Ted Grimsrud—March 28, 2023
[After a break from writing, I am returning to my blog post series on Questioning Faith. Over the next month or so, I hope to post a number of reflections on some of the questions I have had about Christian faith—picking up on the series from last winter. My general sensibility is that we need to feel free to be honest with all the questions we have, but with the expectation that such questioning will actually strengthen and deepen our faith, leading to a stronger and deeper “questioning faith.”]
In a recent conversation about some of the ideas I have written about in this blog series (see especially posts #2 and #6 in the series, “Why is the typical Christian understanding of ‘God’ such a Problem?” and “Is there a place for prayer in a world with a weak God?”), a friend asked me, “So, is love weak?” I realized that I have a hard time giving a straight answer to that question. It’s a good question, though, and one that directly follows from some claims I have made.
God is love
We may start with a relatively uncontroversial, seemingly simple assertion: “God is love.” This is biblical, widely stated, and a key conviction of Christian faith. Perhaps, more literally, most people mean “God is loving.” I assume that statement is acceptable for all Christians. We agree, I assume, that God does loving things or loves us and the rest of the world.
To say, “God is love,” though, may be a stronger and more complicated assertion than “God is loving.” This seems to be describing a fundamental aspect of God’s character—I would suggest, the fundamental aspect. Is that what we believe? Not all of us, surely. I think saying “God is love” is a different kind of understanding of God than to say, “God is mystery” or “God is perfect” or “God is all-powerful” or “God is Other” or, even, “God is just.”
To say “God is love” means, for me, that God desires the wellbeing of all people—and the rest of creation as well. There are certainly mysterious elements to how God’s love might be expressed and how it relates to so many elements of life that are broken and hurtful. But a God who is love is not mysterious in terms of what matters most in life and in terms of what God’s will might be for human beings. Such a God’s intentions are consistently in favor of the flourishing of life, not mysteriously life-enhancing at one point and life-denying at another point. Intentions that are not in favor of the flourishing of life often have been attributed to God. I would say, though, that if God is love (as I believe), those negative intentions are not actually God’s. A God who actually does intend violence or the infliction of brokenness at times may be loving (at other times), but I would say such a God is not love (all the time).