A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The troubling questions

I seem to be having a lot of conversations with different 'sorts' of Christians lately. (speaking of which, hi Dave :) ) Went on retreat to a (Church of England) monastery in Mirfield this weekend, and the ex RC chaplain of York university came along and gave some talks. I had a long conversation with him on Saturday. I can see why he was such a popular chaplain :) He was very gentle and had so much compassion. One thing that he said stuck in my mind - "God is love, all the time. Not just when he's in a good mood - all the time."

Complex questions of hell, judgement, eschatology, destiny, salvation, faith and works aside, I realised that my "crisis of faith" boiled down to the old questions that continue to trouble me and everyone else:

Does God love me?
Does God love everyone else?
Will he always love us?

I do not wish to take God's grace lightly - I would not wish to say, "God loves me, I'm safe, I can do anything I like, I need not strive or struggle or even obey...", employing some kind of emotional blackmail on God; "you have to love me so I'll do as I like", like a husband who'd beat his wife if he knew she wouldn't leave him, or a daughter who knows that her parents will always feed and house her, so ignores their discipline and breaks the rules, despite any heartfelt pleas to do otherwise.

But I do find it so very hard to believe that there is security in God's love. I am a fool, a sinner and a doubter, and I fear that God will get bored with my foolishness and sinfulness and doubt and *bang* my name's gone from the Book of Life. I find it hard to believe there is persistence in God's love - can I trust him to keep hounding my friends, relatives, acquaintances, enemies even, and all those billions of people I will never meet and can't lead to Jesus? Will he pursue them so that they can at least make the choice to turn and follow him? Or will he shut the door on the last few prodigals who turn for home?

Is it possible that "God is love" is the most troubling phrase in the Bible?

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  • At 1:50 pm , Anonymous Tiffer said...

    You went to Mirfield!!! I'm so jealous.

    "Is it possible that "God is love" is the most troubling phrase in the Bible? "

    This is very quotable :) I think that this is not the case with everyone, but as you come to deal with what it means for God to love us - it then becomes troubling. Do you perhaps think it becomes even harder if we believe in hell?

  • At 3:55 pm , Blogger Helen Louise said...

    I think it does indeed - and I guess questions like "why do good things happen to bad people/why do bad things happen to good people?" are also troubling when we think of love. Love itself is a very difficult quality to ascribe to a deity - it makes sense to consider God reasonable, or wrathful, or indifferent, or even unfair. Life is hard so God is mad at us, life is unpredictable so God doesn't really care what happens, life isn't fair so neither is God, or perhaps take the "common sense" view of a benevolent and pragmatic dictator, who rules with karma and leaves us alone if we don't harm others.

    Love is difficult because it presumes involvement. We presume that ultimately God cares about us, to the point of intervening when he has to, and understanding our sorrows and weaknesses and wanting us to turn from evil to him. Love suggests that everything he does has the best intention. If we believe in the traditional eternal conscious torment for the unsaved, then we have to presume that if God loves them then he simply hasn't the power to save them.

    Love is also tricky because it does suggest some kind of "emotional" involvement - why should God love anyone? Love itself is unfair! Why should he love thieves and murderers as much as he loves saints? (Remember the parable of the vineyard workers, where all the labourers got the same pay?) I find a lot of Christians even put love contrary to justice - we don't deserve Heaven but we do deserve Hell - love gets us to Heaven and justice to Hell - as if God has some kind of dual nature.

    What I liked about the Great Divorce was that it was clear that God's love was available to any who would come - people refused because they were too proud or too selfish, not because God had a mere moment of whimsy and decided to consign some to the pit because they hadn't fulfilled certain requirements - but because they were so determined not to accept it. It's one of the few things I've read that makes sense of the whole free will vs. love of God thing.

    (Mirfield was wonderful :) )

  • At 8:41 pm , Anonymous Tiffer said...

    You answered yourself :) I don't agree that God must not have the power to save the damned if he truly is love - because his door is always open - in fact he stands at the door and knocks (I always mix my symbolisms)

    The great divorce is the only thing that makes sense of it because CS Lewis had the guts to investigate his faith. It certainly explained it to me. CS Lewis was right - free will exists. God has the power to save us all, indeed has done. But it is up to them.

