God’s Love, prt. 4

No wonder we suffer from the spiritual schizophrenia we do in the church. No wonder the history of the church is full of outright atrocities, committed in the name of Jesus, prince of peace and Lord of Love. These spring directly from human beings who ultimately don’t know whether they are loved or hated, and from the difficulty of living in love. When we come to know the depth of God’s love for us, and that we are secure in that love not just for this life but for all eternity (a la Paul in Romans 8, and all through Philippians), we then have something to stand on other than threat of punishment. We then can find ourselves loving others for the right reasons — not out of fear for them, or for ourselves, but because we have finally found what we have always searched for — love that is truly unconditional, that never changes, in which there is truly no shadow of turning.

Good parents know there is nothing more important to our children’s development than their knowing beyond all question, suspicion, and doubt, that their parents always will what is best for them, that mom and dad will never under any possible circumstance, inflict suffering upon them that is unredemptive. People can say all they want about God’s sovereignty and mystery, and the importance of trusting in God, but whether you are in relationship with God or with a human being, you do not cease being human. Humans, in order to function healthily, need to know they can trust those who say they love them, and this includes every single personal being in relationship to them, whether other human beings, Martians, God, or hobbits. If God is going to harm you beyond any hope of redemption, you cannot trust him, and you cannot help that. God made you to shy away from people and situations you cannot trust. As long as you believe God is willing to punish you beyond all hope of redemption, you will ultimately struggle to trust him, and that is not lack of faith on your part.

The gospel I preach at Wildwind Church starts not in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but in Psalm 139. That plants our minds and hearts in fertile soil in which we can begin to imagine that we are truly loved, beyond any and all ability for us to screw up. Then we read the rest of the Biblical text and God’s love is apparent to us. In places in scripture where God is loveless, we realize the writers, too, are struggling to imagine this love (some of the verses toward the end of Psalm 139 are a perfect example of this). We have to make a choice here and that’s why I wrote http://davidkflowers.com/2012/07/right-and-wrong/. We’re scared to death to make that choice. Yet we must.

In this series of posts on God’s love, I have not dealt with any of the implications of what I believe about the love of God. What does this mean about salvation? Where is the need for Jesus? What is the purpose/point of evangelism? Am I a universalist? I will take on those questions in a future series, but I am going to give theology a rest for a while. It has been a long series, and fairly heavy, at least for people who are not accustomed to digging into theology.

Question: What does God’s love mean to you? How far will God’s love ultimately reach?

God’s Love, prt. 3

 

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.

 

 

God’s Love, prt. 2

love is eternal

Public Domain on Pixabay.com

[Start at the beginning of this series]

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.  

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God’s Love, prt. 1

love_father_baby

Image courtesy of Jennuine Captures, licensed under Creative Commons

Today I am beginning a four-part series explaining my theology, which is based on God’s unconditional and never-ending love for us. This is theology, so it uses a lot of scripture passages, and I realize there are many passages I do not use that create questions of interpretation. This is always the case in any theology. My intention with using scriptures is merely to show that my theology has deep Biblical roots. Then I will use other analogies, comparisons, illustrations, and arguments to show that it is compelling, common-sense, and — further — the only theology that will not leave us practicing love in a confused and half-hearted way.

I believe God is love.Scripture is clear on this point, and Jesus was clearer on this point than almost anything else he said. That is where I begin. It is not that the rest of scripture is irrelevant to me, it’s just that — if God is indeed a God of love — the rest of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of God’s love. Of course one may ask, “Why do you choose the parts of scripture that mention God’s love over all the other parts? What about the God’s wrath, anger, and vengeance?” My reply to that question is worked out in the rest of this post. This is my theology of love.

My theology of love is very much centered in what we can already know about love as parents. If you were to say to your children, “Repent, for your mother/father is near,” what would this mean? Would your love be dependent on their repentance? Would you love them any less if they did NOT repent? Of course not. Your love is the constant in this equation. You ask them to repent so they can know, experience, and live in this love connection with you. I believe that spiritual repentance is the same — God asks us to repent so we can know, experience, and live in this love connection between God and us. As I sat next to my daughter in the hospital last summer after her attempted suicide, the greatest source of pain in all of it was the chaos and pain she had been living in, despite how deeply loved she was. Her lack of understanding of this love had nearly catastrophic consequences in her life, and ours too.

Four ways we miss love

do not miss - ways we miss love

image courtesy of 123rf.com

 

On February 10 I posted about how some people were not comfortable with how I speak of God, because my language isn’t traditional enough and doesn’t reflect enough orthodoxy. This morning I received a beautiful, if short-lived apology from one of those to whom I had been referring in that post. Only it went on. And on. It became at first philosophical, and then a bit forceful, and finally culminated in the following:

Actually you’re in the perfect place to think about such things Most of us are distracted much of the time from anything that Truly matters…Yes you are in the struggle of your life we all are in the midst of a great struggle.… You’re missing the purpose of your own. I recognize that you are probably dismissing me and any concern Or insight or truth I think I may have. You’re always online and Commenting and you are not able to do that much right now so I thought maybe you would be up for it Being a pastor and all I will promptly Remove you from my list of friends since There seems to be no point and I don’t want to be tempted to comment anymore in response to your postings.

This was promptly followed by:

101 other things I could do today and would like to do..just felt led by the holy spirit to take that time this morning. I can’t explain it…i’m not nutty..how about considering providential love!

I wanted to publish this to try to unpack all the things I am asked to accept here, and how it illustrates a vision of Christian spirituality that, though it purports to be loving, is in fact dramatically missing that most important ingredient.

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