In Christian contexts, we hear that word a lot. Love. It’s everywhere in Scripture from the key teaching in Leviticus 19:18 (reiterated by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels) to God’s description of Himself as “love” in 1 John 4:8. These are important, foundational teachings to the Christian faith and without them we would not be who we are. We wouldn’t be Jesus people. We wouldn’t be Bible people. This is a doctrine that is integral to the fabric of our faith.
However, the problem comes when that’s the only doctrine of our “faith.” Allowing the doctrines of sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath to fall by the wayside unquestionably changes the conversation. This “faith” is no longer Christianity. This “faith”, to borrow a term from Christian Smith, is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the basic tenets of which are:
- A god exists who created the world and watches over everyone.
- God wants people to be good, nice, fair, and loving to each other.
- The goal of life is to be good to other people, be happy, and feel good about yourself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved except when needed to resolve a problem.
This is the primary “religion” of the people in the United States of America. This is the “god” in which many of us trust. This is the “god” that many of us believe our one nation is under. This god is somewhere out there and isn’t coming home for a while and has left a note for the siblings to play nice and when you do you’ll get a warm feeling inside which means you’re a good, loving person. This is a false religion preaching a false gospel that many have assumed is historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity. And for this we need to repent.
I could end this post here, hopeful that those who have elevated God’s love above all his other attributes would realize their error and seek forgiveness.
But then Mr. Mainline Love-Machine sputters in. “But but but but but but but…that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying that God isn’t sovereign or holy or righteous or just,” he retorts, conveniently leaving one out. “It’s just that the Bible says, ‘God is love.’ Everything else must flow out of his love, so whatever is loving, that’s what God does.”
And here we have arrived squarely at the issue at hand. What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…no more.
I agree with the Mr. Machine. Whatever is loving is what God does. The natural deduction would be, then, “If God did it, it must be loving.” This is where Mr. Machine and I would disagree. You see, we both open the text of Scripture and see God doing all kinds of crazy things. My sentiment would be what was stated above. “Whatever is loving is what God does and if God did it, it must be loving,” meaning that I view God’s destruction of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and all the other -ites as loving in the same way that His rescue of the Israelites from captivity and ready defense of the widow, orphan, and sojourner was loving as well. I think that Mr. Machine and I would deviate at this point. I have an inkling he would call majority of what God did in the text of Scripture unloving, if you can get him to even admit that God actually did them and they weren’t “just truth-filled stories.” The judge of love is no longer God, but our own human fancies.
The fundamental difference is that I look at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and then allow Him to judge and define what love looks like throughout the very same text of Scripture. Mr. Machine looks at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and rushes to find God in everything that he calls loving. The breakdown is that, by his definition, Mr. Machine not worshiping a God that’s love. He’s worshiping a Love that’s god. You see, when we get to define what love is and demand God and everyone else adhere, our definition has just excluded the Prophets, the Apostles, Jesus, and God Himself.
When we deify Love, or any other attribute of God for that matter, we always (for we must) redefine it and make it into something it never was intended to be. Love no longer can mean anger, wrath, or justice (an inconsistency which I’ve written about here). It must mean something else. And once we stand proudly beside our newly defined “god,” we demand that the one true God meet our own twisted, prideful, fallen, sinful, human qualifications of Love. And when He doesn’t, He is wrong. “God wouldn’t say that. God wouldn’t do that. God wouldn’t require that. God wouldn’t prohibit that. That’s not very loving.” (*New Definition of Love* Read: That’s not very nice.)
This redefinition problem extends far beyond our deification of Love. One more example.
We have redefined, and arguably inverted, the definitions of arrogance and humility. I’m certain that whether in public or private, someone somewhere will think me arrogant for blogging in the way that I do, but maybe a hypothetical situation would be easier.
Situation 1: Pastor Evangelly-goo gets up in front of his congregation and spends the entire 20 minute sermon flattering and cajoling and talking about himself, his story, and his experience. People, then, walk away and say to themselves, “What a humble, transparent pastor we have.” Why? “Because he talked about himself the whole time.”
Situation 2: Pastor John (the Baptist, Chrysostom, Knox, Calvin, Flavel, Owen, Piper, MacArthur…take your pick) gets up in front of his congregation and says, “Thus saith the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts…” and then proclaims the Word of God, a message that would have been true if he, the pastor, had never been born because it comes right out of the text of Scripture. People, then, walk away and say to say to themselves, “What an arrogant man.” Why? “Because he didn’t talk about himself at all. All he did was talk about God and the authority of the Bible.”
Here’s where the redefinition comes in. We live in a time when to speak a true word based on what God said is defined as arrogance while to hem and haw and equivocate and offer a shoulder shrug making your own doubts, skepticism, and questions the center of the cosmos is defined as humility.
We live in a time when speaking the truth about God’s detest for, restrictions on, and punishment of sin is defined as unloving while calling the very things God did in the text of Scripture unloving and simultaneously demanding He rise to our new definition of Love is defined, somehow, as loving.
There’s only one word that can be said for people like us. It’s no wonder it was Jesus’ first public message in the Gospel accounts (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15) and the first sermon of the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-38).