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God is a Lover

What is God like?

The question sounds simple enough, but the ways in which we explicitly and, more often, implicitly answer this question in our daily lives has profound effects upon nearly all that we are and all that we do. In many ways it is the question. And anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in churchy circles (and beyond) will know that there a truly bewildering array of toxic conceptions of God that people daily walk around with in their heads.

  • God as a punitive, implacable father, hovering menacingly over our every thought and action, waiting for us to make a mistake.
  • God as a coddling therapist, stroking our fragile egos, blessing and baptizing our every inclination, placidly allowing us to marinate in the many and varied ways in which we have been victimized.
  • God as a disinterested cosmic spectator, detached, remote, unapproachable. Impressive and serene, to be sure, but pretty much useless when it comes right down to it.
  • God as exacting teacher, with lesson plans drawn up and exams prepared, ready to assign a grade upon our lives.
  • God as inflexible policeman, enforcing moral order, making sure the right rules are kept for the right reasons.
  • God as crystal ball, predictor of the future, plotter of events yet to come.
  • God as insurance policy, a handy thing to have in case of emergencies, but mostly tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.
  • God as fellow pilgrim, offerer of decent advice from time to time, ready and willing to be accessed as one (among many) sources of wisdom and guidance.
  • God as healer, binding our wounds, curing our infirmities, easy enough to ignore until things fall apart.
  • God as magician, waiting for the right incantations to be spoken, the proper oblations to be offered in order to weave his spells and grant our desires.
  • God as source of blessing, the one who unlocks heaven’s bounty and lavishes it upon those who do or think what is right and true.
  • God as judge, waiting to bring the gavel down on our lives, on the world itself.
  • God as divine warrior, arming himself for a final showdown with the forces of darkness.

There are hints of truth in some of these, of course. Sometimes barely perceptible, to be sure, but hints nonetheless. But each one falls woefully short in countless ways, particularly when one is embraced to the exclusion of most others. Each one, when operating as our core understanding of who God is and how God works can leave us frustratedly chasing shadows when we inevitably realize that God (and life) is quite a bit more complicated than the meager scraps of truth that we have constructed our images of God upon.

Last night I attended a Steve Bell concert here in Lethbridge. This must be at least the sixth time I have seen him live and he never disappoints. A question that Steve asked between one of his songs last night has been rattling around in my brain throughout the day.

How might history have unfolded differently, what might the church look like today if our dominant understanding of God was that of a lover instead of a magistrate?

The question cuts right to the core of who we think God is, doesn’t it? We rehearse the verses that say “God is love,” we talk about the “love of God,” about how “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” But do we ever pause to consider just how remarkable this really is? Do we realize the implications of this stunning truth?”

What it means is that at the heart of it all, is love. It was love that spoke a world and human beings into existence… Love that allowed the beloved to walk away… Love that reached out, reached down, reached into the heart of the mess… Love that gave itself away… Love that will guide us home.

Behind it all, around it all, within it all, ahead of it all, pointing the way home…. Love.

This means that whatever else we might want to say about who God is, what God wants, and how God works, love is always lurking around the corner.

We say God judges sin, and he does, and he will… but the judge is a lover.

We say that God will be the victor over sin and death and evil, and he will… but the conqueror is first a lover.

We say that God is our teacher and our guide, that he has intentions for the shape of a human life… But before the teacher speaks a word, before the guide plots the course, he is a lover.

We say that God is moral and just and expects us to be moral and just…. But always and only for love’s sake. Because the lawgiver is a lover.

We say that God is our comforter and healer, that God wants us to be fulfilled and happy and blessed and healthy… But God’s desires go far beyond these things, because love does more than give goodies, it calls us to something, it invites us into something more expansive than the size and shape of our meagre wants. And because the comforter and the healer is first and foremost a lover.

Everything we say about God’s nature and interactions with the world is simultaneously constrained and liberated by this most basic and beautiful of truths.

Before anything. After everything. The first and the last word about God must always be love.

Because God is a lover.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Howard #

    Another excellent teaching post. Art is asking for prayer mtg content. Ryan should be given some thot

    Sent from my iPhone


    December 5, 2014
  2. mike #

    I wish I could believe this , I mean REALLY believe it, deep down in my bones..but I can’t (yet).The best I can do is pay it Lip service on a good day.
    I just can’t manage to dislodge the “magistrate” persona of God that I was indoctrinated with when I first began to soak-in organized religion(Pentecostal Fundamentalism).
    I have noticed though that as I’m getting older my view and perception of God is changing/evolving for the Better. ….interesting how that pendulum swings.

