Thursday, November 8, 2007

Magnifying God's love.

Would God's love pack as much of a punch as it does if we weren't also told how depraved we are? One of the things I notice in Christianity a lot is how overwhelmed people are that this most holy God loves the most wretched sinner, and how much humanity doesn't deserve this love.

But what if humanity was told that sometimes it does deserve that love? Would the love itself then be that overwhelming? Or just par for the course? Does Christianity need humanity to be in that depraved state in order to emphasize the nature of God's love? Does it need humanity to be depraved in order to make sure its followers never forget how humble they should feel, or that the followers should constantly be amazed? How much value would God's love have if humanity were perfect? Or even a mixture of good/bad?

18 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...

I really have an issue with theologies that proclaim that humans are depraved.

I know it's a radical concept --but I think that God loves us because we deserve it, regardless of what our warts are.

JP said...

The problem of evil is still a huge stumbling point for me. If God loves us because we deserve it, why does he allow such horrible things happen to those he loves. I mean, if he is the almighty and the creator why does he not stop it. I know I am off track here with your post but that was the staw that finally broke the camels back for me.

SocietyVs said...

One biblical idea I think that comes from John(?) is that 'the one who is forgiven much loves much'. I think there is a scale of sincerity involved here. This will be tough to explain.

I think the worse off in life you have it - the more the idea of experiencing love is given merit. The deeper you go into hell - the greater heaven will also be (in the present sense of those terms). Whereas if someone had it good then came to God - found out about that love - they could very well belittle it as much as accept it (since they have a good life).

I have seen profound change in people's lives due to the idea of being 'loved by God'. Oddly enough, most of those people needed to recognize their human flaws and the things they ruined before they could see a path to fix that (salvation). Love is given merit by our level of brokeness.

I think the idea of our own human weaknesses and the things 'we actually did' do play into knowing the depth's of God's love (which none of us know - but just maybe some experience greater levels of it due to their experiences). I think also of that example/parable Jesus used about the two people that go and pray - a sinner and a publican - and the one who breaks into pieces is also the one who goes home 'justified' (feeling like he got something from it).

I will offer this for now...then when we get into the convo - I'll re-think what I have said.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

** I think that God loves us because we deserve it, regardless of what our warts are.**

I would also think, if we're going the original sin route, that we would deserve such love, if we inherited this sin through no fault of our own, but through our first "parents." If I'm born with this horrible sin-nature, how can I be at fault for sinning? Now, while we do have a choice in how we respond to sinful inclinations, but part of how I've seen defined is sinful thoughts. We can't control our thoughts. So when I say how can I be at fault, I'm referring to the thought portion.

JP,

I can understand your frustration. I think your blog was one of the ones that had that banner with 26,000 children will starve to death, so why should God answer your prayer? There are lots of days when it's incredibly hard to believe in God, or even a better life after this one. After all, if this life is full of arbitrary "crap," on what do I then base the belief in a "better afterlife?" Given that I've had a life better than probably 90% of the people out there presently, or even in history, I can use that as evidence. Evidence which crumbles when I see those 26,000 children, because where's their evidence?

If you, as a parent, would do everything in your power to stop your child from starving this minute, then what does this say about an omnipotent, all-loving parent?

Mystical Seeker said...

f you, as a parent, would do everything in your power to stop your child from starving this minute, then what does this say about an omnipotent, all-loving parent?

It says that the parent isn't omnipotent.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I can see no way of reconciling the problem of evil with belief in an omnipotent God.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

You get your own comment field. :)

**Whereas if someone had it good then came to God - found out about that love - they could very well belittle it as much as accept it (since they have a good life).**

I understand what you mean here, in that if you've always had something, it's easy to take it for granted and thus belittle it. However, even someone who has had it wretched can also belittle what they eventually get. And if someone always had it, that's where empathy can come into play, in seeing all those that don't have it, and thus gratitude through assimilation, almost.

