Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"God Isn't Just Love, Beth"

“God isn’t just love, Beth.”

If it were the first time I heard this from my fellow minister, I might have been stunned into silence. But it wasn’t.

 And I was not silent.

 Maybe I should have been.

Context matters. But before the context, it seems important to simply sit with the claim and its emphasis: God isn’t just love, Beth. That’s how it was spoken, the ‘just’ emerging ahead of the love.

The speaker intended to say (and did), that God is more than love or perhaps better, something else besides love, specifically: wrath.

But the ‘just’, standing alone, somehow diminishes the love, as if ‘just’ love is something not very important or descriptive of the essence of God, especially if the wrath God is forgotten or put aside.

Not quite knowing what to do with that, I posted on the church’s FB the question, “If someone said to you, ‘God is not just love’, what would you say back?” The responses thus far are insightful:

From Candasu, a Presbyterian minister: “Just” love? I think we need to have a talk.

From Alice, a government employee and musician living in the mountains: I would say you are right!!! He is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

From Mary Beth, a cancer survivor: The giver and keeper of life.

From LaDonna, postmistress of a small country post office, which means she is the bearer of the burdens of others (in the country, the postmistress serves the function of priest or bartender, depending on your point of view): God is just Love, peace, joy and everything else I need.

From Twila, a dear friend from way back:  Do you know the love that you feel for your children, family or friends? Magnify that love infinitely. . .

I love them all, the women who sent these words and the words they sent. I appreciate the pastor in Candasu, but I think LaDonna spoke most to my own heart: yes, God is ‘just’ love, as God is ‘just’ everything I need. There is no need for anything else, for God and God’s love (if the two can be separated, which I do not think they can) are all sufficient.

As I said above, context matters. The speaker was making the point that young folks have bad theology, in that they seem to use the claim that “God is love” or loving, as an excuse for bad behavior or sin, without any idea that there is a reckoning with God for what we do.

My own reaction, then as now, is that even God’s wrath, however we understand that, is connected to God’s love. God is a unity, thus it is not that God is sometimes loving and sometimes wrathful. Rather, God’s wrath is best understood as just or righteous anger, and always carries with it God’s mercy and forgiveness, which are simply aspects of God’s love.

Love is not only something God does, but is fundamentally what God is: caring, interacting with creation for the good of creation and all within it is somehow intrinsic to the very nature of God.

It is always presumptuous to speak of God and God’s nature.

But how we see and understand God dramatically affects our view of the world and all within it.

If there are people somehow beyond redemption, we are freed to, at the least, dismiss them and at worst, to annihilate them.

If God’s wrath is somehow the opposite of or to the exclusion of God’s love, then I too am free to indulge my wrath without thought to the obligations of love.

If God’s love is not defining of God, them I am truly lost.
DISCLAIMER: I am reporting part of a very long conversation here. I hope I report faithfully this much, but there was much more said. It’s not my intention to mislead or argue a point. Rather, these are the words that have sparked my own reflections today. I hope I have done justice to both sides.

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