    December 6, 2014
    • I struggle with it too, Mike. It requires a lot of unlearning and/or relearning. So much of how many of us were conditioned to think about God was and remains fear-based…

      I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen today. Seems very relevant to the themes of this post:

      When we consider how much of our educational, political, religious, and even social lives are geared to finding answers to questions born of fear, it is not hard to understand why a message of love has little chance of being heard. Fearful questions never lead to love-filled answers… Once I believe that God is out to get me for my bad behavior, complicated moral schemes start to occupy my mind… Thus, fear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love.

      December 6, 2014
  3. mmartha #

    In church or college positions, counseling or listening is a given. That God is an insurance policy (or tradition, and good vibes with that of course, not taking into account how formal that can sometimes be), I’ve found as one concept. Another college teacher mentioned to me (at the time I was a Baptist) that she didn’t want her daughter at the Baptist Church because they got mushy about God (and I soften her terminology).
    Daniel received God’s message that he was dearly (greatly) beloved (Dan. 10:11). And we find through scripture such assurances. Oh, let’s accept that. Let’s don’t be afraid of the message or the reality.

    December 6, 2014
    • Let’s don’t be afraid of the message or the reality.

      Yes. I’m thinking of this in connection with the Nouwen quote above.

      December 6, 2014
  4. Charlene Friesen #

    If God is a lover then so are we being made in His image. If He is a lover then He is meant to be loved. What does new or first love look like? In humans it is passionate, intimate, exhilarating, you can’t stand to be apart from each other, your every waking moment is spent thinking of your lover and when you close your eyes you dream of him. You write him love notes and you can’t stop talking about him to your friends. God is a lover and I think sadly we are too embarrassed by our first love to have a pitter pattering heart for Him like he deserves. We treat Him more like the fat or ugly or disabled boyfriend we are dating because we are desperate and lonely but too embarrassed to be seen in public with Him and yet we so desperately want someone to call our lover and to feel loved that we hang onto the relationship. It is one thing to say God is a lover and another to fully accept and respond to that reality.

    December 6, 2014
    • I’m not particularly drawn to the romantic imagery, Char, but I absolutely agree with the idea that our task is to accept and respond to the reality of a love that is bigger and broader than anything we have experienced and anything we can imagine.

      December 6, 2014
  5. Paul Johnston #

    I have no problem with the proposition. God IS Love. FR. Henri points us in the right direction (with an assist to Ryan 🙂 )

    It is our social lives and institutions (sadly even religious ones) that lead to the disconnect. Love, on the ground, fully expressed within culture requires a people on the ground immersed in relationship with Christ. This relationship must come before all other relationships. Before spouse, before children, before friends, before vocation, nationality and every political or social institution imaginable. In fact the for the sake of the fulfillment of all these relationships they must defer to your relationship with Christ.

    The problem is not with God, it is with His people. Until we immerse ourselves in daily prayers (relationship with God) and seek community with others so committed, nothing will change. We must live together as Christians, not as Canadians, Americans….liberals, conservatives…feminists, environmentalists….no other identity defines you. Only your identity in Christ.

    Until we, the so called chosen people, actually cast our lot with Christ, Christ’s love will not permeate our human cultures. In His great love He gives us free will. If we do not freely choose to reciprocate His love with the best of our love, nothing changes. The Kingdom continues to groan, suffer and stagnate.

    It is time to walk on water. Truly cast our lot with the risen Christ or stand weakly by while most drown in the sins of human institutions that put greed and self interest before love of neighbor.

    December 8, 2014
    • Sounds like the beginnings of (or rousing finale to) quite the sermon, Paul. 🙂

      I fear that you are right—we so often settle for lesser identities, using Jesus for a bit of window dressing around other agendas, other ways of understanding and presenting ourselves to the world. The trick, I suppose, is to, as Nouwen reminds us, avoid using fear as a motivator to get ourselves out of these messes we make. Fear never gives birth to love.

      December 8, 2014
    • mike #

      Outstanding comment,Paul.

      December 9, 2014

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