**Oddly enough, most of those people needed to recognize their human flaws and the things they ruined before they could see a path to fix that (salvation). Love is given merit by our level of brokeness. **

But what about human strengths? Or human goodness? What I see in evangelical Christianity is that you don't deserve an iota of God's mercy/grace/love, and so you better make sure you appreciate it. Yet that is an awful picture to present. It would be like telling a child that they don't deserve their parents love. Think of what that would do to the child.

God's love is contrasted against human depravity, and that elevates God's love that much more. It's almost as though in order for God's love to be as awe-striking as it is, humans *must* be 100% evil/sinful/wretched, or God's love means nothing.

I have also seen people's lives changed through a spiritual connection. Yes, it did involve seeing the flaws, the imperfections. But in your experience, did it only involve that? Or did it involve seeing the good in people as well, that could become stronger, or better? That could grow and replace any flaws?

THsi isn't like the publican thanking God that he's not like everyone else, or that he's better. THis is someone who says, after honest reflection, "These are my flaws. These are my strengths." It's seeing humanity as a mixture of good natures and bad natures, and evangelical Christianity doesn't do that. The goodness is seperate from the person, until the person accepts Jesus as a savior. You are an enemy of God, until Christ is in your life, because you're just that sinful and ugly in God's sight.

I fully agree that in order to fix something, you have to identify where you went wrong. And that in those situations, it can be incredibly uplifting to know that Someone still loves you. But I dont think it should then correspond that humanity is only "good" with outside interference.

And it's from Luke 7. I think it also ties into the woman was also forgiven *because* she loved a lot, as well as those who love most were forgiven the most.

Jim Jordan said...

There are a lot of logical dead ends to the idea that we deserve God's love. First, how could we deserve being alive in the first place? God does not need us and was probably happier before us. The creation of the universe is a positive statement, not negative or apathetic. He didn't have to do it.

Second, you really run into an obstacle, as Mystical said himself, how could God be omnipotent, if we deserve to be loved yet we experience suffering? Omnipotence is a rather expected attribute of a being who created hundreds of billions of stars from nothing. Proclaiming Him as not omnipotent because He doesn't always do what we infinitecimal specks of dust like Him to do is kind of, well, funny.

Third, what does it say about love if it's expected of us? "Oh, you're just doing the right thing because you're supposed to". You'd never have to say thank you; "it's about time" is more like it. Is that love?

Last, the message of the cross is that when we had the opportunity to show how well we'd take care of God, we crucified Him, even though He'd never done anything wrong. And what do we get for it? Forgiveness. Eternal life. Now that's love that doesn't need magnifying.

OneSmallStep said...

Jim,

**There are a lot of logical dead ends to the idea that we deserve God's love.**

This is probably in response to the comments, but this isn't the point of my post. It's not "do we or don't we deserve this." It's does the notion of God's love being awesome require humanity being awful in order to be considered something special?

**The creation of the universe is a positive statement, not negative or apathetic. He didn't have to do it.**

This would depend on how one defines God's nature. If part of God's nature is to create, then yes, God did have to do it.

**Proclaiming Him as not omnipotent because He doesn't always do what we infinitecimal specks of dust like Him to do is kind of, well, funny.**

Don't you think this is trivializing the reason why people have a hard time believing in God's omnipotence? I'd understand if someone were doubting because God didn't get them an expensive car or a vacation trip. But the very reason they doubt is because of unselfish reasons, such as 26,000 children starve to death. And free will won't work here, because those 26,000 children are starving through no fault or desire of their own. They didn't choose that state. They are suffering from the faults of others. And it's not just a matter of doubting omnipotence, because it's wrapped up in a God who is expressily defined as just and loving.

**what does it say about love if it's expected of us? "Oh, you're just doing the right thing because you're supposed to". You'd never have to say thank you; "it's about time" is more like it. Is that love?**

Why wouldn't you have to say thank you? Why not say thank you, even if it's expected? It's a way of appreciating the other person. Besides, if love truly is expected of everyone, then the response would never, ever be "It's about time." You seem to be saying that if love were expected of us, everyone would have a sense of entitlement. Why? Part of loving would be that there wouldn't be that sense of entitlement. You'd be kind, compassionate, thinking of others constantly. The two can't co-exist.

