A Reason for Doubt: Can God Really Love Us?

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Skeptical BelieverWe’re approaching the hump day for our latest sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Two weeks ago I asked for folks to give me some skeptical grist for reflection and you’ve not disappointed.

Here’s one question cum critique that has more philosophic pedigree than the sender probably realizes:

“If God is Absolute Being, completely transcendent (‘amness’ as you said in your sermon) then isn’t it silly and maybe egotistical too to think that God loves us?

How can BEING ITSELF love beings?”

Friedrich Nietzsche couldn’t have put it better.

Actually, Nietzsche put it pretty much exactly that way, only it probably sounded a lot more impressive delivered in guttural Deutsch.

Though he wrote in the 19th century, Nietzsche’s aggressive and passionate atheist philosophy makes today’s New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett look like luddites.

Nietzsche challenged the general profession of Christians that ‘God loves us.’ Nietzsche did not instead believe the Christian God was cruel or capricious; rather he questioned the assumption that God was capable of loving us.

As strange a pushback as that may sound to Christians, Nietzsche’s is a clever critique.

Inherent to any concept of love, Nietzsche argues is the profound sense of equality it implies between lovers. Indeed, as any married couple can attest, a large part of love is  the recognition of this equality, seeing the other’s existence as valid in its own, recognizing that the other is there equally before you and does not exist simply as function for you. Even in a parent-child relationship, Nietzsche would argue that love there is premised upon the growing equality between elder and younger.

Now if we see equality as a central and necessary attribute to any definition of love, then you can begin to see how whatever we might say about the relationship between Creator and creature, we cannot say it’s one of love.

The relationship is too unequal for love and irretrievably so.

We might say God is caring and compassionate and just and wise towards his creatures but we cannot, because of the infinite, unequal ontological gulf between us, say ‘God loves us.’

For Nietzsche the problem isn’t that God is a wicked boss, the problem is that he will always be a boss- a kind and compassionate slave master nonetheless remains a slave master.

(Never mind for the moment that such an image of God is still fraught with the assumption that God is just another little ‘b’ being in the universe- slave master, after all, is still a creature not a Creator).

Nietzsche’s use of a term like slave master can be distracting but it’s important. Nietzsche understood well what many Christians do not: the distance between God and creation is infinite.

God is not one of us.

And what Nietzsche understood about this infinite led him to loathe God.

Interestingly, Nietzsche’s critique hits upon an insight the Eastern Orthodox have long realized: the gulf between God and humanity isn’t simply a moral one, in the sense that we’re sinners and God is holy.

Even more so, the gulf is metaphysical.

I’ll save a reply to Nietzsche for another day.

But it’s interesting to point out how Friedrich reveals how the incarnation is logically necessary apart from the atonement.

Jason Micheli

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One response to A Reason for Doubt: Can God Really Love Us?

  1. If God is transcendent and the Holy Spirit upon Pentecost is part of our very being (followed by our acceptance of this gift); then to say that God does not love us is to say he doesn’t love himself (his creation, his universe) because we are a part of him.
    Defining love using marriage or parenting is limiting it. God IS creation. God IS love. Jesus is the reflection of this love.

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