Is God fond of us?
Is God vengeful or loving? This question disturbed me, so I have spent the past three hours this morning Googling around for something, anything, that can help me to come to grips with this question. Is he both? Check out the famous icon of Christ Pantocrator below:
Note how the left half of the face is gentle and the right half is stern, representing his human and divine natures. I like the gentle side but am a bit worried about the stern side.
Many Christians intellectually believe that God is unconditionally loving, but in their hearts they believe that he is stern and vengeful. Here's a not-bad article that I came across on the subject. Google also linked me to an excerpt from the book What Catholics Believe which asks, "How can a God of love also be a vengeful God who demands suffering of his son?" It then starts to get good and talks about the parable of the prodigal son, but then suddenly, page 59-61 are not shown in this preview.
Another book I turned to this morning was Good Goats, which was recommended to me some years ago. One idea from it that rings true for me is that God loves you at least as the person who loves you the most. Nice idea, right? I can believe it, but unfortunately the book is spoiled by some ideas that strike me as heretical, at least to a Catholic - it questions mortal sin and hell, which are traditional Catholic teachings, and this despite the authors being Catholic. So I needed to look elsewhere for answers.
Long story short, I finally turned to Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 letter Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). It is a long letter, but I needed to read it this morning. I was getting confused by all the various viewpoints on the question, and I needed something authoritative, a dose of sanity. I won't go into detail here (if you have the same question as me, go read it - it's great), but below are some highlights:
- While "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being", he is "at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love".
- "Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa."
- "This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity."