How Deep Is the Father’s Love?

Stuart Townend’s hymn, “How deep the Father’s Love for Us,” says that the Father’s love is beyond all measure. Nevertheless, if we were to attempt to measure it, how would we go about doing that? We use a thermometer to gauge the temperature and a ruler to measure the height and width of an object. But how do we determine, to borrow Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:18, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the Father’s love?

One instrument that we can use is the object of our love. Love for those who are good or who are like us is commendable, but it isn’t extraordinary. So too is love for those who love us. Frankly, that is easy to do. As Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same (Matt. 5:46-47)?”

Love shows its depth, not in loving those who deserve our love or in loving those who are easy to love, but in loving the unlovable, which is exactly who God loves. He loves the weak, the ungodly, sinners, and even his enemies (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10).

Another instrument that we can use to plummet the depths of love is timing. Paul says in Romans 5, that God demonstrated or showed his love for us “while we were still sinners (vs. 8),” and “while we were enemies (vs. 10).”

Dylann Roof is a mass murderer, who had gone to a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina where he shot and killed nine people in the hopes of igniting a race war. He is evil and has done unspeakable evil. For the sake of illustration, consider him as an unrepentant and unreformed criminal. He doesn’t regret what he did. In fact, he would do it again if he could. He remains every bit the monster he was when he entered that church and killed nine people. By contrast, consider him as if he was someone who had been reformed and transformed. He is utterly broken over what he has done. He has apologized to the victims’ families, even though he believes that he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. He is not the same person he was before. He is kind, considerate, helpful, and loving. Which person would be easier to love? Obviously, the one who had changed.

God loved us while we were still sinners and his enemies, and not after we had waved the white flag or after we had reformed ourselves. He loved us while we hated him, while we were evil and doing evil, while we were shaking our fists at him. Moreover, God didn’t love us because he could see down the corridor of time that we would change and stop hating him. He loved us while were still sinners and it is because he loved us that we have changed and have stopped hating him. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us (1 John 4:10).”

A third instrument is manner. Love can be measured by what a person is willing to do or give to their beloved. It is easy to say that you love someone, much harder to show it, and you show it by what you do, give, or sacrifice for the one you love. The greater the gift or sacrifice, the greater the love.

How did God love us? What did he give or sacrifice for us? His one and only Son (John 3:16; 1John 4:9, 10; Rom. 8:32). He didn’t sacrifice Abraham or David or an angel or some other created being. He gave his one and only Son. His Son who is righteous, holy, and good. His Son who is altogether lovely and lovable.

Consequently, the Father sent his Son, not to the garden of Eden, but to this present evil age, where he would suffer and die on a cross as a sacrifice for sins. This involved the Father handing his Son over to his enemies, including Satan, his archenemy. Jesus noted Satan’s involvement in his death when he said to his disciples during his farewell discourse, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming (John 14:30).”

Satan didn’t, however, work alone. In John 8 Jesus pointed out that the Jewish leaders were like the devil in that they too hated him and were trying to kill him. After many failed attempts, they were finally able to satisfy their thirst for his blood. This is why Jesus had said to them in the garden of Gethsemane, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53).” Unsurprisingly, they took full advantage of the opportunity the Father gave them when he delivered Jesus into their hands. Psalm 22 paints the terrifying picture for us: “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet--I can count all my bones-- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

How the Father loved us in giving up his Son shows us how great his love is for us. As John Murray writes, “the Father gave over his own Son, who is perfectly good and pure, to the malignity and hate, power and ingenuity of the prince of darkness. And he did this for you while you were still his enemy. Does this not tell you that the Father loves you? Does this not prove to you the vastness of the Father’s love for you?”[1]

Still another instrument that measures love is the goal or purpose. The reason the Father gave his Son is so that we might not perish but have everlasting life. Or as 1 John 4:9 says, “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”

Paul says in Galatians that if the law could have given life, then Christ died in vain. To die in vain is to die for nothing. It would be like jumping into the lake and dying for your little brother when he isn’t drowning. You may have the best intentions in jumping to your death and you may be eager to demonstrate your love by dying, but if what you do doesn’t benefit your brother, then it isn’t good or even loving. It is pointless. However, if your little brother is drowning and you give your life to save him, then that indeed is the height of love. The Father gave us his Son to redeem us. He met our greatest need with his greatest gift and thereby demonstrated the greatness of his love.

            Although the Father’s love for us is beyond all measure, we can capture a glimpse of its depth by considering who the Father loved, when the Father loved, how the Father loved and why the Father loved. In short, “How deep the Father’s love for us, How vast beyond all measure, That he should give His only Son, To make a wretch His treasure.”

Patrick Ramsey (@dprmsy) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He has written and contributed to numerous books and periodicals, including A Portrait of Christ, An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants, and Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology. He and his wife Rachel have five sons. 

[1] John Murray, Collected Writings, 3:218.