In my last post, I shared a brief part of my deconstruction-reconstruction (can we just say becoming from now on?) story and how the Open and Relational perspective has become an important part of both my faith and my worldview. It is a thoughtful way to engage faith and the world that makes sense with both how we know the world to be via good science, history, philosophy and our own experience and deepest intuitions. It is both a head & heart approach that has rescued and enriched my faith in many ways.
Today’s post explores the Big Idea of Essential Kenosis and what it tells us about the nature/character of God.
… because God is love. 1 John 4:8
God is Love.
The New Testament makes this clear, most especially through the person of Jesus. Jesus is the best picture in all of Christian scripture of God's nature and disposition towards the cosmos and, specifically, human beings.
We get some critical perspective into the nature of this divine Love in Christ. The author of Philippians 2 helps us along - that while Jesus was in the form of God, he didn't consider himself equal to God, and he emptied (Kenosis) himself.
Kenosis is one of those twenty-five-cent words that can help us exhume Love from cultural distortions. Jesus models Love as kenosis: self-giving love. This provides an essential key into who God is and frees us from the many contradictory and hypocritical ideas many faithful believe, revealing a genuinely scandalous God-who-is-Love.
”God so loved the world that he gave…”
- John 3:16
This picture, in the flesh, of God in Jesus lands the truth that God is Love. God's very nature is Love. We can then assert that Love is at the centre of the cosmos. God is active in the law-like regularities of physics (and sometimes, in a collaborative miracle or two). God has set the cosmos up to make itself. Love is the Logos/organizing principle. The trajectory of the Love-pickled cosmos is more Love expressed in greater relational complexity, an enlarged and deeper sense of community, and union*.
Jesus is so important to help us understand the God-who-Loves, to keep us from sliding off into some horrible ditches. In Jesus, we see Love that is abundantly merciful, kind, radically forgiving, compassionate, generous, whole-making, healing, reconciling and contagious. This Love is maybe most especially faithful and unfailing. This kind of Love is active. This kind of Love makes Beautiful. In Jesus, we see the God who is Love.
God's essence, nature, and character is Love. Period. Full stop. If a "but" is forming on your lips, stop it. You are on your way to missing it. All of God's attributes, like justice, sovereignty, faithfulness, mercy, wrath, etc., all flow from and are shaped by the essential Love nature of God.
God can’t help but Love. God must love. Love is inherently relational. God is relational. In relationship, God has a non-coercive influence on us, and we can influence God moment by moment. The God who is love is relationally present. Faithfully present.
As humans, we often fail to love well, but God, whose very essence is Love, can't help but Love - God loves all the time with 100% intensity; however, the expressions of God's uncontrolling Love can differ for each situation based on the range of available possibilities, moment by moment to bring about the most well-being.
Love requires freedom. Freely given and freely received (Mt.10:8b). With Love requiring freedom, it stands to reason that God is uncontrolling. Being Love itself, the source of Love, God doesn't coerce or control us, others or the cosmos itself. However, God does inspire, call, invite, and sometimes command, and in the freedom of Love, we choose to respond … or not.
Love is one of those ideas that have been kicked around for a long, long time, but sometimes we aren’t very clear on what we mean when we talk about love. Unfortunately, some of our prominent inherited ideas of God are not so loving, no matter how much we insist that s/he is.
I have worked with folks who:
- Believe that God’s disposition towards them and humanity is mostly anger and disgust.
- Believe God loves them only when they perform well.
- Are recovering from spiritual abuse who believe that church leadership can manipulate others for our own eternal good because God manipulates us - the end justifies the means.
- believe an all-powerful controlling God who wills (or looks the other way, self-limits) when bad things happen (like cancer, rape, and other tragedy) as a means to mature us according to his plan - and they believe this is a loving God.
- Hold that God defines what love is - so if god wants to commit genocide, then because God does it, even genocide must sometimes be loving.
Could it be that I am more loving than God? For many of us, these views of God and ’love’ are totally repugnant, counter to what the New Testament presents, who Jesus demonstrates God to be, and our own experience of love and goodness. Many of us can no longer find spiritual or moral cover for a monster god with “God’s ways are not our ways.”
We need a thoughtful definition of Love to help us understand and guide us in ways that are consistent with the nature of the God-who-is-love. I have come to appreciate Tom Oord’s working definition of Love:
"To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being."
Love has bandwidth, and there are many ways that God loves and many ways that we can love that are genuine and promote genuine well-being. There are many ways to participate in the Divine Nature to love. There are plenty of ways to promote well-being as an expression of Love personally.
There are times when we love best by giving and times when we love best by receiving. There are also ways of loving that require us to withhold ourselves. To be clear, we never withhold our Love - reflecting on an idea from St. John of the Cross - mothers will withhold their breast when it comes time to ween their child. The mother withholds herself for the well-being of the child. The point being is that the way God Loves (actions/energies of Love) varies by context to promote the most well-being possible. These changes are NOT in the degree of Love itself, only the expression it takes as it seeks to maximize the most well-being possible.
In this post, we explored the nature/ character of God as love through the big idea of Essential Kenosis. In the New Testament, the life and ministry of Jesus and our own experiences and intuitions affirm a God-who-is-love. A God who must love. I also shared a definition of love that helps us learn to love well.
*= In the Love Milieu: Union, unity, and oneness are not to be confused with uniformity, sameness or conformity. Union differentiates. I promise I will write about this shortly.