I’ve written my weekly philosophical essay. And it is offensive. I know this because I got offended while writing it. So I apologize to anyone who is upset by what I’ve written. I am deeply sorry if this week’s essay digs up terrible memories and pain.
However, I have gone over and gone over what I wrote, and I can’t find anything in it that’s wrong. I can’t any way in which it disagrees with what I believe to be true. And that’s the thing. Truth can be offensive. Not because there’s anything wrong with truth, but because there is a lot wrong with our world.
And from the most inoffensive of premises, too, apparently.
We’ve all heard it said that God is love.
This is a thing that is often said, and unlike too many things often said, it’s more than a sentiment. As I’ve studied the Christian scriptures, I’ve learned that a lot of things have been said about God that aren’t more than sentiment, cooked up through apocrypha and pseudopigrapha and other things with long, unwieldy names that boil down to “not based in fact” But this – this is at the core of what we call “true”.
God is love.
God is a lot of things. If you read scripture, you pick ’em out. God is holy. God is just. God exists of himself. God is infinite and immanent. God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God is the Creator. God is merciful. God is patient. God is our Father. But in English, “God is love” stands out a bit, because the rest of the above are either adjectives or titles. “Love” is a noun – an abstract noun. It’s also a verb. We don’t just say, “God loves,” or “God is loving.” God is love.
The very essence of Love. The source of Love. The start of Love. The one true expression of Love. The depth and breadth and strength of Love. All that Love is intended to be.
I John 4:8: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
There are people who stand outside crowds and hold up signs that bear a blasphemy the enormity of which makes me weep. “GOD HATES [PEOPLE GROUP]”
Because God hates plenty of things. He hates injustice, and idolatry, and hypocrisy, and strife, just to name a few. But there is only one place, one alone, (quoted later, in one other place) where God admits to hating a single human being: “Jacob have I loved, and Esau I hated.” (Malachi 1:3) Yet even then it was temporary. Even that was an action, not a state of being. Isaiah wrote a beautiful hymn where God welcomes all the nations, not just Israel. John’s Revelation tells us how every nation will be made holy. God hates things, deeds, attitudes. Not people. God hates, but God is not hate. God is love.
And he loves us.
He loves us whatever we have done. He loves us whoever we are. He loves us whatever we think of him. He loves every one of us, every human being who draws breath in this world, and all the ones who can’t.
God loves the poor. He loves the rich. He loves the powerful, and the weak. He loves the talented, and the not-talented. He loves the boring people, and the exciting people, and the people who think they’re exciting but are really just annoying. He loves the young. He loves the old. He loves the coveted 18-25 demographic. He loves people who haven’t seen 25 for half a century, and the ones who have a long way to go to 18. He loves every race, equally. He loves both sexes, completely. He loves the slow, and the smart, and the clinically insane, and the angry, and the damaged, and the whole, the sad, the happy, the manic, the depressed, the employed, the unemployed, the blue collar and white collar and the no collar at all. He loves the orphan and the grandmother and the ruler and the slave. For we are all his creation, however we are made, and wherever we stand. There is no quality, nor talent, nor achievement, nor lack thereof which affects his love for us.
Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
He loves every person that we want to hate. He loves the foaming Conservative, he loves the cynical Liberal. He loves Obama, he loves Bush, he loves Clinton, he loved Reagan. He loves the snide woman who doesn’t tip, he loves the blowhard man obsessed with his own voice. He loves the thief, the liar, the drunk, and the adulterer. He loves the slacker, the embezzler, and the gossip. He loves every person who has committed terrible things. He loves the radical who shot the abortion doctor, and he loves the abortion doctor. He loves the despot, and he loves the insurgent. He loves the druggie, and the drug lord. He loves the rapist, the pedophile, and the abuser. He loves the one who swindles old people out of their life savings. He loves the corrupt politician, the lobbyist, the greedy CEO. He loves the terrorist, and the mastermind who drives him to suicide bombing. In any war, he loves those fighting on both sides. He has loved every Nazi, even as he has loved every Jew. He loves every Black Panther and he loves every Klansman. He loved the petty princes who killed and drove out my ancestors. He loved Nero, who burned Christians for kicks. He loved Stalin. He loved Hitler. He loves Osama bin Laden. For there is nothing that we can do to disqualify his love. There is no act that cannot be swallowed up by that vast ocean. If we lie, if we cheat, if we steal, if we slander, if we betray, if we murder, we cannot throw off his love. There is no depth to which we can sink where God’s love cannot pull us out. And when I stand here screaming out my sins to the hard sky, daring him to hate me for what I have done, I know he loved the scheming Pharisee who used to track down the first Christians and murder them. The Apostle Paul never forgot that. Those who mocked the incarnate God, beat him, tortured him, nailed him to a cross and left him to die a slow and agonizing death for things he never did – he asked the Father to forgive them.
Ephesians 2:1-5: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.”
God loves us, regardless of what we think of him. He loves the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Wiccan, the Taoist, the Sikh, and the atheist. He loves Sam Harris. He loves Richard Dawkins. He loved Darwin, and Douglas Adams. He loves those who curse his name. He loves those who deny his existence. He loves those who laugh at Christians and call them the deluded remnants of pre-rational superstition. That he is God does not depend on their belief, and neither does their status as masterpieces of his making.
I John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
It is for every single one of them – every single one of us – that he bent down and became human and walked among us and lived and died.
John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
There are things God hates. He hates sin. Anybody would hate anything that damages those they love. The father who warns as his son plots a path to destruction doesn’t love his son any less. The mother who punishes her daughter for making a monumentally foolish decision does not despise her. The man who hands his beloved over to the police for murder has not ceased to be her lover. The woman who yells at her friend who keeps falling for the same poisonous loves has not violated friendship. Their fury, their sorrow, their wrath, all have a root in love. Hosea loved his prostitute wife. God loves his prostitute people. We can run headlong from him, deny him, flout him, throw everything back into his face, and he will not stop loving us.
God tells us to love those who hate us. He has every right to say it, ’cause that’s how he deals with us.
That we have hated him is a foregone conclusion. It’s no longer the point. We’re human; we hate pretty much anything at some time or other. But God – God is love. And he loves us. He loves us wholly. He knew us before birth, and through every step of our lives. There is nowhere in this universe we can go where he’s not there, no situation where we are alone. He is infinite, and we are not; how can we possibly imagine that there is anything any human being can do that overcome his love? Every person we meet, every face we see, every name we read, every voice we hear, all are someone who God loves. All are someone whose life he knows, whose heart he understands, whose fate he cares for. They are never “merely” or “only” or “just” to him. They are not the enemy, they are not the other side. We are all the human race, which he made, which he loves, the only distinction being those who love him back.
And we can choose to stand on the other side of that distinction.
The Bible is full of what’s called “arc words”. “Love” is one of many. Another is “the world”. When you come across it in scripture, it’s generally a bad thing. “In the world and not of it.” “The way of the world” (meaning sin). “The Prince of this world” (meaning Satan). So it means a terribly huge thing when Jesus used it when talking with the old pharisee Nicodemus in the gospel of John:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God is love. And God loves us all.