“God is Love.” Um…no, not really

I constantly hear from my Christian friends, even those in theology, that “God is love.” I understand what they’re trying to get at with this, but I’m always given pause every time I hear it. Something with that just doesn’t sit right with me, and it’s not that it’s the Christian God they’re talking about, though in many cases, there is an unconscious universalizing factor in such rhetoric that is likewise disturbing. Your God is not my God. Using language like this dismisses differences and ultimately monotheizes the very idea of a Deity. There’s something about reducing any God to an abstraction I find intensely problematic. It took me awhile to parse out my thoughts on this and I suspect that I’ll be returning to this again in the future because I’m just scratching the surface here with my comments. There are, I think, massive issues with reducing any Deity to an abstraction, particularly to an abstraction that makes us comfortable. It may be pleasant rhetoric, but what are the actual consequences?

For one thing, the more abstract a God is rendered, the less need there is for concrete expressions of devotion. If God is love, well, love is a universal concept. Everyone feels love. Everyone is, most I think would agree, deserving of love. Love in such statements as “God is love” is never actually defined. What kind of love are we talking about? To say that God is love also subtly negates one’s God being anything else. It impersonalizes.

Because of that impersonalization, it’s also profoundly limiting. “Love” after all is a very human concept. It’s a concept, a feeling, a verb, impersonal and only one among the myriad of feelings we humans are capable of. It precludes the terror of the Divine. Then, of course, if we divorce “God” from terror, and equate “God” with a feeling, what happens when we just aren’t feeling ‘love.’? Does that absolve us from religious duty? To say that God is love in fact, given modern ideas of love, in and of itself absolves one from any duty; we don’t after all typically think of duty as walking hand in hand with love. In this day and age when fidelity is a rarity and lack of virtue in relationships is celebrated, the idea that love might entail obligation is almost unthinkable.

The abstraction of love also erases any personality in that Divine figure. It’s as lazy as saying “spirit” without being specific as to which one, Whom, etc. Because love is such a human centric concept, it’s about relationships and interactions, it pulls the God in question down to human level, making that God approachable in ways that perhaps a Deity ought not to be. It removes mystery. Suddenly it’s not a matter of transcendence or immanence (I think Gods can be both), but this open, loosely defined idea of ‘love.’ What is that? Certainly, not Being-hood or independent identity. I also wonder if it doesn’t deny a God independent being-ness outside of that Deity’s relationship to us.  

Finally, I think that to say ‘God is love’ removes any agency from the God. I would say a God may express love, a God may love, but any Deity is so much more than any one abstraction. Maybe one can say that one’s God is the embodiment of love, but even that presupposes that God’s relationship to us. I don’t deny that our Gods can be extremely loving, can even embody that state of being, but They are so very much more whether we are in the picture or not and it’s the rest of the equation I think such blanket statements erase. Maybe this is why the biblical God when confronted by Moses asking His name kept it simple: I am. Maybe that is enough. 

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on March 18, 2019, in theology, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Related, but not quite the same (isn’t it great that we polytheists can make such distinctions so much easier than others?):

    On a queer pagan panel thing I was on at PantheaCon several years back (which was all over the damn map and not very good in many ways), one of the panelists–I won’t say who–ultimately tried to say about queerness, “Really, all it is is it’s about love.” Uhh…no, clearly not! For those who hate queer people, it’s all about “Icky gay sex!” For a fuckton of queer people I’ve met, practically everything BUT love and/or sex is queerness, from what clothes one wears to how one styles one’s hair to how one walks or talks or acts. For a large portion of gay men, “love” is a dirty word whereas SEX is the core of their identity, their interest, and their purpose. For far too many queer people, feeling love of any sort–whether friendship or familial, much less romantic love–is so fraught and uncommon or absent that any sign of it throws them into a tizzy.

    Not even the Erotes are simply “love”; there’s all sorts of other things involved there, and again, since a particular type of “love” is not specified (the Greeks had at least four, maybe five that would be covered by what we call “love,” if I am recalling correctly!), it’s very sloppy to say that. Very bad, writer of 1 John, to enshrine that idea in Christian scripture and place it in gold letters on the lips of every smarmy would-be evangelist.

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  2. I am reviewing a book written by a Monotheist with his own personal gnosis of “God”. He believes that saying God is love debunks the true nature of the deity. It is a cop out since God is also all=powerful, etc, and well evil comes from Him or God isn’t all-powerful. I wrote to the guy and said, “it’s better to be a Polytheist. You don’t have explain stupid stuff.”

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  3. Galina, you have really nailed a great question here. Growing up Christian in a devoted Lutheran household certainly emphasized this statement, “God is Love!” but I rarely saw any of the congregation around me trying to live it. Odin called to me when I was still too young and scared to answer the call, but the Norns took me up in their own way back in 2013, and they worship Ygg. So I came back to Odin in my own time and readiness, and I adore Him as God of Knowledge and Experience.

    Beyond this there is the experience I have (and others have had) of the sacred connection to Nature that grounds me. Within this connection I can feel many life forms and life forces that correspond best (to me) to that old idea of Animism. Reasoning this out for myself, it feels like the idea of an Absolute or a First Cause – from which we, and maybe the Gods too take their being and have form.

    In no way do I mistake this for Monotheism. It just seems reasonable that there could be an animating principle beyond what I know. For some reason I find myself thinking of Heimdall’s Bridge, not as the animating principle, but as a connecting principle.

    The word “Love” itself is very problematical, because of its broadness of meaning. When I was in a Gurdjieff school they used the term “higher emotion.”

    Not sure if what I said here quite applies to the topic of your article, but it certainly related to a question within me as to whether the concept of animism could be considered the “oneness” so many new agers try to apply to the idea of monotheism, or whether their idea of that is just a lie that continues on the dissension.

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  4. The idea of Yahweh being “love” in any sense is laughable. To their credit, the Old Testament books never claim this. It took Christians to come up with this notion.

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    • The Christians partly borrowed the notion from Orphism. Eros/Phanes was the primordial Deity for the Orphics and the Christians apparently hyper-spiritualized the notion through agape, just as they did with the bread & wine replacing the orgia/sparagmos.

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