Let’s wrap up our look at the popular Christian platitude “God is love.” In part 1, Christian apologist Peter Kreeft handwaved a clever yet ridiculous argument about how God being love made the Trinity mandatory.
Let’s continue with more of Kreeft’s groundless speculation of what God’s love is all about.
God is like a father
Imagine the progression in wisdom from a fool, to an ordinary human, to a sage, to God. Along this progression, positive qualities are amplified—patience, consideration, kindness, thoughtfulness—and negative qualities reduced—impatience, anger, jealousy, ego. “My way or the highway” is replaced by a yielding, selfless, whatever’s-best-for-you approach.
Peter Kreeft gave his insights about what the God end of the spectrum looks like as he spoke about God’s love (“God’s Existence” @1:05:45). He gave the example of a child who didn’t want to show his bad report card to his father. Why not, since the father loves him? Because he’s afraid that the father will get mad at how the child fell short of his potential.
Now dial up that relationship from father/child to God/us. When we adults show our report card to God, does he respond in a patient and considerate way, trying to work with our limitations to find what’s best for us? Apparently not. Kreeft says that God’s perception of our failings is far more acute than the father’s and God gets into a justifiable rage when we make a mistake. So, you see, God’s throwing us into hell forever for the smallest sin is not petty vindictiveness but Deep Love. (And the inmates of hell get to feel the warmth of God’s love for a long, long time.)
Kreeft is our Virgil as he guides us through the afterlife. You might think that injuring or offending God would be as likely as injuring Superman. You might think that God is far more sage-like than any human sage.
Nope. Kreeft tells us that “Love makes God more formidable, not less,” and “Infinite love is utterly intolerant in any imperfection in the beloved.” Gee—who’d’ve guessed? Heaven sounds like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four where War is Peace and Love is Hate.
(Christians: when you puzzle over what atheists could possibly find troubling about your philosophy, this kind of groundless handwaving is part of the problem.)
See also: Why is God Hidden?
Does the Bible show us that God is loving?
“Love” is not the punch line of the Job story. Job was the pawn in a wager between Yahweh and Satan, and Job’s life was destroyed (but in the end God gave him another set of children to replace the ones that were killed, so it’s all good). Job complained about his undeserved bad fortune, and God made clear to Job that he (God) could do whatever the heck he wanted, and Job could just shut the hell up.
“God is love” isn’t the takeaway from the Old Testament. It isn’t interested in showcasing God’s love but rather his majesty and power in cases like drowning the Egyptian army or burning Sodom and Gomorrah. The lesson from the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac was not love but obedience. “ ‘Should you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence?’ ” (Jeremiah 5:22).
Christian children can be introduced to Old Testament stories with toys, but they omit the full story. The Noah’s Ark playset contains a handful of toy animals and people that survived, not the millions who drowned. The David action figure doesn’t come with a bag of 200 Philistine foreskins, Samson doesn’t come with the jawbone of an ass (with which he killed a thousand men), and Joshua doesn’t come with the corpses of any of the millions killed in the conquest of Palestine.
The New Testament isn’t much better, and it invented hell for most of us. Jesus makes this clear: “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
Love isn’t the obvious theme in individual human lives around the world today, but as love-poor as the earth is, the empty space that composes almost all the universe contains none.
Former pastor Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, in which he argued for a kinder, gentler afterlife than the traditional Christian view. That was a little too much love for one traditionalist who spoke for many when he said, “Adjusting the gospel to placate human rebellion against God transforms the good news into a compromise with worldliness, something we should earnestly avoid.”
Let me close with a fragment from a modern hymn.
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
This portrait of God was so unpleasant that the hymn was finally removed from a hymnal.
There’s not a lot of love happening here. When listing God’s attributes, love isn’t on the short list.
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
— Benjamin Franklin
Image credit: Bcow, flickr, CC