If love is expected of us, then it says that love is one of the most dominant qualities we should have.

**the message of the cross is that when we had the opportunity to show how well we'd take care of God, we crucified Him, even though He'd never done anything wrong. **

No, not everyone did this. Jesus had some female followers who didn't, as well as his beloved disciple. I'm not even sure you can say the other disicples did this. They weren't protesting it, but they weren't clamoring for it, either. Rather, they were terrified. Why does everyone assume that if we were back there, we'd be like the crowd? 100% of the people watching that event were not eager to see a crucifixion.

That, and the reason why they were forgiven is because they didn't know what they were doing.

We would also disagree on the message. The crucifixion had to happen, in order for the resurrection to happen. They can't be divided. Everything ugly in this world was thrown at Jesus at that moment: glee, bloodlust, the power system of the world, in order to be shown how powerless it is, in the very end. The resurrection showed that death doesn't have the last word, the political systems of this time don't have the last word and so forth.

Mystical Seeker said...

First, how could we deserve being alive in the first place? God does not need us and was probably happier before us.

I think that God does need us and is happier with us than without. Otherwise, there would be no point in evoking the creative processes of the universe. I believe that is what is so marvelous about God's infinite love.

Third, what does it say about love if it's expected of us? "Oh, you're just doing the right thing because you're supposed to". You'd never have to say thank you; "it's about time" is more like it. Is that love?

Love, genuine love, doesn't have preconditions. That's what parental love is about. Parents love their children just cuz. I would argue that for God not to love creation would be to detract from his/her full, unrestrained, infinite, unfolding loving nature. We deserve God's love because God sees inherent value in every creature.

Omnipotence is a rather expected attribute of a being who created hundreds of billions of stars from nothing. Proclaiming Him as not omnipotent because He doesn't always do what we infinitecimal specks of dust like Him to do is kind of, well, funny.

I don't believe that God created the universe out of nothing. Instead, I believe that God the creative processes of the universe were a co-production of God and the universe itself. In any case, there is nothing inherent about the definition of God that requires omnipotence.

Mystical Seeker said...

Why wouldn't you have to say thank you? Why not say thank you, even if it's expected? It's a way of appreciating the other person.

That's one reason why I think that gratitude ought to be one of the most important elements of a faith in God. In my view, we should be thankful to God for our existence and for God's love every single day.

SocietyVs said...

"And it's from Luke 7. I think it also ties into the woman was also forgiven *because* she loved a lot, as well as those who love most were forgiven the most." (OSS)

Either way it's great teaching. I almost sure John mentions this in one of his letters also (the idea love covers a multitiude of sins).

"It's almost as though in order for God's love to be as awe-striking as it is, humans *must* be 100% evil/sinful/wretched, or God's love means nothing." (OSS)

I see what you're saying I am just finding it hard to reply - I cannot say I was a good person prior to my seeking for God and I am not sure how that even looks. I was selfish, I hurt people, I wanted to kill my dad, I hated my mother, wanted to kill myself, I stole, I lied, I was violent at times...I knew my abiltites very well - I was far from being 'good'.

So for me the love was awe inspiring to learn about - so much so - I can never leave this faith - cause if all else fails - this faith did not fail me. All I know is I was no saint and God still loved me - I am not sure we have to be wretched to discover the greatness of the concept of love - but it sure helps (contrast wise).

"Or did it involve seeing the good in people as well, that could become stronger, or better? That could grow and replace any flaws?" (OSS)

I think seeing the potential in people is also there - we are created in God's image as the book says. I think this is how I look at it now - but it took some spiritual experiences to get to this realization (and some healing in my life). Once I was dealing with my past issues - I saw that deep beneath what I thought was a 'worthless person' was the real 'me' - and I am needed (or of worth) as much as the next person.

