If success makes us feel that God loves us, does that mean God does not love those who fail?

Q. I am certain Jesus loves me, and I love Him. After all, I am His creation and He made the ultimate sacrifice for me. That said, have we taken that concept too far as Western Christians? Have we assumed too much when it comes to how much Jesus loves each of us “personally”? Have we become too arrogant or prideful in our assumption?

Frequently an athlete will say after a win,”I thank Jesus for this win,” which is great, but what about the losing competitor? Are we assuming that Jesus does not love them as much?

Some time ago I heard a lady tell the story of how she missed an airplane flight and she was glad the Lord had caused her to do so because the plane went down and all the passengers were killed. It appeared to me that she made the assumption that Jesus loved her more than the other 200-plus folks who made the connection.

Is this taking our understanding of Jesus’s love for each of us personally too far? In other words, have we in this day and age misinterpreted God’s love for us individually and become arrogant, like James and John who requested that they alone were loved so much that they should be seated on the throne next to Jesus?

I certainly agree with you that when good things happen to us or bad things don’t happen to us, we tend to feel gratitude toward God and a sense that God loves us. I also agree with you that there are the troubling implications that perhaps God does not love people as much for whom good things do not happen or bad things do happen.

So there is another way to look at it. We could say that the gratitude we feel towards God is actually a recognition of his character as a loving, gracious, generous, and merciful God, and that any success or mercy we might experience triggers this recognition in us. But the success is actually the result of the hard work and perseverance of someone to whom God has given talents and ambition (for which they should genuinely be grateful to God), while failure or tragedy are misfortunes that happen to people in a world that God has created with a moral framework but in which God does not determine every specific event. If a person is spared a misfortune, direct divine intervention may not have been involved, but that person should nevertheless take the experience to heart and resolve before God, with gratitude, to make the best use of the time they will still have in this life.

This would avoid the unfortunate implications of the first view. However, perhaps it removes God too much from the picture. So I would actually recommend a third view. It is generally the same as the second view, except it allows for the possibility of direct divine intervention in particular cases, for God’s sovereign purposes. In those cases, the recipient of the blessing or mercy could well recognize it as coming directly from God, but others looking on would not necessarily have the benefit of that insight. So in such cases I would recommend being just as careful as we would be under the second view. We would not say in public, “I’m convinced that God spared my life for a purpose,” if there were others who were not spared.

I think the principle that applies is, “What you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God.” So, for example, if you are a young athlete who wins an important tennis match, you could thank God for the gifts of health and strength. But also be sure to congratulate your opponent on his or her excellent play and say what a pleasure and privilege it was to compete with him or her. And do not attribute your victory to direct divine intervention!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

4 thoughts on “If success makes us feel that God loves us, does that mean God does not love those who fail?”

  1. Prov. 16:3, Psalm 37:4, I Cor.4:7 indicate that success comes from God, it doesn’t mean when we fail God is not with us. King David lost the battle; King Samuel was disappointed by his failures. God wants us to learn a lesson in our failures. It doesn’t mean God’s love is absent.

    1. Yes, I think it’s important to disconnect our recognition that God loves us from our successes or failures. God loves us all the time and is always working to bring about the best for us, even if we will only be able to recognize later how God was at work.

  2. I do not believe that God loves others any less than He loves me. I believe in the omnipresence of God and He is with others just as He is with me, and it’s up to the individual to have that relationship with God. It’s up to the individual to listen and accept God’s warnings. Or, maybe it was just that individual’s time to go, but not yet mine. When it’s my time to go, if it has to be in some tragic accident or even in my sleep, God will not warn me of that time, but as a Christian, I know that God is with me and waiting with open arms. For those in that plane, I pray that they knew God and had a good, strong relationship with Him.

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