Thursday, September 13, 2007

Returning the power.

"In the literature where Judaism speaks for itself, Israel's election, embodied in the giving of the Torah, is viewed as God's gracious gift. Obedience to the Torah is the proper response to the gift of the Torah, but it does not earn salvation as such. "Election and ultimately salvation cannot be earned, but depend on God's grace" and mercy."

-- Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ, second edition.

"We love because He loved us first." 1 John 4:20

In Christianity, the emphasis is on God loving everyone, the undeserving, and that no one can ever be good enough to earn God's love. God's love is not a response to anything we do, and is not correlated to our actions. I think we're putting the focus in the wrong place. It has nothing to do with how good or bad we are. It has to do with power, and who has it.

When you start throwing around words like “deserve,” the word “earn” isn’t too far behind. And if you’re capable of earning something, then you’re capable of behaving in such a way that gets whatever it is you’ve earned removed. When that happens, the power ultimately lies with us -- we would then have the ability to determine when or if God would love us. God's love would be fickle, rather than a constant. And God's love would be less than all-powerful, because it would be the effect to our cause.

Rather, in saying that God loves the world, or God loves us, or that we love because God first loves us, the focus there is on who has the power – and it’s not us. We do not have the power to affect the fact that God loves us. At no point does the love ever come with an “off” switch. Much like a parent with a child, the parent loves. Period. S/he loves because this is his/her child, this is his/her creation, and the child is an expression of the parent, carrying a piece of the parent forward, only in new ways.

There is a complication with this, though. I once asked (well, kind of threw it into an already too long e-mail over theological differences) an evangelical friend about this notion, and said one of the difficulties I have with the “inherent sin” and so forth is that if standing before God, and hearing about God, it makes me ask, “Is there anything about me that’s lovable? What is it inside me that You love? What produces that?”

Her response was that God’s love isn’t dependent on us, but on God.

She missed the point I was driving at, but that’s because I wasn’t clear. One of the difficulties in saying that nothing you do produces God’s love is that it can lead to the idea that God has no choice in loving humanity. It’s like an addictive compulsion and perhaps, given a choice, God would prefer to not love humanity. It's an abstract love, that really has no personal connections. A rock would have equal weight in terms of God's love.

While I do think that nothing we do can alter God’s love, I do think that the production of God’s love is dependent upon us. This is possibly paradoxical, but let’s go back to the parent/child example. The parent’s love of a child simply is, but it is dependent upon knowledge of that child (not necessarily existence, because the child could die, but the parent’s love would not). Without the child, that particular aspect of the parent’s love wouldn’t be. And yet without that love, the child wouldn’t exist (granted, this example is limited to those who actually wanted a child at one point).

Therefore, the thing inside us that God loves is the very fact that we are created. We carry tremendous potential for good, we can demonstrate pure life, light, love in this world, as we were created to be. The very thing that God responds to when loving His creation is everything He put into His creation in the first place. That is precisely why we cannot be responsible for activating or shutting down God's love: we had nothing to do with those original qualities.

One of the reasons I’ve heard for why the Trinity must be true is that God’s love had to directed “outwards,” otherwise it became a selfish love. Therefore, the love was directed towards the three Trinity members. I don’t think this is the case. Even without the Trinity, God’s love would still be directed “outwards.”

God is omniscient. Is there ever a time when God does not know you? Expectant parents love the child in the womb – they know nothing about this child, what it will be like, and yet they still love the child. God, being omniscient, knows everything about you, like you’ve already lived your life. And if God is infinite and eternal, and had no starting point, then we have been known eternally. There was never a point at which God was not aware of us, down the last little DNA strand.

Do we need to exist in this time/space in order to be loved? Does God only love us after we are physically born here? No, because then that love once again has an on/off switch. So if God has eternally known us, then hasn’t that love always been directed outwards?

Now, this doesn't meant that you can do whatever you want, because God always loves you. The best relationships I see that are based on love are relationships of improvement. We are awed and amazed that this person, who is full of goodness and grace and light, loves us. Clearly, if this person who has all these qualities loves us, then there is something of those qualities that the person responds to -- and to me, that would make me want to search myself to see how those qualities could be cultivated, and how the bad qualities could be eliminated. What I glean from the Bible is you take the best human relationship you have and increase by a factor of millions, and it makes you want to be what God sees in you that much more.


Mystical Seeker said...

I think that the best reason for doing good, even knowing that God loves us unconditionally despite what we do, is out of gratitude for God's love.

Heather said...


I agree, because God's love can cover a multitude of ideas. It can include the fact that we were created to be originally good, that we were created to take part in creation, to love, to express light and so forth.

HeIsSailing said...

