“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.