A new minister at the church near where I live has announced his plans to bring ‘God’s love’ to people in the parish. This sounds laudable enough, I suppose – it’s better than delivering God’s condemnation and judgement as many holy rollers are prone to do – but it begs the question why God doesn’t deliver his own love in person. Why is it he feels he can only channel his love through flawed and fallible human beings? Why doesn’t he engage intimately with his creation and let his love be known and felt directly? Why doesn’t he show his love by eradicating cancer, say, or preventing natural disasters, or exterminating the mosquitoes that cause the deaths of up to 2.7 million people every year? Why, in anything that would count as a tangible expression of God’s love for the world, as declared in John 3.16, is there a singular lack of evidence for both his love and his very presence?
‘Ah, but wait!’ say any Christians reading this. ‘God’s love is made manifest through his people, just as the new minister suggests.’ But this is my point; if I only ever expressed my affection for my loved ones through intermediaries – or even strangers, as this minister is to me – or only through a succession of Valentine’s cards, what sort of impression of my love would they have? They would, I think, be unconvinced of it, because love is not just a distant expression of feeling; it’s what we do for others. Love is action.
‘Ah, but wait again!’ say the Christians. ‘What about the second part of John 3.16 that tells us that God showed his love for the world by sending Jesus to die for us?’ You’ll pardon me, won’t you, if I find that a paltry and pathetic expression of love? If I had somehow expressed my love for others millennia ago, no-one at this distance would be impressed by a largely symbolic ‘gift’ proffered only after its original intended recipients declined it (Matthew 22. 8-10).
God didn’t really do this, of course; he didn’t send Jesus, didn’t instruct Paul to extend to all and sundry the offer of salvation that Jesus made only to Jews, didn’t transmit any sort of time-travelling compassion to reach us in the present; doesn’t express his love through other flawed human beings today. How do we know this? Because there is no God to show us love nor to judge or condemn us. Any judgement, condemnation or love is expressed by other human beings, frequently in the name of one god or another but humanly derived even when drawn from a holy book. Gods don’t write books; they’re human creations too.
Everything to do with God, from his very existence and all of his supposed attributes – his aversion to sin, his revelations about himself, his miraculous and mysterious ways, his answers to prayer, his non-answers to prayer, his supposed offer of eternal life, his holy books and his hatred and love – derive from human hopes and fears and our need for explanation. We know this because God’s love and all his other supposed characteristics are made manifest through human agency and in no other way; they have no existence outside the human imagination. So the new minister’s love can’t really be from God. At best, it will be a level of interest and concern for a limited number of people, because that is all that is humanly possible. Even so, it’s more than a God with no direct dealings with his creation can manage. Every expression of who he is, how he thinks and how he behaves is a projection of how human beings think and behave. That is why he is so maddeningly inconsistent across cultures and even within them, depending on which cult (and they’re all cults), denomination or church claims to be representing him. The Christian God is, like all the others, a human creation and all manifestations of him – including his much vaunted love and the relationship believers claim to have with him – are entirely human too.