So I think both aspects are required in some sense - need for God and need for help in our lives - or why come to God in the first place? I guess it doesn't have to be about us being 'depraved people' but the fact we could use the help?

"The goodness is seperate from the person, until the person accepts Jesus as a savior" (OSS)

Yeah, I don't actually agree with this stand by Evangelicals. I think we are created in God's image with this thing called choice (good and evil) and we go from there. We can turn to God - all we need to admit is 'we need some help' here - I don't quite get the whole 'life' thing? I guess it would be like going to a parent for help/direction.

I think Jesus came to point us to God and that's how I read him. To point out what God values and what our faith should become - and I think tho gospels make us look like people that have the ability to be 'good'.

I might be off here with some of the answers - was on and off the phone in between all of this.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

**I think that God does need us and is happier with us than without.**

I sometimes look at the God needing us as God needs us in order to be expressed. When we love someone, or are kind, or sacrifice for someone, we are expressing God.

**We deserve God's love because God sees inherent value in every creature.**

And if we take that to the next step, then everyone else would deserve our love, because there's inherent value in those creatures.

**In any case, there is nothing inherent about the definition of God that requires omnipotence.**

I sometimes wonder how accurate the omnipotent thing is compared to the Bible. When reading the early Tanakh, God comes across as very limited, and not just in terms of power, but in knowledge as well.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**Either way it's great teaching. I almost sure John mentions this in one of his letters also (the idea love covers a multitiude of sins). **

I agree. That was just in case you wanted the reference. :)

**I was selfish, I hurt people, I wanted to kill my dad, I hated my mother, wanted to kill myself, I stole, I lied, I was violent at times...I knew my abiltites very well - I was far from being 'good'. **

This might be where we're getting stuck. I'm not setting this up as a comparison, but I was never like this. (And again, I'm not saying this as an I was better than you sort of thing. I've had incredible advantages, so it was easy to be "good." If I were in your situation, I could've easily done the same things you did).

**I am not sure we have to be wretched to discover the greatness of the concept of love - but it sure helps (contrast wise).**

It might help some, but I don't think it's a necessary quality. I tend to see that type of love as great because of how vast and all-encompassing it is. One of the things I see the NT writers trying to set up is that Jesus was saying to others that their concept of God was too narrow, and thus their concept of love was too narrow. Jesus was widening their view. So even if someone behaved good before finding God, they'd still be blown away by how "big" that love is, and how much room it has for everyone.

**Once I was dealing with my past issues - I saw that deep beneath what I thought was a 'worthless person' was the real 'me' - and I am needed (or of worth) as much as the next person. **

From what I'm reading, it was like your previous self was the "false" self, and after you started your search, you were seeing who the real you was?

This kind of sparks another thing I was wondering on. We would say that someone who commits suicide is not thinking rationally. They're too blinded by pain, or lack of worth. Therefore, we show them compassion, and don't blame them, but try and help them through the pain. So why does Christianity then say that those who don't choose God are making a rational choice? Why couldn't they just be too blinded by pain, or darkness, or stuck in a narrow concept of humanity/God?

**So I think both aspects are required in some sense - need for God and need for help in our lives - or why come to God in the first place?**

I think you can need God's help without being totally sinful, and it sounds like you agree. THis is going to be tricky to explain. Part of raising a child properly is instilling good values in that child, and then letting the child go on his/her own, and use those values and that upbringing to be a good person. So I don't think we need God in every aspect of our lives in the sense that God must constantly apply His power in stopping our sin. Rather, in the parent aspect, we can look at God to see the good values, and slowly but surely, those good values will override/replace the bad ones. So there can be something good we can do on our own in the sense that God wasn't directly interfering. But it would still be traced back to God in the sense that God is the ultimate source of everything, and that's what He created us to do.

