The problem with many theories of the atonement, which imply that God ‘can’t’ love us- sinners that we are- until someone dies for the infinite offense, is that they neglect to notice how the gulf between Creator and creature is already so inconceivably severe that…
God can’t love us anyway.
Not if ‘love’ is to have any meaningful definition.
As Herbert McCabe argues:
One of the primary characteristics of any definition of love is equality between the lovers.
Love entails a recognition between two of the other’s existence as as valid as one’s own existence. To put the point more clearly, says McCabe, just consider how ‘fostered inequality’ registers with us as the opposite and enemy of love.
If equality is an essential attribute of a loving relationship, then it becomes evident that ‘whatever relationship there may be between God and his creature it cannot be one of love.’
The relationship is instead as unequal as it can possibly be.
We might think of God as caring benevolently for his creatures or as the Source of all value in them or as a Master rewarding/punishing them, but we can’t, McCabe argues, ‘think of God has giving himself in love to a creature.’
The gulf between Creator and creature is such that to say God loves me is on par with saying that I love yeast creature that made my beer possible.
Those hackneyed Christian songs might speak of the singer being in love with God, but it’s even more ridiculous to suppose the singer could sing about God being ‘in love’ with us.
McCabe, the philosophically trained might notice, takes with complete seriousness Nietzsche’s critique of the Christian God. Nietzsche didn’t argue that God was evil, wicked Boss in the sky; Nietzsche resisted because the relationship between God and us could never be anything other than Boss to slave.
That is, to Nietzsche the relationship between God and creatures could never be a relationship of love (between equals).
Nietzsche, in other words, did not disbelieve God; he rebelled against God. God in his estimation was not worthy of worship, for why would I care if the yeast creature in my beer worshipped me?
McCabe takes Nietzsche’s critique with seriousness and in turn laments how many have reacted to Nietzsche:
‘with a deplorable and idolatrous tendency to diminish God. In order that God may stand in relationship with his creatures, God is made one of them, a member of the universe, subject to change and even disappointment and suffering. Even the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is interpreted in these terms.’
God CAN’T love us, McCabe (a Dominican priest, no less) argues.
And this is where Herbert pivots to scripture:
“The most important thing Jesus said (and he does not only say it in John’s Gospel but shows it and implies it in a thousand ways) is something about himself: the Father loves him.”
Italics all McCabe all the way.
To sing ‘Jesus loves me for the bible tells me so’ is to miss the point in McCabe’s mind. We should be singing: ‘God loves Jesus…for the bible tells me so.’
For Jesus to claim the Father loves him is itself to announce equality with God, that sort of equality implied by and required for love.
Jesus, the Incarnate Logos, is the (only) One who makes it possible for God the Creator to love his creatures. And we Him.
It’s not just Sin that separates us- of course Sin doesn’t help.
God, McCabe, says, loves Jesus and loves him from before all time as his co-equal Son, ‘owing his existence indeed to God though not created but, as I suggest, loved into existence.’
Regardless of what went down in the Garden, the Son would’ve still come down to be Mary’s son because:
‘it is into this eternal exchange of love between Jesus and the Father that we are taken up, this exchange of love that we call the Holy Spirit.
And this means, of course, that we are taken up into equality, the equality demanded by and involved in love.’
Nietzsche was right.
God could not love creatures. God still cannot.
What did Nietzsche miss, according to McCabe?
We’re no longer just creatures. Because the Son became a creature, we creatures now share in the Son.
God can’t love us, but God loved the Son.
And in the Son, through the Spirit, the Father loves us.