Who God Is And What God Is Not
To you and me, that might not seem like much more than someone who is good at her job. But if that’s all it was, just a job, she did in a way that made God feel close in a house that was still grieving in pain and sorrow. She did it with love.
Love has many faces. The first time I saw my wife, I fell instantly in love. I would do anything for her to show her just how much she meant to me. Over time, our love evolved from proving our feelings towards each other to simply practicing love with one another. We made it a daily routine to make love grow, adapt, and flourish everywhere we went.
Love is powerful and love is transforming. It was the reasons I accepted my call to ministry. However, it was not love that led me to seminary. It was hate.
I remember seeing a news report about a group from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. You might remember them as the people who would go around the country protesting at funerals of soldiers who had died in Iraq. They loved to get the attention of reporters with their neon colored signs. One in particular that the news was focusing on read, “God hates fags.” I knew right then and there I had to do something.
Love has many faces and means many things. But this I know to be true. God is not in the business of hating. God is in the business of loving. Our only job, as followers of Christ, is to be the face of love, by witnessing to the way of love, that came to us from Jesus himself. Curry is right. Love is the way. And thus it must be our first priority.
In the biggest selling book of all time, there is a treasure of a letter written by John the Apostle.
(Read 1 John 4:7-21)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
John’s first epistle is one of my all-time favorite books in the bible. In it, he doesn’t mince words. With elegant concision, he tells us what God is so we know what God is not. This is important because there are people who preach a god of hate, a god of war and a god of wealth. The antithesis of what Jesus preached.
Some want a God of power and order. As violence remains pervasive and suffering ever present, we want a God who protects us from harm or who can prevent bad things from happening. But John said, “God is love.”
Some want a God to be a punitive authority who lays down the law and holds everyone accountable. But John said, “God is love.”
Some want a God of prosperity, who promises great wealth if we obey a few simple principles. But John avoids such descriptions in favor of one - God is love.
It’s worth mentioning that John uses a rarely used Greek word – agape – to describe God. Agape is a self-sacrificing love. It’s the kind of love Ms. Robbins brought into the Curry home. It’s often translated as unconditional love, that gives without expecting anything in return the kind of love found in the very heart of God’s grace.
This is not to say that God’s love isn’t powerful, or punitive or prosperous. God is and can be anything God wants to be. As Richard Rohr likes to say, “God loves things by becoming them.”
In Jesus, God’s agape came to humans in human form to show us the way back to God’s heart. By walking in the path of love, in the footsteps of Jesus, we walk into God’s heart. “For those who abide in God must also abide in God’s love.”
watch the message here
Love has many faces. Like yours and mine. Those who share the faith of Christ, also wear the face of God. We are called to go out into the world and define what love means by practicing love with one another.
It really is that simple. And yet, it’s truly that difficult because agape seeks to do good for the well-being in others. Agape is not selfish, in fact it’s the opposite. Selfishness pulls us apart. Agape ties us together. Like Curry points out in his book, “Love isn’t a sentiment. It’s the only thing left to save a community divided.”
Agape doesn’t merely lead us to the heart of God but it draws us to the heart of each other. It turns our self-centered world upside down and causes us to give instead of take; to seek peace instead of instigating war.
Agape makes room for others. It does not exclude. It lifts people up when life knocks them down. It stands up to injustice with justice. It fights the face of inequity with fairness. It helps and heals those who whom the world has hurt and harmed.
There are some people today who see this kind of love as a weakness. But as God clearly showed us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, agape is more powerful than death itself. No wonder why John chose to use this word for the early church live by.
Love has many faces. Some are black, some are white. Some are red, some are blue. Some live across the street, other’s in a country you have no idea where to find it on a map. But in each person, and in every situation, we must always make love our priority. For love invites the world to see the face of God when it might otherwise feel absent.
Like John wrote, “No one has ever seen God but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” If you want to know God, fully and authentically, then open your heart and hands, and allow the love of God to flow through you like Jesus did.
Five hundred years ago St. Teresa of Avila said it best, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”
Her words remind us all that God’s love is the transformative power that is so desperately needed today. “Love is,” like Curry realized, “the only thing that has ever changed the world for the better.”
To know the God of love, then, is to live agape like Jesus who gave God’s love away to all people. And in doing so became the face of God for all to see. Like Brennan Manning argued, “God is love. Jesus is God. If Jesus stopped loving, he would stop being God.”
What does this say to you? How might it inspire you to go and make love grow? Better yet, what’s stopping you from loving unconditionally as God loves you?
Love has many faces and means many things. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect or worthy. Just as God’s love was made perfect in Jesus, so too has Jesus made you worthy in spite of your flaws. God loves you as you are, not as you should be. God’s love meets you where you are and takes you to where you need to go.
As Jesus showed those who came to him, God loves you beyond fidelity and infidelity, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, in your state of grace and in your state of disgrace. There is no time limit or breaking point. No matter what happens or what you do…it’s impossible for God not to love you! God is love.
If we are created in God’s image, then we are created from and made for agape to give of ourselves and our love freely just as Jesus showed us how.
Many of you might be afraid to do this. Perhaps you’ve been burnt in the past, or hurt and abused by love. But that’s not agape, that’s selfishness. Agape doesn’t harm, it heals. It puts the well-being of others first. Therefore do not be afraid to give our love away, “for God’s perfect love casts out fear.”
To quote Bishop Curry one last time, “The way of love will show us the right thing to do, every single time. It is our moral and spiritual grounding – and a place of rest – amid the chaos that is often part of life. It’s how we stay decent in indecent times.”
Of course, Jesus said it best when he summed up all the commandments and laws with these simple words: Love God. And love your neighbor. As John pointed out, we cannot claim to love God and hate our neighbor at the same time. Love and hate do not mix. They do not play together. They cannot co-exist either in heaven or on earth.
God is not in the business of hate. God is in the business of loving us. And as God’s children, we are employed to do the same for each other. We are made in love to give our love to one another in the way that Jesus gave his love to us. With agape - giving his whole self unconditionally to heal us and redeem us. By his love, we have the power to go into the world fearlessly, to act lovingly in all situations, even if imperfectly.
Love is what God is and love is why Jesus came. And it is why he continues to come, day after day through ordinary people like you and me. Love is the story that we write. It is the book that God reads over and over again. And when finished says, “I’m so glad I read that.”
My hope for you is that you will experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible, all-encompassing, totally unconditional love that is yours for the taking. For love has many faces...but will yours be one of them?
Bartlett, David L. And Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008)
Curry, Michael. Love is the Way. (New York: Penguin, 2020)
Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. (New York: Random House, 1990)
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey, December 16. (New York: HarperCollins, 1997)
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. (New York: Convergent, 2019)
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”