So with the mixture of good/bad in people, there are times when everyone needs help. But everyone doesn't need help constantly. They sometimes need that initial help, and as the correction builds, the person helping can step back bit by bit, and let the person stand on his/her own.

Mystical Seeker said...

And if we take that to the next step, then everyone else would deserve our love, because there's inherent value in those creatures.

Yes, exactly! I think that whenever we look at another creature and just feel a natural sympathy for them, their motives, their feelings, their limitations, then we are expressing in some small measure the infinite love that God feels for all of us.

I think there can be just something about considering another creature, considering them and all their foibles and their agendas and their motivations and the fact that things means something to them, that sparks a recognition of their value, a sympathy, and love.

Love doesn't really need any justification or explanation. To see an inherent value in others is just what it is. If we lowly humans are capable of expressing this virtue, imagine how much greater God's love is.

jim said...

I have given a lot of thought to my "conversion experience" some 26 years ago. I have asked myself "what really happened there?" I was (and still am to some degree) a very insecure person. I did not like myself, I did not think I had any value. Why, I won't get into, but you can image it had a lot to do with relational stuff in the past. Then it happened, I'm presented with the evangelical gospel and it is confirmed, I don't deserve love, I deserve hell. For me at the time it was like God himself confirmed what I always believed about myself, I'm worthless. But here's what I have been willing to do because I love you (God says) explaining the cross. This is of course is the evangelical conception of God/man/the problem/the solution. Of course I latched on to that desperately, and it made God very loving but my view of myself was not modified, rather it was reinforced. Then followed 26 years of wrestling with that. Doesn't this seem unethical somehow? If I related to my kids this way what would people think?

Yes, we have warts, we have faults, we are "sinners". What I think is unethical is that this is ground into us with the conviction that it will make us more grateful and love god more, etc. Its kind of like the drill sergeant that screams down the cadet endlessly telling him he's the biggest wimp the world has ever seen in order to make him into a "better soldier".

It makes me angry frankly.

Yael said...

God doesn't tell me how depraved I am but instead tells me that I am created in God's image and that my soul was created pure. I am far from perfect, yet the gates of repentance are ever open. I don't think God needs me, or anyone else, to be fawning over God constantly out of some sense of unworthiness.

I would turn one statement on its head. Perhaps God loves me much because I have forgiven God much and continue to forgive God much.

The heavens are God's the earth is ours. We are to be God here on earth, taking care of the problems around us. We are the ones who fail to take action, we are the ones who get so caught up in ourselves, our souls, our 'salvation', our lives in the next world that we pay little attention to the task of making our corner of the world just a little better. We are not required to finish the task but neither are we allowed to desist.

To look at the huge problems around us is too much, but we can at least try to do our share and perhaps motivate others to join us. Ripples moving out. That's where the forgiving God comes in for me. How could God give us such huge tasks to do? Can't God help us out just a little sometimes? I have no answers for that.

I still find it interesting the order given in Torah to the commands to love. First we are told to love our neighbor, then we are told to love the stranger, and finally we are told to love God.

Me, I don't even use the term 'love'. What does it mean anyway? I think in terms of respecting and liking the people around me. That is at least something I can understand and a place from which I can start to take action.

And I imagine this comment is all disjointed and perhaps makes no sense, but I'm going to leave it as is anyway!

SocietyVs said...

"So even if someone behaved good before finding God, they'd still be blown away by how "big" that love is, and how much room it has for everyone." (OSS)

I agree and it helps to enlighten the perspective we know a little soemthing about (adds some depth).

"From what I'm reading, it was like your previous self was the "false" self, and after you started your search, you were seeing who the real you was?" (OSS)

I think they were both me - but aspects of what focus I was actually using (good and evil in choice). I think on some level I was lying to myself and did not know about self-worth (or loving yourself) - so in some sense I was 'false' - I was just not completely seeing what God had created me to be. Once I realized and learned about why I should 'love myself and love others' - focus changed for me - but I put that squarely at God's feet (God allowed me to see a lot of things I never knew previously or see the world in a brighter/hopeful way). I dealt with the pain because I had hid it for so long (I knew it was there). I became honest with myself and my role in what I do in life - and this helped me to realize 'love'. I still struggle with certain areas but I do not struggle with what I want for others - their happiness (this is what mainly changed for me).

