sensation that God has of Himself. It comes from His living of all the divine perfections as the essence of His Being. It is because He possesses an absolute plenitude of all the perfections which are His, ipso facto perfect blessedness. The perfect and immutable harmony of all the properties of the divine Being means that God is perfectly and immutably happy. This is why God is the only Blessed One, the Sole Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15). As the divine beatitude is a permanent, uninterrupted state – since it does not come to God from anything outside Himself – it cannot either diminish or increase, or alter. Having always possessed in their perfect plenitude all eternal blessings, God is ever happy in equal measure, whether men worship Him or not…

2) Love [‘agape] is that property of the divine sensibility by which God lives in Himself and faces the world outside Himself. According to the teaching of divine revelation, not only does God love, but He is love. In Him, being and love are one and the same thing. On that is founded the good news of the Gospel of Christ: God is love [‘o theos agape estin] (1 John 4:8)…