God is Love

keep-calm-and-know-that-god-is-loveI didn’t really have time to write anything today, due to some medical stuff (nothing serious, just follow-up for previous issues), so, I’m cheating. This is basically a repost of something I wrote several months ago in response to a blog challenge from Tony Jones. In it, he asked bloggers to write something substantive about God. This was my contribution (with some editing):

When I decided to take up this challenge, I wondered what the heck I could say to meet the criteria and not  look like an idiot. When I get into these situations, I get intimidated because I’ve never been to Div school; hell, I’ve never even been to college. I spent most of life as a firefighter and only returned to church about 8 or 9 years ago. In that time, however, I’ve done a lot of reading; especially since I started writing But Not Yet (funny writing leads to more reading). I racked my brain for a topic, but nothing came to me.

Eventually, though, I came with an idea that took me all the way back to Sunday school and VBS at Rehobeth Methodist Church in Greensboro NC, where I grew up. That idea was something we heard a lot from our teachers and preachers back then, just three little words: God is Love. I’ll admit I struggled with that phrase for a long time and it had a lot to do with my concept of God.

It wasn’t really my fault, though, I got mixed messages. In Sunday school, I’d hear “God is love”, which would be followed up by a sermon about God’s testing of Job or one the other stories that made God sound like a real jerk. Especially confusing was the reason given for Jesus’ crucifixion. God sent Jesus into the world so he could die a horrible death for my sins? Even as kid, that struck me as jerky and certainly not what I would consider loving. As I got older, I read and found even more mixed messages in the Bible and some theological literature. I was confused, which is not an unusual state for me. But, it’s an unsettling one nonetheless.

It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to Rob Bell through the NOOMA videos that things began to improve. The words I heard there about forgiveness, love and God prompted to dig even further. That was when I found out there was more than one theory for atonement, that God wasn’t necessarily a dick that demanded blood. I found out the Hell I’d been threatened with may not exist, and that God didn’t condemn anyone to eternal damnation for things that happened in a few short years here on earth. And, I finally understood that it was true: God is love. It wasn’t until I gave up that image of God as an old man with a beard and long flowing robe, hurling lightning bolts at those who displeased him that those words finally made sense. Letting go of that image allowed me to see God, not in human form, but as something else. I quit focusing on the God part so much and began to concentrate on the love part. While I’d like to say that made the picture got clearer and things got easier, it didn’t. God remains a mystery and I have to love some pretty unlovable people sometimes. But if God is love and I am his child, how I do things differently?