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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is God fond of us?

Last night I was at a coffee shop with Mila and in the course of our conversation, she mentioned that "God is crazy in love with us." Father Dave said something like this a few weeks ago as well. My question is, is it proper to think of God as being deeply or "crazy" in love with me? It "would be nice", but I haven't heard or read this viewpoint from an authoritative source.

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:

Christ Pantocrator

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."
So my understanding now is that, yes, it is proper to view God as being "a lover with all the passion of a true love". Not the "puppy love" that the words "crazy in love with us" may evoke, but the deeper love that is more like that between husband and wife. Have I fully figured out what the love of God is like? No. As Augustine said, "If you understand it, it is not God." Is God vengeful? Maybe, in an odd, roundabout way - he can get angry (as husband and wife can), but he also provides a way out. Do I fully understand this? No. But I'm a bit more at peace with the idea of God being a lover, with the image of marriage being a key to understanding it.

2 Comments:

  • You're addressing a variant on the question that long ago turned me from a Catholic raised outside the church to agnostic. On the one hand, I was raised at home and in preschool/kindergarten that God is a loving, endlessly compassionate omnipotent being... On the other hand, I grew up frequently hospitalized for illness or birth defect surgery, and since it was a university medical center, my floors were full of kids with extremely painful, often fatal problems, fighting (if well enough) in terror against more pain from tests or procedures, as it was easier to hold us down than bother with anesthesia.

    Sometime early in adulthood, it occurred to me that the old explanation that God caused/allowed horrible things so we or others could learn made no sense. Being omnipotent would let Him accomplish just about anything (including giving knowledge or setting up the chance to learn it) without resorting to torturing anyone, and compassion/love would drive Him to avoid causing or allowing such horrors. That means that either God is a cruel being that I would never want to worship, or that there is no God.

    I hope that my comment or thought process didn't offend you... I'm not among the crowd of arrogant new-atheist jerks that harass religious people or try to push their (non)-belief onto others.

    By Blogger Xyzzy Magic, at 8/19/2012 12:17 AM  

  • Thanks for posting, Magic. With the help of my fiancee, I am slowly coming around to internalize that God is loving, like we were taught in Sunday school. I'm glad to be able to ponder your story.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 8/20/2012 9:41 PM  

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