Conservative theologians distinguish among three categories of love, as far as they relate to the character of God: God’s Benevolent Love, God’s Beneficent Love, and God’s Complacent Love.
Regarding God’s love of benevolence, the prefix, bene, means “good” or, “well.” There is the “benediction” at the end of the service, a “good saying”, whereby the blessing of God is sought for the people of God, and He would treat them well.
The word, volence”, is from the Latin, volentia [volens; volo], meaning “I wish.” The idea is that, “I wish you good will.”
The direct opposite of benevolence is malevolence, referring to an evil will. Malevolence is never attributed to God, though good will is.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8-14).
God cannot have any other will towards men than good will, because the manifestation of God’s character is always, good. God cannot be less than His essence, for God cannot sin, nor does He wish to.
God’s love is an eternal love, it is a sovereign love, it is a good love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
God is so good that He willed to send His Son into the world to die for sinners.
God did not simply will to send His Son. It was His good will to do so.
Ultimately, God, who is the absolute sovereign of the Universe, reigns by benevolence. The mercies of God, “They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 2:23).
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides!”
Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923
When speaking about the benevolence of God, the idea is to manifest His will of disposition toward His creatures.
One facet of God’s attitude towards His creatures is found in Ezekiel 33:10-11. The Bible says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
“Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:10-11).
Even though God is angry with the wicked, even though His wrath is on display against sin and sinners, His disposition towards individuals is one of benevolence. In loving kindness, the wicked are warned.
“So, thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. 8 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33:7-8).
“In lovingkindness Jesus came
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin and shame
Through grace He lifted me.
From sinking sand, He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me,
From shades of night to plains of light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!
He called me long before I heard,
Before my sinful heart was stirred,
But when I took Him at His word,
Forgiv’n, He lifted me.
His brow was pierced with many a thorn,
His hands by cruel nails were torn,
When from my guilt and grief, forlorn,
In love He lifted me.
Now on a higher plane I dwell,
And with my soul I know ’tis well;
Yet how or why I cannot tell
He should have lifted me.”
Charles H. Gabriel
From the benevolence of God, and based on the longsuffering of God with sinner, the doctrine of Universalism has emerged to declare that a loving God will save everyone. A benevolent God will not send anyone to so terrible a place as Hell. Dr. J. W. HANSON, 1888 explains the reasoning of the Universalist.
“A great number of passages of Scripture speak of what the Bible calls God’s anger or wrath -meaning thereby his disapprobation and punishment of sin – as limited, brief and destined to end, frequently contrasting it with his mercy, which, it is said, will never end, and declaring that the soul of man could not exist as the victim of endless wrath.
God’s delight is in mercy, and he displays anger towards men for their benefit, and when the purpose of the anger is accomplished, mercy is resumed.
He retains not his anger forever because he delights in mercy. Micah 7: 18. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger forever. Ps. 103: 8, 9. For his anger endures but a moment: in his favor is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Ps. 30: 5. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isa. 54: 8.
One reason why God will not “be angry forever”, is because no soul could endure the storm of God’s endless wrath. The benevolence of God is demonstrated in the statute of limitations, by which when pain becomes unendurable, the victim dies. Endless torture no soul could endure.
For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit would fail before me and the soul which I have made. Isa. 57: 16. Hence, The Lord will not cast off forever; but, though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies, for he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. Lam. 3: 31-33.
God could not be angry with any soul forever, because it would be infinite folly in him to do so. The wise man says:
Anger rests in the bosom of fools!” Eccl. 7: 9.
Can it rest forever in the great heart of infinite wisdom? Preposterous thought, Anger is contrary to God’s nature, but mercy is his delight. Hence, GOD’S MERCY IS UNLIMITED.
“O, give thanks unto the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.” Ps. 107: 1.
In Psalm 136, this language, “his mercy endures forever” occurs twenty times. There never can come a moment, in the endless existence of the sinner, when he cannot resort to the fountain of infinite mercy, and find a full supply of Divine grace. It is for all souls, and the fountain will ever be accessible.”
While God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, He still decrees it. From Adam to the present day, the constant refrain of the ages is, “And he died…”
Even in His benevolence, God will never compromise or diminish His holiness, His righteousness, and what He has decreed to be a just punishment.
When Adam transgressed the prohibition, God had established for him, the benevolence of God sought him out in the cool of the evening, as usual.
Adam was accountable, and God had to render a just judgment. It was a terrible moment in the universe, but the Lord did not draw back from doing what was right.
Despite any personal feelings, God did what was right. The soul that sinneth must die. The angels wept. The earth groaned. All of creation continues to suffer something similar to the pains of childbirth. The escasty of creation has given way to the agony of transgression.
What the Universalist, and all others must learn is to ask with Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Indeed, He shall.
God will do right by every person. If there is a harsh verdict to render, it will be given even in His own essence, His own spirit of benevolence. He can do no less and still be God.
The benevolence of God does not negate or cancel His commitment to righteousness and justice as He has determined in His own wisdom.
God may punish the wicked but He has no pleasure in the consequences of human sin. God’s judgments never flow from malevolence.
The administration of human justice may flow from a spirit of malevolence. There may be personal hatred. There may be a personal vendetta.
Victims of violent crimes often rage at those who have committed a grievous injury. People scream for others to, “Go to Hell!” or, “Rot in Hell!” or, “Burn in Hell!” There is rage without any mixture or twinge of benevolence.
As theologians write of God’s Benevolence, they speak of His “Beneficence.” The difference between the two is the difference between willing, and doing.
The “beneficent love of God” has to do with His activity; while the “benevolent love of God” has to do with His attitude or good will.
Good actions flow out of God’s good will. God pours out benefits on individuals, including the impenitent and the ungodly.
Pray for more of God’s love.