God’s Love, prt. 3

August 16, 2012

 

God's Love w/ Pencils

Image courtesy of Stephen Cuyos, licensed under Creative Commons

Remember, Jesus himself invited the comparison of God’s love to the love of human parents for our children. If you extend your love to your children constantly, every second, for a specified number of years, are you then justified in killing or torturing them for having not responded? Could you even desire to? If you were capable of doing that , wouldn’t that mean — by obvious definition — that you never really loved them to begin with? Wasn’t Jesus example on the cross saying that love transcends death — that it pays the ultimate price, that it goes to hell and back again, that there is nothing that can come between us and God? Wasn’t Paul saying that in Romans 8? If so, doesn’t that sound to you very much like the love we human parents know for our own children, even though our love is so imperfect?

It’s hard enough that our humanity prevents us from loving fully. It does not help  matters that we don’t allow ourselves theologically to integrate what we already know about love as parents with what we believe about God’s love for us. If God’s love for me ultimately will allow him to do something horrible to me, then as far as I’m concerned God doesn’t love me at all. As a parent, I will love my girls forever and ever, no matter what they do, whether they ever respond or not. No matter how badly they would ever treat me, my dying breath would be a wish for their well-being. Don’t you love your kids that way? If you do, it is heroic or kindly of you? Of course not. Good parents just can’t help loving our kids that way. There’s nothing we can do about it. They are ours, and we are forever in their corner no matter what. Every decent parent on earth knows that. Are we supposed to deny this natural knowledge of love in order to lower the standard for God? Jesus seemed to be saying God’s love is superior to, greater than, ours. I believe it.

Let’s face it. As parents the only reason many of us can tolerate those terrible doctor trips to get vaccinations is because we keep reminding ourselves it’s for a greater good. We innately understand this to be the only possible justification for allowing or inflicting suffering, except where God’s love is concerned, in which case we seem okay holding God to that lower standard I referred to. In our teaching, the God who was enfleshed, lived, and died specifically to redeem us somehow transforms into a God whose redemption was limited to the briefest span of our lives — that being our lives on this planet in these bodies. (Sidebar: One of the best contributions of the idea of purgatory is that human suffering in the next life at least has redemptive purposes. In fact if one believes God consigns humans to hell, it is perhaps only the idea of purgatory that makes it rational in any sense.) If I have to believe God will dish out wanton and unredemptive suffering to me or anyone I love, then God would be my enemy. That is a realistic thing to consider. Perhaps God is an enemy of his creation. Perhaps there is no God at all. I do not believe either of these two ideas and, along with rejecting them, I also reject the notion that God’s love does or ever will inflict or allow the infliction of non-redemptive suffering. If I am wrong, then in the final analysis, God either does not desire my well-being, or does not ultimately have the power to secure it. If either is the case, I cannot trust him.

However, if I believe God is love, and all that must be true in order for that to be the case, I am quite secure. So are you. You wanna know the really awesome thing? If I’m right, you are secure whether this is the God you believe in or not.

 

 

  • Ruth

    Where does the judgement day fit into this whole line of thinking? The separating of wheat from the chaff? I’m not trying to be argumentative but it seems that you feel pretty secure about what you think is love and what is best and what is for your well-being. In my life I’ve found that most of the definitions I had I’ve thrown out the window. If I operated in the reality that I know what is best and what is for my well-being I would not have been able to accept the death of my husband at age 36. I’ve come to peace with it simply because God’s ways are so far different from mine that I know on this side at least I will never know the reason. When I read this post it sounds very loving…very rational, I mean if I love my children in a certain way than surely God does too…but it scares me because honestly I don’t believe for a moment that I’ve got that kind of handle on God. I won’t be able to enter too much of a debate with you because I’m sure you have more verses to prove what you’re saying and I know I’m skewed a bit by my upbringing surely…and I have no desire to prove a point. But I do have concerns about this line of thinking. I may not know what all happens after death. But I can’t simply bank it all on the fact that the love of God will cover me if I never chose to follow Him, to let Him be my Savior here on this earth. If it does work that way…great, I win anyway. If it doesn’t…I have no desire to take that kind of risk.
    You refer to God being your enemy if he is not for your well-being…and that you will not trust Him if this is the case. When I read this sentence I shudder. I choose to trust regardless…though He slay me yet will I trust. It’s anchored me.
    That all being said…I realize that you have strong views as well and I’m open to those. I have no desire to prove a point. I just know what I’ve experienced in my own life to be true.

    • http://davidkflowers.com David Flowers

      Hi Ruth, thanks for your comments. We’re probably not as far apart as you think. Hopefully that will become clear as the series continues, although I am sure I will not address all of your questions. I can say that I have had to deal with a lot of the trust in the dark issues when I was diagnosed with MS at 23, and I still do, every time it flares up, and I’m thinking about wheelchairs, and I don’t know if the previous day was my last in good health ever. I understand those questions, and I understand having to come to a place where you give up needing to know the answers and trust in the good will of God about things you can’t understand. I totally agree with you. That is healthy spirituality.

