Love in the center

We put the wrong aspect of God in the center.

I don’t get many requests for theological opinions. (Perhaps that’s a hint I should have taken a long time ago.) But my sister, of all people, asked me a question last week, and it’s a good one: Does God cause bad things to happen so that we’ll be drawn closer to Him.

Of course the only real answer I can offer is “I don’t know. God can do what God wants.” But I can’t help but think that this question, versions of which are as old as humanity is, really is a question about what God is, in God’s core. And I think we get it wrong.

We think of God as all-powerful, we hope God is all-loving, and we say he’s all-wise to give God an escape hatch.

We live in a world where power is the be-all, end-all, and where security is the core need for which we most grasp. We want most for God, or at least someone, to be in charge; to think that the world really doesn’t have a master engineer who is going to turn this train wreck of a world into a beautiful tapestry some how is an invitation to despair. So we think of God first as an exponential version of the powers we know, like a King.

But we also know we need God to be loving, or else we don’t have a shot. So we hope that that’s the case. You can put together evidence to that end, but frankly, it’s pretty mixed. Even if you excuse God of all the evil that’s directly wrought by our own free choices, there still seems to be a lot of leftover hurt in life.

So we decide that God must just be wise. God is powerful enough to pull all the levers, and God loves us, but things turn out horribly anyway because God’s wisdom is such that what we think is horrible is actually exactly what we need.

This is pretty conventional, orthodox theology. It’s just not very satisfying.

I think that’s because we put the wrong aspect of God in the center. Let me argue that John gets it right in his Gospel and letters when he asserts, again and again, that God is first and foremost Love.

If what we want most, what we’d be willing to gamble everything on, is that God is loving, then what we hope is that God is also powerful. And as risky (and heretical) as that sounds, it also renders God’s wisdom a lot more understandable. God is not a master orchestrator who is wise enough to see how all these off-key notes resolve into beautiful music. God is a loving parent, whose wisdom says only that love is worth the pain, that even when things work out horribly, it’s better to have had the opportunity to love, even in the mourning that comes after, than to not be, and not love, at all. Our hope is only that the power that springs from that choice to love is powerful enough to bend this wreckage toward redemption.

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