God’s Love, prt. 2
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Jesus invited us to understand God’s love by thinking of our love for our own children. He did this mainly in two places. One is the parable of the prodigal son. The other is when he said, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13). In this passage, Jesus is saying that God’s love as a heavenly Father far exceeds our love as the parents of our children. This means God must love in a far different way than how the church often teaches it. The church tends to teach God’s love as a contingency.
God loves you if… God loves you, but because of his justice he will still… God loves you infinitely, but that doesn’t mean he won’t… God loves you, but you better…
Vast parts of the church simply will not face the fact of contingency. It amounts to teaching love without actually teaching love at all. If we assume that Jesus modeled love on the cross, and if we assume that Paul wrote accurately about love in 1st Cor. 13, then God cannot love in any of the ways above and still have it be the love Jesus modeled and the love Paul wrote about. It is because the church teaches love as a contingency that so many basically good and loving Christians could have prioritized politics over love in last week’s Chick-Fil-A event, saying, “This isn’t about love, it’s about politics.” Only when we have learned about a world where some things are about love and others aren’t (e.g., God’s behavior toward us and love for us before our deaths versus after our deaths) could we even think this distinction makes sense.
Jesus tells us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, that God’s love is without condition, and without any of the kinds of conventions we use to demonstrate fairness. It is extravagant. Jesus is recorded as forgiving the sins of people who weren’t even asking for forgiveness. He forgave sin almost wantonly, with no regard for whether he was asked or not. In fact, most of the time he wasn’t even asked. When he forgave, he said it in an interesting way, too. Not “I forgive you,” as if he was doing it at that moment, but “Your sins are forgiven,” as if to say, “You are already, at this moment, standing in the stream of forgiveness. I am just making you aware of that. You are already forgiven, loved, and blessed.”
It is not even really because of the scriptural arguments that I struggle with some traditional Christian teachings about God’s love. I struggle with them because of what I already know to be true about what love is and does. If the church taught that God has chairs like none we have ever known, I would expect that God’s chairs can be sat upon. They are, perhaps, far more comfortable, stable, and well-made than any chair we could ever know here on earth, in fact I would fully expect God’s chairs to be even more “chair-y” than any chair we have ever known. I would, however, be quite surprised to learn that God’s chairs eventually dump the sitter out onto the floor. That would either be a really crappy chair, or the word “chair” is not being correctly applied. Maybe the name of such a chair should be modified — “Sitting Is Rare Chair”, “Anti-Chair”, “Unfair-Chair”, or “Sit-If-You-Dare-Chair, perhaps? Any chair that will not allow itself to be sat in is a chair I cannot trust. Any love that can ultimately allow eternal and unredemptive harm to come to the one loved is love I cannot trust. Any love that ultimately does not endure to the bitter end is something other than what I, as a parent, already know about love. If you are a parent, I think you know it too.
Argument: “You’re just going with human knowledge instead of what God has revealed in the Bible about himself.”
Response: What is more human, a view of love that is truly eternal, unchanging, and without shadow, or a view of love that is fickle, temporary, and conditional?