[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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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.
image courtesy of 123rf.com
And though we love to numb the pain
We come to learn that it’s in vain
Pain is our mother
She makes us recognize each other
— Linford Detweiler
I have long said that stories of brokenness and failure bind a community together much more than stories of success and victory. Not there’s anything wrong with success stories. Church (and all other) communities need them. People are encouraged and excited by them and it helps keep momentum going. But brokenness and failure create community like nobody’s business. If I stand up in church and tell you how awesome I’m doing and how I am one step away from the throne of God, and how God keeps doing one amazing thing after another through me, you will probably think, “Good for him. I wish I could say the same. I guess there’s something wrong with me.” But if I share my struggles with you, if I let you know that in some places in my life the going is slow and very rough, you will identify with that. You will think, “I’m struggling too. I guess this is normal. I guess we’re all in this together.” That is community.
Churches don’t benefit themselves by getting their people to always look and sound like they “have the victory.” The fact is that we spend most of our lives in uncertainty.
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Last week I went into an eye surgeon for a consultation. I have a cyst in the corner of each of my eyes. It doesn’t hurt, and isn’t even very obvious, but it bugs me. They needed to check to see if removing the cysts will interfere with my tear ducts. Apparently the way they learn this is by taking a syringe full of water and a rounded needle-type object on it, sticking it into your tear duct, moving it around in a giant circle, and then squirting water into the duct until you feel it running down the back of your throat. Repeat for other eye.
I don’t know about you, but when someone approaches my eye with a syringe, I start feeling pretty anxious. 🙂 But having MS for twenty years has allowed/forced me to have quite a few “procedures,” some of them so awful that I wouldn’t care to put them in print. Through hours of sitting in doctors’ offices, waiting for phone calls about test results, and having awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and sometimes excruciating tests performed, I now know the truth about myself. I am a machine.
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photo via 123rf.com
God, I want to pray but I can’t. Sometimes you are our only hope, and it seems like you’re really not much. You let that little girl in California get murdered the other day. Right now, in every corner of the earth, someone is grieving over a child who is about to die, crying out to you for deliverance — knowing you are their only hope — and maybe afraid that that’s not much.
I know, death isn’t the end of THE story. But it’s an important part of OUR story, God.
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