A God Of Love

The Aztecs probably hold the record for most human sacrifices performed in a calendar year.  They believed in a God who fed on human blood, and their priests tore beating hearts out of chests to offer up as food.  Going to war was a form of farming, harvesting captives, then herding the divine victuals home like cattle.

Thankfully, the Aztecs are not a representative religious sample.  Most religions actually believe that benevolence underlies everything.  Despite the many different definitions of what’s sacred, the sacred is usually friendly.  In the Qur’an, Allah is the most merciful and compassionate.  In Sikhism, Satnam graciously helps people escape rebirth.  Hindus picture Krishna as an impish little boy who steals butter and causes mischief, but is never punished, because of his smiling, wide-eyed charm.  Enlightened Buddhist monks who experience Nothingness certainly seem to smile a lot.

Christianity, however, is by far the most explicit.  God is love the First Letter of John proclaims.  Coming from a tradition where God strikes people dead, afflicting them with plagues, famines, hemorrhoids, and societal catastrophes, it’s an amazing statement.  Let us love each other, since love is from God.  The world’s other major religions say much the same thing, but not as bluntly as the New Testament.

If religions can appear other-worldly, this common concept is largely the reason.  A smiley-faced divinity seems counter-intuitive.  Life is pretty gruesome.  What makes us think an altruistic power motivates creation?  Judged simply by evidence from the last hundred years, the Aztecs were right.  But that’s not what the great spiritual traditions say.  Love for each other is the common credo, and uniformly seen as a sacred command.  Love comes from beyond.  It’s the mandate of heaven.

Saying is one thing, of course, and doing is another, especially when it comes to love.  A lot depends on love’s definition.  Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of The Fifth Sun, could have claimed to love humans, in the same way I love steaks.  Christianity, otherwise known as the “God Is Love” bunch, also launched the Crusades, bullied Jews, toasted witches, drowned Anabaptists, colonized half the world, and made the Polynesians wear clothes, all in the name of love.  If that keeps up, humanity will need to be saved from the ways we love each other.

I think it’s safe to say that love is the most misunderstood word in the English language.  I won’t speak for the Polynesians.  Ninety percent of Americans get married because of love, and forty-five percent later get divorced because it’s lacking.  I’ve counseled clients who beat the women they supposedly loved, and prostitutes who disliked the clients who claimed to love them.  There’s an aura of fantasy that pervades the whole concept of love.  Love will conquer all.  Love will make us happy.

Maybe love conquers all in the long run; none of us will ever know.  But love certainly doesn’t conquer all in the short run, any more than love always leaves us happy.  Love can cause great pain.  Love can be easily crushed.

Despite all attempts to prettify things, with visions of pearly gates, and a hunky suffer-dude Jesus, the image of love in Christianity is actually bluntly bleak.  God is love, but the primary image of that love is nailed to a cross.  This isn’t a love looking for rewards, blessings, favors, or to feel good about itself.  It is a love that willingly suffers, rather than do something unloving.

According to Christianity, that is God, and what it means to say God is love, and what it means to love in any fashion, even among ourselves.  We are fallible creatures, unfortunately, and frequently fail to love.  Equally unfortunately, God is not fallible, and the suffering is continual, as God loves us in our failings.  There is no other choice.

As long as humanity exists, Christ will remain on the cross.  It is an astonishing act of love.  He suffers as we suffer.  That is a God of love.  And those who love God in return do all they can to reduce the suffering of others.  It reduces God’s pain, too.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “A God Of Love”

  1. I do believe that we humans have a hard time with the concept of love and that it can bring a great deal of trouble and heartache into out lives, if only we could be like God and love unconditionally, but, unfortunately,we do not seem to be able to do so.

  2. : )

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