Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Very Different Ways of Defining Love

The Gospel is not a story of wrath or hatred but instead a story of grace, mercy, long suffering and above all else--love.  And my heart breaks for anyone who doesn’t see it in this light.
Former preacher turned atheist, Dan Barker (, made the following assertion regarding love and Christianity:
I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. Love is not self denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment, or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.

What we see clearly here is simply this:  Barker has his own definition of love. I get happens all the time.  Therefore, based on his own definition of love, he can't accept Christianity or the Gospel as "loving"...I get that as well...again, it happens all the time.

People run into stumbling blocks with their own concepts and definitions of what certain words or things are/are not and they are left with a pretty big challenge which forces them to make a choice. In this example, Dan Banister (who was a man of faith) had two choices.  He could either accept and conform his thinking to God's definition of love or he could renounce God’s definition and instead accept his own variation and understanding of the word love.  Obviously based on Barker's quote and how things have played out in his life, we are left with very little doubt about which choice he made.  Dan Barker is now the founder and president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and he is as passionate (or more passionate) about his atheism as he ever was about his faith. 

But where does that really get us? Nowhere, or at least nowhere new. Barker has not proven that God isn't loving...he has only proven that God isn't loving in the same way that he views love or defines the word. That's not a breakthrough.  That's not liberation. It's nothing more than a choice by Barker (and millions of others) to reject one reality (and I use that word loosely) and accept another in an effort to find peace in the conflict between self and God.

Like I said, this isn't a new line of thinking.  It happens all the time.  In fact people inside and outside the church make decisions like this every day.  We are a people who fill empowered to pick and choose our own realities because we don't like how scripture fits with a lifestyle choice of our own.  Barker's choice to redefine love, so it fit together with his understanding of the word, isn't what breaks my heart in this story.  The thing that really breaks my heart about Barker's statement is that he sees a inconsistency or disconnect between how the Bible defines love and the hang-ups (he listed in is statement) which lead to his rejection of Christianity.
But is there really a conflict here?  Is there really an inconsistency between God's choices and the Biblical definition of love?  If there is one, I certainly don't see it.  If God’s choice to send his son to die on the cross as the means to restore his relationship with the people who had rejected his love and chosen to live for their own selfish pleasures & desires isn't love, then what is it exactly?  Hate?  If a person is willing to truly look at how scripture defines love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) then it's unimaginable for me to see the Gospel (Christ coming to earth, living a holy life--in our place, dying a holy death--in our place, and being raised as a sign that God was pleased with Christ's sacrifice as a propitiation of our sins) as anything other than love. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about ego or vanity as Barker has asserted, but is instead about a loving God, willing to stop at nothing to restore a relationship that was lost because the people he loves, turned their backs on him and gave their affections to other things.  The Gospel is not a story of wrath or hatred but instead a story of holiness, justice, righteousness, grace, mercy, humility, long suffering, and above all else--love. And my heart breaks for anyone who, because of their sin and hardened hearts, can't see it this light.   And I am reminded to pray for people like Dan Barker who have found temporary peace by sacrificing truth...with their eternity at stake.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV 
[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


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