"So why does Christianity then say that those who don't choose God are making a rational choice? Why couldn't they just be too blinded by pain, or darkness, or stuck in a narrow concept of humanity/God?" (OSS)

Tough call - the atheist would say they are making a rational choice not to believe in a God - so its coming from both sides of the debate. To be honest, I couldn't see what this faith had to offer me - what it could do for me. But I was choosing rationally to not be a part of this faith - I choose my life and friends over and above it. I had brothers and a sister in the faith always trying to convert me - and they lived good lives - but I liked what I was doing.

Soon I realized what I thought was protecting me in life was not - and I needed some serious help - things kinda fell apart. I turned to God - because I never gave it a chance before and maybe there was something I could gain (seeing my other family members doing well). That was the greatest decision I ever made.

In retrospect, knowing what I know now - if I had known it then (at 17) - and rejected it - I would say it's the most irrational thing I could've done (and I should weep all my days for being so stupid).

But I didn't know and I went by what I had in front of me - my senses and risk measurement. I was as rational as I could be at the time (I didn't even drink much or do drugs). I just knew my life's goals were pure sh*t and my last choice was choosing this faith - minaly due to pride - (but I crumbled) - I needed some help and I knew it.

"They sometimes need that initial help, and as the correction builds, the person helping can step back bit by bit, and let the person stand on his/her own." (OSS)

I totally agree - it's actually part of my theology this idea - I call it growth/maturity in the faith relationship.

As for the love thing - I guess we don't have to be the worst person ever - we just have to contain the need to be loved and cared about.

OneSmallStep said...

Jim,

**Then followed 26 years of wrestling with that. Doesn't this seem unethical somehow? If I related to my kids this way what would people think? **

Excellent point. We don't demand perfection from our children, we demand something that is within their ability to do. We can teach children to be good, and how to act appropriately.

Yet God demands perfection from imperfect creatures, and then punishes them when they fail to measure up to the standards. Even thinking a bad thought is enough to land one in hell, based on how evangelical theology has been explained to me. And it's constantly drilled into someone how undeserving they were, and how bad their sin was for Jesus to die the way he did, and at the same time, people are told to let the guilt/shame go. From my perspective, it looks more like a trap than anything else.

Yael,

**I don't think God needs me, or anyone else, to be fawning over God constantly out of some sense of unworthiness.**

I would hope not, because when I meet people who are like that, they're repulsively egotistical. That, and it seems to place too much emphasis on me. I can affect God so much that if I don't fawn over God, I will make God very angry.

**I still find it interesting the order given in Torah to the commands to love. First we are told to love our neighbor, then we are told to love the stranger, and finally we are told to love God. **

Christianity often seems to make it a crime to put humanity/man first, as opposed to God. But who needs to be first the most? I would say humanity does, precisely because of how much help the world needs, in terms of poverity, AIDS, criminal activity. If you put humanity first, how can you possibly not also be putting God first by default? Are the two really that seperate?

That's what I always liked about the sheep/goats parable from Jesus. What got the goats condemned was not the right belief structure, wasn't putting God first, but their treatment of their fellow person. Because by treating people poorly, you treat God poorly.

Society,

**In retrospect, knowing what I know now - if I had known it then (at 17) - and rejected it - I would say it's the most irrational thing I could've done (and I should weep all my days for being so stupid).

But I didn't know and I went by what I had in front of me - my senses and risk measurement. I was as rational as I could be at the time (I didn't even drink much or do drugs). **

That's pretty much what I'm getting at -- if the whole picture is taken into account, as you can now do, you would say that if you knew at 17 what you know now, you'd be irrational to reject that faith. At 17, it seemed rational, but you were lacking knowledge/experience.