44: Defining Love

In this episode John and Gregg discuss what it means to love / be in love with God, and the nature of the “greatest commandment.”  They begin by referencing a previous conversation in Episode 40 about a Christianity Today article by Matthew Lee Anderson that is critical of “radical Christianity” in the style of Francis Chan, David Platt and Kyle Idleman.

Gregg appreciates how Anderson’s more academic perspective compliments Idleman’s more popular focus but disagrees with Anderson’s conclusions.  Particularly, Gregg notes that “embracing the providence of God in our witness to the world” (i.e., the notion that God is overseeing what goes on in the world, to good results) is legitimate yet overemphasized: things don’t always turn out well.

More so, emphasizing God’s providence closely parallels emphasizing God’s sovereignty, where the one focuses on “What God is doing” and the other typically on “Why God can do as God wishes.”  Yet not everything is about God.  So in both cases the human component (one’s choices and their benefits / consequences, the upshot of situations and choices for divine / human relationship) is essentially marginalized.

Instead, Gregg argues that when we are in right relationship with God (i.e., when we experience ourselves being loved by God and when we orient ourselves in and enact love back toward God, to ourselves, and to others) this changes the world around us, even if on a smaller scale than Idleman, Chan or Platt might wish for.

John next reads from page 61 of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, where Chan claims that “the greatest good on the earth is God.  Period.  God’s one goal for us is himself.”  From this Chan argues that any “courting, luring, pushing and even threatening” that God may use–including the threat of hell–to make us accept God is justified.  In the same vein Chan asks: “Do you love this God who is everything or do you love everything that he gives you?”

Gregg sees both of these perspectives as misunderstandings of a) who God is and b) the nature of love, which likely result in a distorted picture of what our relationship with God should look like.

So on the one hand Gregg argues that the logical consequence of refusing relationship with God is, simply, not having a relationship with God–the relationship doesn’t happen.  And as God sustains all life, choosing not to be in relationship with God is essentially choosing not to exist.  But being eternally punished is not a logical consequence of such a choice.  Where such would approximate to God commanding: “Love me or I’ll torture you forever,” this is actually a sadistic orientation that inspires fear and duplicity, not trusting relationship.  Gregg explains this as, for human beings, an annihilationist view of hell: hell is more a result than a destination.

On the other hand, to believe that we should love “God who is everything” instead of “everything that God gives us” is a false dichotomy: as human beings we cannot separate the context of the relationship (the events and the back-and-forth of relationship) from the parties involved.  So we both love God for what God does and offers (I love God for the self that I am becoming by being loved by–and in love with–God) and for who God is.  Further, Gregg wonders what examples Francis Chan would offer, from his own experience, of how God has “courted, lured, pushed or threatened” him, and how / why he found these experiences to be helpful to his relationship with God (and thereby, to his other relationships).

In terms of the “command” to love, Gregg agrees that love is a gift and so cannot be commanded.  Instead he explains that  it should be understood as a poetic command–the command of love itself, to the one who is ALREADY in love, toward the beloved.  In other words, both Jesus hearers and those to whom Moses spoke in Deut. 6 (which is the focus of this command in the Old Testament) were Jews who had already experienced God’s guidance, protection, and provision–they had experienced God’s loving care.

Gregg finishes by talking about “poetic feelings” (such as those evoked by watching a poignant film).  Such feelings of love, distress, etc., are not not related to personal or even real circumstances–they are not truly our feelings.  Rather through such things we are reconnected to what matters to us about our existence and also prompted to engage with those important elements in a creative way.

Similarly, while the emotional impact of experiences of God’s love may fade, we continue to be inspired by this love similar to the effect of poetic feelings: through both memory and similar situations (perhaps in our lives, through testimony) we become attuned to new possibilities (new ways to see / engage with ourselves and our world).

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