When God’s Love Becomes a Cliche

This will be my last post for today, then I’ll go watch the last episode of Lost, Season 1.

I talked in my last post about how God’s unconditional love can motivate a person to witness. But is that always the case?

I’ll admit that there are Christians who bubble forth with joy. Sure, a lot of them are putting on an act so they can appear righteous, but there are also many who are genuinely happy.

When I was at DePauw, I attended a Christian group called “JC” (which stands for “Jesus Christ”). It drew tons of students! People talk about the revival in Lakeland. Well, there was a revival at DePauw, and people were hungry for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Gospel of how to bark like a dog. But, anyway, in the course of the JC meeting, we would break up into small groups. And, one day, the discussion topic was God’s love.

A girl in my group said, “When you know God loves you unconditionally, it has to overflow to other people.” And I can see her point. I’m much more willing to reach out to others when God is making me feel secure and happy.

I then said that I had problems finding security in God’s love, whereas I actually felt better when people reached out to me. And the leader of the group said, “Do you know why? Because you don’t see God.” And that’s pretty much true. For some reason, God’s love was real to that one girl. I don’t know why–maybe she had experienced God’s hand in her life, or Christianity was the only religion she knew, and so she just assumed it. But, for me, God’s love was theoretical, since I didn’t experience him in a tangible sense.

I find that God’s love does not make all people happy, even if they believe in it. Nor does it move everyone to witness. I know universalists who think God will convert everyone in the end. But does that move them in any way? Do they feel an urge to tell others about Jesus? Not really. They just assume God will do it all. They believe in a God of love, but they are armchair theologians. They aren’t like those who feel an immediate urgency to save people from hell. They’re the opposite: they are completely laid back, for they expect God to do everything in his own time.

Then there’s the opposite extreme: those who just assume God’s love, yet they stress out to do good. I knew a mainline Protestant minister who was like this. He thought that God loved everyone unconditionally. Hell and the wrath of God weren’t really a part of his theological outlook. Actually, I recall him telling me that he thought God would work it out for everyone in the end. But he didn’t just kick back and relax–he poured himself into community service, and, indeed, his church did help a lot of people. Through all of this, he always looked so stressed out, as if he needed to keep the world from falling apart each and every day. He was also somewhat of a perfectionist, and he could get pretty cranky. His belief in God’s love didn’t give him much peace (as far as I could tell).

Then there was a Princeton seminarian who looked at God’s love and thought “Big deal!” For him, it was just a cliche. He once told me, “You know, I can’t stand reading Eugene Petersen and Philip Yancey. All they ever say is ‘God loves you!’ It gets old after a while!” When his girlfriend broke up with him, he got depressed. He said, “What’s the purpose of life? You know, we’re here, and we’ll all go to heaven after we die. But what’s the point of being here?” Like the mainline Protestant pastor, he poured himself into community service, so you couldn’t really tell him, “You just feel empty because you don’t give enough.” He assumed God’s unconditional love, but that didn’t make him happy.

Then there are the people who believe in God’s love, yet they don’t think much about him in their day-to-day lives. When I visited Indiana Wesleyan, I heard a talk about witnessing. The speaker told us about a time when he witnessed to a couple of rough-looking motorcycle men. He gave them the usual ice-breaker of “If you were to die, and God asked you why he should let you into his heaven, what would you answer?” One of them blew the question off, saying, “God will let me in. He loves me!” The other, by contrast, was uncertain that he’d make it. It was the second person who was open to the Gospel, and he became born again.

The first guy assumed God’s unconditional love, but that didn’t motivate him to be a Christian. He didn’t do anything for God. He probably lived in sin in many areas of his life. And that’s the way it is with numerous people, even Christians. Many of us have heard the term “cheap grace.” A lot of people can believe in God’s love even as they live in a licentious manner. They take it for granted!

And then there are the non-believers who don’t like talk about God’s love. They consider it sappy and syrupy. One would think that a message about God’s unconditional love would draw virtually everyone, but it doesn’t. Maybe they don’t believe in it because they’ve experienced their share of suffering in life. Or perhaps they’ve heard it, and it just makes them sick. They don’t like altar call, “Honk if you love Jesus!” Christianity!

I often hunger for God’s love because I want to feel safe, secure, and, well, loved! As a result, I tend to assume that a belief in a God of unconditional love can transform people to become more loving themselves. But it doesn’t always work that way, for God’s love is often a cliche.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to When God’s Love Becomes a Cliche

  1. David B. Beaver says:

    This is very true, many times the love of God is taken for granted, and it is simply an intellectual concept. We “know” God loves us in our heads, so as you say we assume it. But we often don’t really know what we are talking about, it is not until we experience God’s love, often an unexplainable experience, in a very real that we truly grasp.

    What I have found also is that the love of God often wears out in its effectiveness in our lives if we do not renew it daily. Daily we must realize how pathetic we are; that we are but dust, shining in his light, but that he loves us with an unconditional love. I think we do this by spending time with him, real time, the true challenge is tkaing the time to bring our heads and our hearts together to truly know his love.

    I wil have to read this more often, you have a lot of great things to say. I wish I could blog like this more often on my own, but I’ve strayed so far from it…

    God bless,
    -David B. Beaver

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, David! You’ll probably find that I say some things you don’t agree with, but I’m sure you’ll also find stuff you like here. And your comments are always welcome.

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