Thursday, January 24, 2008

On What God's Love is and is not

Fr. Stephen has another excellent blog entry (among very many!) that has provoked a lot of comment. What continues to astonish me the most, in discussions such as that one, is what great difficulty people have in actually believing, “God is love.”

There are certain prominent doctrines that simply cannot, can not, be reconciled with, “God is love.” Among those are Double Predestination, Single Predestination (which as far as I could ever see is morally, practically, and substantively identical with Double Predestination, differentiated only by verbal parlor tricks), Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and the notion that God ever sends people to hell. Leaving aside, for this post, that these doctrines also contradict God’s immutability and His infinitude and a host of other biblical teachings, I would like to focus on what God’s Love is and is not. I do this on the theory that misconceptions about divine love may be behind people’s failure or refusal to interpret the Holy Scriptures in accordance with it.


God’s Love is completely free. (Romans 9:15; Exodus 33:19) Nobody and nothing, external to Him or internal, compels Him to give it. He loves and is love because He wills so to do and so to be.

God’s Love is unconditional. It never fails. (I Corinthians 13:8; see also Psalm 36:6-7, Psalm 57:10) This means nothing we could ever do or imagine doing could affect God or His love in the least. We flatter ourselves if we imagine we are that powerful! This doesn’t mean He approves or blesses everything we do. No, He may actively oppose us and He will win, and if we persist, His victory may seemingly be to our expense – but all the while He loves us just as tenderly, keeps us as the apple of His Eye. No matter what. And His victory, even if it is a victory over us, will ultimately be in our best interest, too. (It is not good for us to keep on sinning, or to continue lying to ourselves, for dark deeds harm their perpetrators most of all.)

God’s Love is inalienable. (Romans 8:35-39) Nothing can separate us from it. Even if we do not want it or return it, even if we hate God, His goodness and (unaccepted) mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and beyond. He even loves those in hell. (And He in no sense will have sent them there! Anyone in hell will have put himself there, without any assistance from God whatsoever, and against what He would have chosen for them, had He not left the choice to them.)

God’s Love is pure, unmixed. There is no such thing as, “Yes, God is love, BUT…” Nothing dilutes God’s love, or counters it, or forms part of a dichotomy with it. God’s Justice, for example, does not contrast or contradict or oppose His Love, but, rightly understood, is a function of His Love, a subset of it, if you will. Justice and love always go together, as in Jeremiah 9:34.

God’s Love is infinite. (Jeremiah 31:1) The phrase, “His mercy endures for ever” occurs 42 times in the Old Testament.

God’s Love is universal. (Psalm 145:9) He loves each and every person with infinite, unconditional Love – even people who make themselves His enemies. He is never theirs!

God’s Love is sacrificial. (Romans 8:32) “Love does not seek her own.” God seeks nothing for Himself in return for His Love.

God’s Love is not winnable or earnable. That is because it was always ours, from before we were formed in the womb.

God’s Love is not an emotion. In fact, it is not a response of any kind; it is proactive. God doesn’t have emotions. God’s love consists of giving Himself for our highest good.

God's Love is not namby-pamby. In fact it is ferocious; it is the strongest thing there is. It has nothing to do with sentimentality. God’s mighty love does not overlook or excuse evil, but conquers it. Even when it appears weak, that is when God’s love is the strongest, as in the Crucifixion. Jesus, as He is hanging on that tree, is defeating satan by not budging an inch. He is disarming the devil by depriving him of his principal weapon, death. He is dispersing death’s darkness by shining the light of His Life and Love into the very heart of it.

No, such assertions as these are not an attempt to humanize or sanitize God, or to make Him over into our own liking. (But that accusation is very interesting in its implicit acknowledgment that such a God would indeed be more loveable.) The reverse is true: God imagined as one Whose love is less than this is the human creation. Making Him literally spiteful, vindictive, retaliatory, that is making Him all too human.

This is the Divine Love revealed in Christ Jesus, and He is the key to the Scriptures. We need to interpret them accordingly.


Victor said...

Dear Anastasia,

Thank you for your post on God as love (I know this thread is coming up on 4 years old now). I am curious about your citation of Jeremiah 9:34 under God's Love is pure, unmixed. Does the Orthodox Old Testament/LXX have a textual addition? My English Standard Version only goes to v. 26 and my Hebrew Bible through v. 25. I am a Lutheran Christian (LC-MS) who is very intrigued by the Orthodox faith and some of the intellectual/theological/sanctification dilemmas it clarifies. When "God is love" is the material principle (that is, the main essential teaching), especially as He has revealed Himself in Christ through the Holy Spirit, it is much easier to recognize that God's justice is always administered in love for the sake of calling us sinners to repentance and faith in Him. They are not diametrically opposed, nor does Justice exceed His love (as in many Protestant circles and especially Calvinism).

I especially feel apathetically passive in my faith, when I clearly see from the Scriptures that God's love is always active and living. It seems exhortations to good works are often shunned or downplayed by those who hold to my confession. At least, it seems we affirm the goodness of good works as a theological idea, but struggle to but it into practice given our emphasis on forensic justification. I sometimes feel us westerners have created many false dichotomies through over compartmentalizing and creating unnecessary distinctions where they need not be.

I appreciate your post and look forward to reading more.

Your friend in Christ,