GOD and LOVE and WAR
Whenever human suffering becomes a reality through the pain of a loved one or the onset of the casualties of war (e.g., in Afghanistan) at least some of those who believe in God ask questions about God’s Love.
So it is appropriate to reflect for a while on the Love of God.
We can understand the Love of God as something that God IS; as something that God HAS; and as something that God DOES. And, further, we can recognize that the Love of God is not wholly contained in this description, for God’s Love, being infinite and eternal Love (as Agape and Caritas), transcends our best attempts to describe it.
In terms of defining God’s Love, modern theological opinion is divided at least into two major camps.
Classical theists portray God, the Holy Trinity, having the intent and the ability to do good to creatures and this is his Love. Here the internal Love between the Persons of the Trinity overflows to creatures, especially in the Incarnation of the Second Person, but God asLove and loving remains unchanged and unchanging, not affected in His own being by the attitudes, actions and responses of his creatures to his love. God is Love and wills to Love whatever be the reaction of his creatures.
Panentheists or Open Theists portray God the Holy Trinity as in a dynamic relation[ship] to the world and to creatures where God’s love for them while everlasting is not unchanged and unchanging because it is affected by the responses of creatures. Here God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit wills to be open to the effects of his love and he feels the pain and suffering, the joy and celebration of his creatures.
Both positions seem to be upheld by the contents of Hosea 11 in which we read of the husband’s love for his harlot wife [portraying the LORD’s Love for Israel]. On the one hand there is the portrayal of unchanging/unchanged love and on the other the portrayal of a change of heart/mind. Here is a chapter to read and meditate upon.
For Christians, whether they are Open Theists or Traditional Theists the resolution of this tension in Hosea 11 is in the fact of the Suffering and Atoning Death of the Incarnate Son of God and of the meaning that the New Testament draws out of this Event. We must surely avoid making our concept of God fit into our modern sentimental views of love [saying “Love is God”] ; but we must face the full scope of God’s Love in relation to human sinners and their sin and think and live in the light of it.
Unless we are prepared to accept the portrayal of God’s Love as given in the whole of sacred Scripture, we shall never be able to begin to understand how the God who is Love also reveals his wrath against wickedness and sin. Further, we shall never be able to understand how God the Lord as the Sovereign Ruler of the world does use human agents (e.g., armies) to do his will and even to display his wrath. St Bernard described mercy and judgment as the two feet of God and urged his monks to be aware of both feet (Sermon 6 on Song of Songs). They were to temper sorrow for sin with the thought of divine Love/mercy, so as to avoid despair; and they were to temper meditation upon God’s Love/mercy with remembrance of his judgment against sin.
Likewise today in thinking about the relation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to the “war against terrorism” and to the human suffering involved, we need to hold together, via the Cross of Jesus, doctrines not only of the Love/mercy of God the Holy Trinity but also doctrines of God’s wrath and His judgment against sinners and sin.
We shall not help people by sentimental and sloppy notions of love and of vague statements that there is truth in all religions. Christian witness has to plumb the depths of Scripture and be informed by the best of the Christian tradition, which includes the doctrine of the Just War, before it utters pronouncements in press releases from denominational headquarters and bishop’s palaces!
The Revd Dr Peter Toon