      But only when based on the little we can understand. In other words, as a child, I am willing to trust my father because I know he loves me and has my best good in mind, as well as the strength to bring that to fruition. Knowing this, I place my faith in him. If a child’s father says he loves him, but punishes him beyond all reasonable comprehension, and then blames the child (“this is because of your inability to be the way you should)”, that child not only will not be able to trust the Father, but it will not even be a choice for the child. The child will simply find himself incapable of extending that trust. So too us, if we cannot believe that the Father will never harm us in any way whatsoever that is inconsistent with our best good. I don’t claim to understand all that entails, but I believe strongly that this must be absolutely beyond question.

      Thanks for commenting. I love the objections you raised. Those are the issues we have to deal with, and to deal with them in an honest way requires some real wrestling.

      • Ruth

        I appreciate your response and the fact that you took the time to write. I will be curious to see where salvation fits into this perspective. I find your last question interesting..”If we cannot have faith that God’s love is love in any sense that we understand love, what basis is there for faith at all?” I believe that I have some understanding of love but I also realize that there are many aspects of it I don’t understand, I haven’t experienced. I’m leaving open room for God to show me what His love is really all about. I think it’s much greater, higher, deeper than anything I’ve ever known or can fully understand right now. It’s a great mystery how God is love but also is just and holy. Beyond me for sure. Then throw in the whole living in a fallen world thing…and that’s why I stand by the “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Maybe that’s crazy…but people have been tortured, burned, heads cut off and who knows what else simply because they staked their whole life on who He is. He never has to operate the way I think He should. He has free reign. And I don’t ever really say…Hey God, if you don’t do it like this than you’re not worth following. I made a choice, I make a choice daily to stake my life on my faith and trust in God. Yes, I know He loves me…therefore it’s easier but I hope that I would stand firm and solid no matter what may come. He owes me nothing. He gives me everything. Why…I’ll never know but I’m a grateful woman who might very well have to live through some suffering someday that I can’t even begin to imagine right now. Everything sifts through His fingers. He can stop anything. If He chooses to do so great…if not I will trust.

        • http://davidkflowers.com David Flowers

          Everything you mentioned in terms of suffering was suffering that could easily be redemptive, that somehow “all works out in the end.” I am talking only about non-redemptive suffering in this series, eternal suffering, in hell, brought on directly by an act of God’s will. That kind of suffering is non-redemptive. Maybe that’s largely where we’re misfiring in our understanding of each other?

          Interesting that you kept mentioning the “though you slay” me line from Job. I wrote that line into a song years ago in one of the worst and longest MS flareups of my life. That kind of trust is essential in the spiritual life. The question is on what basis do we offer that trust? I trust my wife because of what I know about her. I know her love for me and therefore I trust that her actions toward me in the future will be based in love. Faith in God is the same. That is to say, faith must always be based on some type of knowledge. Since the Bible portrays God as love, since Jesus himself invited the comparison to what we know about love as parents, I think it’s reasonable to base our knowledge of God’s love for us on our knowledge of what love actually is, and then assume it will be so much better!

          In fact it is a big enough issue that it leaves a person with only two choices, in my opinion. One is to deal with it seriously, including its implications for the way a person understands and lives out other parts of their faith. Two is to dismiss it out of hand, saying, “We can’t really know.” The strange thing is that that option, too, comes precisely from the desire to know — to “make sense of things”. A person who takes option two will generally do so because it creates dissonance or conflict with something else they already know, that they may have to change, let go of, or come to understand in a new way. All three can be frightening, and may even feel threatening. So the dismissal option is actually about a deep desire to continuing thinking we “know” God in the way we have come to “know” God up until now. No matter how hard we try to get away from human knowledge and understanding, it is simply not possible. We’re in this boat, no matter how hard we want to get out and say it’s only about God! This is what I was pointing at when I wrote http://davidkflowers.com/2012/07/right-and-wrong/.

  • Joanie Williams

    Love part 3 too! Here’s a thought… What if in the end… God simply gives us eyes to see ourselves the way we truly are, and have been in our lives… Perhaps with those eyes, it is the individual who throws himself into hell…. This thought came to me long ago and I practice looking in the mirror every morning reflecting on the person I was the day before… Not the outside but the inside. If I find disappointment I work to change it.

    • http://davidkflowers.com David Flowers

      I like it, Joanie! You’re getting close to where I’m ultimately going, which is to C.S. Lewis idea about people simply choosing not to be around God in the next life. Some certainly choose that in this life and it makes sense that some would choose it in the next one as well. This, of course, is one does not think of hell literally as fire and physical suffering (does anyone really think that anymore?) but as emotional and spiritual separation from all that is God’s goodness. Thanks for reading!