Why does God love us?

Because God is Love(1John 4:16). I just figured God loves because it is his character to love. I hunger because it is in my character to need food. Clumsy analogy, but that is how I thought of it as a Christian. God, in a sence, has no choice in the matter.


Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.(1John4:8)

Does this also mean that whoever does love, must know God?

SocietyVs said...

Heather I had a huge respone - but here is the gist of it. I think this was the best gospel message I have ever read in my life.

"And if you’re capable of earning something, then you’re capable of behaving in such a way that gets whatever it is you’ve earned removed" (Heather)

Great point - I also don't see this faith as ultimatums about earned and not earned - it's just not in the values of the teachings of Jesus. I think the church has missed the boat by a mile here.

"we would then have the ability to determine when or if God would love us" (Heather)

This is also very key - and I think you make a great point. God's love is something we cannot control - nor the strength of it.

"Without the child, that particular aspect of the parent’s love wouldn’t be. And yet without that love, the child wouldn’t exist" (Heather)

This is a very key analogy that I think nails it! That dynamic of love that just 'exists' - exists for a reason and is the focal point for why the child exists. I think this analogy is very deep and has many levels to it - awesome job on hashing this out.

"The best relationships I see that are based on love are relationships of improvement." (Heather)

I think this is the gospel message in general - we love God so we direct our lives into that reflection. I get asked the odd time why I believe this stuff - I always go back to the root of this faith - because God loves us. The teachings reflect it, Jesus' life reflected it, the letters show it, and so on...nowehere in those writings do I feel God hates us - or wants our worst in life. That's why this faith means so much to me - it was love to me when I had no clue what 'love meant'.

"Does this also mean that whoever does love, must know God?" (HIS)

I think that is fair to say...if you love, you know God - at least I think that has to be the strongest glimpse we will see this side of earth. And it is good.

Heather, this was a great and well written blog - my favorite by you to this date...I can really identify!

Heather said...


**God, in a sence, has no choice in the matter.**

Which is I think a hidden danger in saying that we don't play a part in God's love, period. It almost makes God look like he's controlled by some outside factor, and doesn't have a choice in this, and given that choice, would maybe prefer not to love.

**Does this also mean that whoever does love, must know God?**

I agree with Society here -- those that love do know God, to some extent, regardless of religious belief.


Thank you very much for your remarks. :)

**it's just not in the values of the teachings of Jesus. I think the church has missed the boat by a mile here. **
In a lot of ways, I see the teachings of Jesus tied to identity. He presents a picture of God that people might not have understood. He also seems to stress a knowledge of self-identity. If you know yourself really well, you know what flaws to work on overcoming, and the good attributes that should be emphasized. It's like re-discovering the man created in "the image and likeness of God." The more you know God, the more you know what that image and likeness should be like, and what qualities to cast away.

**God's love is something we cannot control - nor the strength of it. **
Agreed. I'm always impressed by the mothers of murderers or molestors who say that, no matter what, that person is still her child and she loves that child.

laura said...

Heather -

Elaine Pagels has a really interesting book called the Gnostic Paul. Romans is one of the epistles she uses as an exmaple in the book. There were very early Christians who interpreted Paul according to Gnosticism and a lot of what he writes that seems to be spoken "out of two sides of his face" makes a lot of sense when understood in from the Gnostic perspective. (For instance, Jew/Gentile are not to be taken literally - they refer to two types of Christians).

The Romans 1:18-23 seems especially gnostic. (Read it through verse 25).

The gnostics claim this is a warning against the worship of the demiurge (which I understand as the projection of the ego - which would include ideas about truth and god, etc.) They say this passage refers to the fact that the majority of Christians worship the creation instead of the true creator (Christ the logos). Many have exchanged the truth of God (the knowledge of his primal being) for a "lie" - the false principle of materiality.

I don't know that much about gnosticism, but I don't think it is entirely unlikely that Paul came at the world with a gnostic perspective. And if this is correct, I think it would support your understanding here.

laura said...

Sorry - my previous comment was actually meant for the post on "no excuse". Not sure how it ended up here.

Heather said...


I own that book. I haven't read it yet, but after I read Pagels book on the Gospel of Thomas as well as the Origin of Satan, I went out and bought all her other ones. It's on my "to read" list (which never, ever, ever grows shorter).

The thing I've always found interesting about the Creator vs. created passage is how it fits into the worship of Jesus. I see a difference between Jesus the man, and the incarnate word. Too often, though, the worship seems to focus on Jesus the man, and that was a created image. I know the response is that the son was eternal -- but the flesh cannot be eternal. It has a start and a stop date. The flesh is a created image, a mortal.