letters to surfers

You write a lot about the love of God. What does that mean?

Answer by Robert Brow    (www.brow.on.ca)   December 2000

I think you were bothered by my quote from Virginia Mollencott : "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you could ever do to make God love you less."

I suspect the language game here is like in the love of a mother for her children. She could have favorites, and do more for one child than another. And that is a language game of the love of God which I think Mollenkott is rejecting. He makes his sun shine on the righteous and unrighteous without partiality. The first part of the doublet is therefore suggesting that God does not favor a good person more than the sinners Jesus consorted with.

The second part picks up the idea of the parable of the prodigal son. Even though he behaved abominably, the Father still loved him (longed for, waited for, welcomed, etc.). Mollenkott's saying also rejects the idea that we could lose our acceptance with God (salvation) by doing something awful.

Obviously the word 'love' needs a lot of illustrating in our preaching to help people into grasping the language game of say John 3:16 or the references in 1 John. We also need to explain how love is related to wrath (in my mind wrath is not sending people to eternal damnation, but assigning consequences here on earth, as we do with our children when we love them)..

How do we know we have got the language game of the love of God right? Obviously we can get it wrong (as when children misunderstand the love of their parents). We don't have a lexical proof, and there are innumerable problems for scholars and commentators. At that point my solution as a preacher is that I have to use a model that I understand clearly, and can explain to others. In the process of time by reading and from experience of the love of God I may need to change my model. And the model then changes the way I will teach the language game for the word "love" in a congregation.

An example of such change is the impact of the Openness of God model on how our preaching changes from being based on an impassive, immutable God to a God whose love includes listening, acting on our prayers, and can even change his mind (and here again we can illustrate from family relationships).

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