It’s a good thing that our culture is catching onto the catchphrase “God is Love”; in fact, it’s a great thing. It used to be in the popular belief that- if there was a God- that He was an angry & detached being, kind of like that relative or that teacher if you get what I mean (the one with the angry face and the hot temper). But now the catch cry is that God is indeed love. And I like that. I like that because it’s a closer picture to what the ancient scriptures have been saying for centuries about The Divine.
However- and without diminishing the goodness of what people are saying about God- I do believe that the picture of “God is love” that the culture offers varies from the Christian vision of what we mean when we say “God is love”. And I think the variation is crucial. Our culture’s picture of God being love is that of a God who, more or less, has affections of love towards us and doesn’t expect anything from us; a bit like a hippy in the sky who has warm fuzzies and doesn’t care about how we live, and because God is like this we don’t have to care about how we live because it’s “all good”. Now, before I reveal what I am going to say about the Christian vision of God as love, I do want to affirm that God does have warm fuzzies about us, and there is nothing we can do that makes God stop loving us. But the Christian faith says there’s more, and also God does better, and also He is deeper.
First, the better.
What sounds like a better parent? The parent who let’s their child do anything with no boundaries and basically says “Just do whatever you want” or the parent who has good, positive, and self-worth instilling boundaries that protect the child from all that hinders them being truly well, where the parent says “I love you too much to let you destroy yourself on your own”. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it- it’s the second parent. Now question: if God was like the perfect parent whom would you rather have? The one who has the warm & fuzzies but is indifferent towards us or, the one who cares enough for us to say “I love you just the way you are, but I love you too much to leave you the way you are- I want to show you a better way to be human; will you let me show you a better way? Please let me show you, for I don’t want to see you go down a self-destructive road”. Isn’t that better? Such a God would seek the best for us and get angry at anything that defaces the people He loves. The only ‘problem’ we can envision with this better is that if this God is not totally indifferent to us then that means we can’t be indifferent to Him. Knowing that this is the God who is love- and then living a way that is directly opposed to His transformative love- is us not loving God back. It’s saying “Piss off!” to the perfect parent. Now I get why we would want God to piss off- it’s because we think, like any teenager, that we have ‘got it all together’. Our culture says “We don’t need that religion stuff”. Two things need to be said to that: God doesn’t like religion either, He prefers everything being done in the context of a relationship. And second, if you made a machine you would know exactly how it works best. Likewise, if God made you, He knows what’s best for your design.
Second, the more.
God being love can often sound very sentimental. A nice catchphrase. God being love is what you get. But behind such sayings there isn’t much more there. Christians believe that at the very centre of all of reality is the more. The more behind the catchphrase “God is love”, the more behind the very fabric & centre of reality itself. A pulsating beauty, a magnificent awe, a personal caring power, a dynamic dance. To Christians, the God who Is Love isn’t a static being who just has niceties’. Behind the veil of reality is the God who is somehow ultimately one & only one and yet somehow intertwined in an unexplainable three- and this one in three togetherness is how love is defined. We can’t even find language to describe this glimpse at the centre of reality: Christians use phrases like “God is one but three persons” or we use titles like “The Holy Trinity”. All are words trying to grasp something we can’t quite grasp. But what does this all mean? If there were two people who both said “You orbit around me!” and then proceeded to make each other orbit around the other as they stood still it would end badly. But if you had two people who said to each other “I will centre my whole being around you” then both people somehow become the object of love that both affirms the other and allows you, the receiver, to be fulfilled through the selfless orbit of the other. It almost looks like a dance. This dance is the famous analogy that’s given to paint but a faint picture of what’s happening in God Himself. This one but three God- who we call Father, Son, And Spirit- are like dancers who are selflessly seeking the love, the beauty, the glory of the other. And when this God made the universe He musn’t had made the universe to get love (He already had that!) but to give love. Love is self-replicating, Love is creative, Love is other centred. Compare this dynamic reality to our world as we know it: we look out for number one, we are always attempting to build our little world of one, and even our relationships are about us not about the other, our countries are attempting to be bigger & better. We are the ones going “No! You orbit around me!”. Just imagine though if we all looked after each other at the same time, not to get but to give; it would be perfect. But here’s the thing: The eternal God is a God who has always had always been love because other centred love has always been present. Other faiths might claim that their God is love but their very God’s don’t have the very structure built into their being to say that- for if love is about loving others then it means that god hasn’t always been love because before us who was he loving? Only a God who is one but is Himself a community of eternal intertwined persons can be love. This is the more. However if this is what love is the God who is love then the daring dive into the springboard of reality would look like us being loving as well to others; saying that number one isn’t the only one, and seeking to serve God and serve others.
Third, the deeper.
True love requires sacrifice. It’s so obvious that we don’t even observe this phenomenon until we stop and see that it is indeed true: the world’s most loving people sacrificed. Genuine love requires that one demonstrate love in action which of course will require sacrifice; there is no escaping it: it will cost your time, your money, your energy; your space; your capacity to be present. That what loves does. Are we really surprised? There once was a person who went up to a pastor and said to him “God loves me, I don’t think he needed to send Jesus to die for me, he just loves us!” and the pastor looked at him and responded and said “What did it cost your God to love you?”. If “God is love” then true love will also cost God something. And the Christian faith says that when humanity said “no” to God’s way of being human that, in our freewill, we created a world of violence, of anger, of hate, of injustice- systemic powers of evil emerged and has now become the norm. If God is going to embrace the world that has gone astray He must enter into this world of evil, injustice, suffering & death, and He must let the evils of the world do their worst to Him- evil has to converge in one place so that he can defeat evil by the way of love. What did it cost your God to love us? It cost God His life. This is the deeper: “that whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. If God isn’t going to respond to evil with evil then he must let evil do its worst to him- but if evil isn’t to have the final say after doing its worst to Jesus then Jesus has to do something that makes his pathway to the cross victorious without using the methods of evil itself: And so He rises from the dead. His resurrection tells us that love wins: that evil won’t have the final say. God is Love; Love has won.
God is love…But His version of love is the better the more, and the deeper.