How often have you heard or used the following line: “Well the God I know is a God of love…”?
I’m not the first nor will I be the last person to write a blog on this issue. This idea of God being a God of love (mostly from the Christian perspective here) is a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. But taking it to the next step can result in a very dangerous projection of a false God.
Everyone’s familiar with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…”. 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not know love does not know God, for God is love.” Psalm 23 is a heartwarming psalm portraying the Lord as a shepherd who tends to his sheep (us) out of love. John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We get the sense that God is love. I agree. Here’s where the problem comes in. When people say “Well, the God I know is a God of love”, they usually follow up with something like “so why can’t I just do whatever I want?” or “so why are rules necessary?” To them, Jesus is a hippie frolicking around in the flowers passing out Valentines to everyone. God is a God of love. But what does it truly mean to “love”?
To love is more than to have warm fuzzy feelings for someone. Going back to an earlier example, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love also involves sacrifice. It inherently involves some sort of disciplined structure if it is truly love (I’ll provide an example soon). It involves freely choosing to will the good of the other before yourself. If Jesus being a God of love means Jesus treated everyone nicely and gave everyone a hug all the time, then explain his outburst to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Or if God is a God of love, and therefore lets people do whatever they want, then explain the scene where “Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers…”
Is God a God of love? Yes. But that love is not free-and-easy, do-whatever-you-want love. If you are a parent and you love your child, will you let them do whatever they want? “Billy, did you steal those baseball cards from the store?” “Yes mother.” “Oh ok. Well I love you. Please try really hard not to do it again.” Or “Suzy, you’re grounded for failing your Algebra test because you snuck out the night before and got drunk.” “But mother, I thought you were a mother of love?” “Oh yeah, sorry I forgot. More booze sweetie?”
The crucifix is the ultimate symbol of God’s love. When I look at a crucifix, I don’t see a man radiating with joy telling people “It’s ok, we’ll forget about these days when you were a little cranky. In the meantime, anyone want a cupcake? Love you!” I see a man who says “Father, forgive these men, for they know not what they do” as he’s about to suffocate to death out of a self-sacrificial love.
God is a God of love. What an incredible blessing. Yet I’m always disheartened by the people who say that and then follow up with “Therefore I can do whatever I want”. Jesus was not a moral relativist. There is not, was not, and never will be a person for whom Christ did not die for out of love. But that love, made manifest on the Cross, was not a “Free Pass” to do whatever we wanted; it was a standard of the love which we are expected to give to God and to others.
“ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’.”