    And Christians are still under judgement - Romans 6. Even if it seems that they aren't because of the cross, they still are. But that's a different can of worms! :)

  • At 3:18 pm , Blogger Helen Louise said...

    I was thinking about the whole "freedom of choice" thing recently. I had a conversation with a Catholic last week about how much salvation depends on our choice. He said that we have to have free will in order to be human. It's an argument I've often heard, although even "free" will has its limitations: we can't choose where we're born, or our genes, or our parents, or our neurological make-up - we always have limitations on what we can do and even the way we think.

    What bothers me about the free will argument is that people who say things like "You send yourself to Hell with your own free will" is that they believe it's not possible to get out again of your own free will - and indeed, at some point God's door closes. They say there will be no free will in the great beyond, the inhabitants of hell locked forever in torment, unable to repent and believe.

    On the other hand I have to admit that the Catholic's argument did ring true to some extent - I think there was an episode of DS9 where Major Kira's lover was dying and she protested that surely there should be some way to heal his brain so that he could live - the doctor affirmed that it was possible but he would no longer be the same person - you can't just replace a brain. I could understand that if a person was so determined to remain separate, God might have to change so much of them that there would be nothing left of them to save - that in the act of saving he would destroy everything that made them who they are.

    But I'm not really sure how much of any of this matches up to the Bible and to the truth. Sometimes Paul says things (in Romans, again) that imply that God creates some for saving and some for destruction. He also sometimes talks as if all would be saved (as C.S. Lewis noticed :) ).

    I'm rather confused, to be honest.

  • At 11:18 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    So much to comment on and as usual no time. So I will confine my comments to two.

    1. Hi to you too.

    2. "Is it possible that "God is love" is the most troubling phrase in the Bible? Perhaps the reason that is the case is because we start off with a idea of what 'God' is and what 'love' is. The more you think about it, and the more you meditate on what happened at the cross, and at Easter, the more the two meanings are filled out and become richer, and the tension becomes smaller.

    ... I'm a romantic really, but I think that's true.

  • At 10:29 pm , Blogger BruceD said...

    A common expression among christians is "God is love, but..."

  • At 5:36 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "God is Love"
    Dear "A Curious Girl",

    Some people say that the smallest sentences always say the most. The same can be said for this tiny, but utmost important sentence that in many ways can sum up the New Testament, if not the entire bible.

    You are definitely not alone in asking, How? Why? or Is it possible? .... for what it's worth, coming from a stranger (me) that just happened to stumble upon your blog; I can, with no conviction in my mind (heart) tell you that the phrase in question is just what it says "GOD IS LOVE". Some describe it as "Selfless Love". Without making this comment to terribly long (I hope), I would encourage you to read the bible again, perhaps along with a bible dictionary or even a regular dictionary. I only suggest said study aids because I highly encourage you and all of us to study "the word" individually, including literal translations of what is written. As if you weren't up to date with everything you’ve learned and been taught by others.
    Look to your bible again, as if you had just found it and needed to reveal its significance to others. See if it says something different.

    The only other words of Wisdom I would like to share with you is, every situation in life has 2 outcomes. It’s just how to chose to look at it, the outcome could be positive or negative depending on you.
    Our culture has an amazing way of immediately defining most situations negatively or as something that needs to be fixed. People then seem to compare with each other more negative situations (or situations needing to be fixed). This type of sharing is mostly done in an attempt to advance the conversation and not done in attempt to sound bitter or upset. But, the effects are people often (by habit) forgetting to see the positive side of life. People forget at times to be grateful for the pieces of their life they have simply come to know as "normal and mundane".
    You can test this theory simply by looking around and asking yourself "what if ____ "?

    Remember, I'm not writing this because it is the only answer, or truly an answer that will for sure help you. The depth in seeking religion is attained by asking questions.
    I’m just another girl who knew what it was to be confused and oh so “curious” about something (religion) that seemed to bring much joy and great strength to so many people. I wanted to have that same faith in something. Not just faith I could pretend like I understood, but faith that I knew I could turn to when no one else was around. So, I finally ASKED GOD and HE ANSWERED ME !

    Seek with an open and loving heart (and that is however you define love), and most important ASK GOD! However, whenever, and wherever he has all the answers you are looking for and is waiting for you to just ASK. :)

    Check Out ….. Mathew 7:7


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