Love: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

[Trigger warning: abuse, rape]

Yesterday’s post seems to have struck a nerve, so I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the comments rolling in. But one commenter, Kat R., made an important point that I don’t want us to overlook. 

Responding to the kind of theology that suggests hurricanes and earthquakes and school shootings happen because an angry God has lost his temper and is unleashing his wrath and discipline on people whose sin nature makes them incapable of understanding such actions as loving, Kat R. writes: 

“…When Christians are told that God is love, but that "love" looks and feels like the opposite of what we know love to be (it's angry, it's emotionally unstable, it's violent), it's not a far journey to make for some leaders in churches to ALSO claim that their angry, unstable, and violent actions are "loving". This is how abuse happens.”

Kat is right. I’ve seen this play out time and again—not only in church situations, but also in marriages and homes. When love is stripped of its most basic meaning for the purposes of theological accommodation (“your childhood abuse/ cancer/ rape/ poverty is just God’s loving discipline in your life”), love loses all meaning whatsoever and becomes totally relativized. 

I’ve heard some theologians explain it like this: God is like a father, disciplining his children. Children don’t always realize that a parent’s rules and enforcements are for their own good. Similarly, God’s “discipline” (which they associate with natural disasters, violence, tragedy, rape, abuse, etc.) may not make sense to us now, but it’s part of God’s good plan. 

This metaphor makes sense at first blush, but it’s one thing to say that a parent may send a child to the corner for the purpose of loving discipline, quite another to say that a parent may rape and abuse a child for the purpose of loving discipline. When we cast God as an angry and abusive father whose actions we don’t understand as loving because our sinful minds are incapable of grasping true love, and when we say the logic of this paradigm should trump our intuitive revulsion to it, we’re veering into "orthodox alexithymia" territory fast. 

Eric Fry added this:

If "God is Love" is something that cannot be fathomed by our emotional understanding of love, then that verse has little meaning outside of any context people wish to place upon it. And placing a context upon 'love' that lies outside of our emotional understanding diminishes Christ's loving sacrifice…. Our deep appreciation and gratitude for that sacrifice can come only out of our own emotional understanding of love. The 'change of heart' of repentance can be only a shallow thing if it comes solely from our intellect.”

And Captivated Photo said:

“I always think of the 1 Cor 13 "The Love Chapter" as a chapter explaining Love or God as love to us. I replace the word Love with God and therefore begin to understand that God is patient. God is kind. God is not easily angered...etc. It's simplistic but it helps remind me who God is and how Love really looks.” 

I like that. 

So what is love? 

It’s exactly what we know it to be. 

 Love is patient.

Love is kind. 

Love does not envy. 

Love does not boast. 

Love is not proud. 

Love does not dishonor others.

Love is not self-seeking.

Love is not easily angered.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

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