God is Love. Full Stop. August 1, 2017
God is Love. Full Stop
Rev. Yme Woensdregt
As I grow older and (hopefully!) a little wiser, I become more and more convinced that the gospel can be summarized in a single phrase: God is love.
Full stop. Nothing else. No ifs, ands or buts.
I come up against this understanding again and again as I read Scripture, and as I ponder the theological implications of Scripture and in the works of the church’s theologians throughout the history of the church.
Now I know that there are some people for whom this is not enough. They will complain that it is too simplistic, too “easy”. It lets people off the hook. They say that the gospel needs to say something about human agency and human responsibility.
But in my opinion, the heart of Christian faith can be summarized very simply like this: “I am your God. You are my people. I will never stop loving you. I will never let you go.”
One of my theology professors used to remind us that “there is nothing we can do to make God love us more; there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. God doesn’t know what it means not to love, not to forgive, not to hold us gently and with compassion.”
God is love. Full stop.
Now you may consider that statement, shrug your shoulders and ask, “So what?” You may not think that this way of viewing the gospel is particularly thought–worthy or radical. You would not be alone. There are many people for whom this is not enough. As I look over the Christian landscape, particularly in North America, I hear a lot of people saying: “God is love, but …”
God is love, but most of humanity will suffer eternal torment.
God is love, but God demands a sacrifice in order to be appeased.
God is love, but you can’t be gay or lesbian or transgendered or queer.
God is love, but you have to believe in Jesus; if you don’t you’ll go to hell.
God is love, but it’s okay, really, to kill your enemies, and even more so to kill God’s enemies.
People have asked me, “What about God’s holiness, or justice, or wrath? What about God’s demand that we be righteous and holy? What about God’s demand for purity? Doesn’t that make it okay to exercise just a little bit of violence to make the world more pure? After all, Jesus’ death was God’s redemptive violence at work, wasn’t it?”
These questions show that how foreign this notion is to Christianity as it is being practiced in most of North America. They can’t accept that God is love. Full stop. There always needs to be something more. There is always something which qualifies God’s love.
I don’t believe that. As I’ve already said many times in this column, I have come to believe that God is love. Full stop.
God loves each of us. God loves all of us. It doesn’t matter to God who you are. It doesn’t matter what colour you are. It doesn’t matter what faith you espouse. Your sexuality doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t matter what you have done or what you have left undone.
It might matter to us — but let’s be quite clear that it doesn’t matter to God.
The apostle Paul said the same thing in his letter to the church in Galatia. It was a church which was being torn apart by the rivalries of different groups. Some people were saying that in order to be a good Christian, you had to become a good Jew first. But Paul says quite clearly, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
What Paul is saying that all of our human distinctions count for nothing in God’s economy. In his translation “The Message”, Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non–Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.”
In view of the questions contemporary church people ask (see the list above), it strikes me again just how radical a thing it is to say this. God is love. Full stop.
The word “radical” originally came from the Latin radicalis, which means “of or having roots”, “going back to the origins or essentials”. This way of viewing the gospel message is, in my view, simply radical. It drives us back to the roots of Christian faith in Jesus; it drives us back to our origins, in which Jesus came proclaiming a vision of the love of God for all people.
And if God is love … then 1 John 4 reminds us that to worship such a God requires of us that we also love all people, for “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Here then, is the gospel.
God is love.