L is for Love
I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.
When we say God is love, and when we claim to know what love looks like, is that God or not?
The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to describe love in 1 Cor. 13 (often called “the love chapter), and passages from that chapter are used at perhaps a majority of weddings, whether or not the bride and groom are church-goers. It seems that Paul managed to nail down a pretty good description of what love really is.
Most people — Christian and otherwise — also believe the Bible’s statement (found in 1st John) that God IS love. If Paul’s description of love is accurate and John’s characterization of God is accurate, then logic would tell us:
If A is B (if God is love, as stated in 1 John) and B is C (if love is patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs, etc., as stated in 1 Corinthians) then A is C (then God is patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs, etc.)
This means that those who like to talk about God’s wrath have a substantial theological problem on their hands. No question the wrath of God is mentioned in the Bible (in both Old and New Testaments), but the problem remains. If God is love and love is as Paul described it, one cannot change the implications of the above argument simply by stating, “Yeah, but the Bible ALSO says…” That does not change the soundness of the logic above.
Of course one could argue that John was in error, and that God in fact is NOT love. Or one could argue that Paul described love wrongly — that love is actually vengeful or spiteful, or mean-spirited, or even murderous, under certain circumstances. One would be hard-pressed to argue this, of course, since no one in their right mind would attempt to work vengeance, anger, wrath, or violence of any kind into a comprehensive definition of love. And even if one did dare to argue this, it might be difficult to convince love-struck fiancées to include the notions of wrath and vengeance into their wedding vows. Any attempt to do so would meet with precisely the rejection that it in fact should meet, as everyone knows that wrath, vengeance, and violence are antithetical to any kind of loving relationship. It is embarrassing to even feel the need to point this out.
Add to this that Jesus:
a. Called God not only Father, but Abba, which — translated — means something much closer to Daddy. This is how Jesus understood God, and seemed to want us to understand God as well.
b. Told the parable of the Prodigal Son, where his expressed intent was to show us the loving heart of God for his children. Difficulty in fitting wrath, anger, violence, and retribution into this picture should give one serious pause in ascribing these qualities to God, and one must find other ways to deal with the plain fact that those kinds of qualities are in fact attributed to God. How does one reconcile this?
c. Specifically invited us to make the comparison of human parental love with the love of God for us, and specifically said that God will be far MORE of what we already understand as loving to us than any of us would be inclined to be with our own children.
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt. 7:9-11, NIV)
Jesus here assumes that we already know basically what love looks like and how we should respond to it. Love is self-evident, and for those to whom it is not, we can always return to 1 Cor. 13 to get a pretty powerful working picture of love in action.
The biggest problem we encounter in dealing with issues like this is the readiness of some people to say, “Perhaps that’s not all love is,” or “Perhaps the love of God is not the same basic thing as the highest forms of human love.” This is senseless. It is ridiculous to postulate that 2 + 2 does not equal 4 to God. If it does not, then God is completely beyond our ability to think about in ways that actually tell us anything.
Parents, you love your kids, right? Is there any place in the picture where your love for them justifies your killing them or harming them in any way? Isn’t that the place where your love would actually STOP? How then is it possible that when we apply this to God, somehow it’s okay if God kills as long as he has given enough warning first? To me, this seems like saying that as long as 2 + 2 = 4 for a really, really, really long time, it’s reasonable to think it will one day equal five.
I’m not writing this post to suggest what you are supposed to do with the tension this creates. I don’t know all the answers. But I know some of the questions, and this one is worth paying attention to: When we say God is love, and when we claim to know what love looks like, is that God or not?
View Kyra’s L post (also, coincidentally, about love)