Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Us, Them and the "Love" Test

Last Sunday in our Dutch church the youth band led the congregation in singing, in English, Chris Tomlin’s song, Our God. It is a good song, but it led my thoughts to “us” and “them” as much as it did to God.

The chorus is:
     Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.
     Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power, Our God! Our God!
     And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
     And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

As I was singing I couldn’t help thinking that by repeatedly claiming God as “Our God,” and “Our God is for us,” that we are not just praising God. We are also, in a way, claiming that he is ours, and not those other people’s; that he is on our side, not their side.

I have always found it interesting that when we divide the world between “us” and “them,” God always ends up on the “us” side. I remember reading years ago the quote, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the favor.” (A quick Google search shows it attributed to many writers, but no one seems be able to actually pin down the origin.) Some atheists have taken it to mean that God is a product of human imagination, but I think that a more accurate interpretation is that we try to weigh God down with our own frailties and prejudices. If we care about skin color, then God must also. If we care about gender, then so does God. If we say that the Rio Grande is the border, then that must be where God divides the Mexican “rapists” from the God-fearing Americans.

When I was small child, my favorite Sunday School song was “Praise Him. Praise Him, all ye little children; God is love; God is love.” When I was 13 and started to develop a personal theology, I was very drawn to the fourth chapter of 1 John: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” At the time I was trying to understand the difference between agape love and the adolescent emotion of being “in love,” so I rationalized that the phrase “God is love” did not define God, it defined love. God, obviously, is much more than just love. While God is loving, he is also powerful and he gets angry and he punishes those who do wrong. And God chooses sides: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He is a personality, just like I am. He is a “he,” just like I am.

What if I was wrong? What if the two terms are equal, like a mathematical or logical equation where the one term can be substituted for the other? Love is powerful, love demands justice, love rebukes wrongdoing but never seeks revenge.

What would happen if we took every statement made about God, and substituted the word “love”? Would the meaning of Chris Tomlin’s song, be any different?
     Love is greater, Love is stronger, Love is higher than any other.
     Love is Healer, Awesome in Power, Love! Love!
     And if Love is for us, then who could ever stop us.
     And if Love is with us, then what could stand against us.

But would every statement we make about God hold up to the “Love” test? Which of these would we agree with: “Love gave us this land.” “Love wants you to vote Republican.” “Love wants you to vote Democrat.” “Love doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews.” “Love Hates Fags.” Ridiculous statements, aren’t they.

Keith Holmes

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