Do you remember the first time you ever hear that sentence? Probably not—most likely it was first spoken by a parent or loved one when you were just a baby. It is doubtful you would remember the first 100 times you heard those words. And even if you recall, you didn’t know what it meant at the time.
As you grew, you heard it over and over. Books, plays, movies, real life. Sometimes directed at you—often overheard throughout living. And with the re-telling, the phrase’s significance grew—we understood it meant something. We learned in the second-grade it was a weapon: “Johnnie loves Sally! Johnnie loves Sally!” We learned as teenagers it had consequence, avoiding the “L” word until one’s relationship reached a certain commitment level. We learned it had impact.
Eventually learning it can be a hard word to implement.
Growing up, we understood (even when we didn’t like it) our parents loved us when they punished us. They explained it. They didn’t give us everything we wanted when we wanted it, but there was love. Once we had children of our own, we understood (and hopefully attempted to communicate) we love them when distributing punishment or withholding their demands.
We learned it loving others romantically. It is the reason we cry (or some of us) when the climatic scene finally arrives in the movie: “Because……….I love you!”
Certain phrases are jarring contrasted with “love;” when the wife claims her husband loves her, even though he beats her, we think, “That is wrong!” The boyfriend who stays with a girl after she sleeps around with other guys, claiming he knows she loves him. We shake our head.
All of us, in observing relationships, understand there is a point where we categorize the action as “loving” and where we would claim it is not.
Growing up Christian, we are told, “God Loves you.” We had buttons and bumper stickers; signs and bookmarks. Our No. 1 Hit starts off, “For God so Loved the World…” “Jesus Loves you.” “Jesus Loves the little Children; all the Children of the world.” [Funny, I don’t remember the Holy Spirit doing much loving.] It was the first verse we learned; it was the first song we sung.
It should therefore come with no surprise we reached a point where we thought….well….God loved us. With all that entails within the resounding reverberation and pitch of the word.
Does that mean we thought God would give us whatever we wanted? Of course not—we understood our parents did not, yet still loved. Does that mean we expected to always be happy? Don’t be silly, we understand the commitment of love within a marriage, even though we aren’t always giddy and giggling.
We truly, truly get it—when it comes to love, there would be times God would have to make hard decisions, causing us to not like the results, but we would still be loved. When we were told, “God Loves You”—we didn’t expect an ATM Machine; we expected the word “love” to mean what it means in other similar contexts.
However there is one significant difference. In all our other relationships, we can communicate, with those involved, or with others, to learn, grow and differentiate as to what is love. With God there was only silence. We are left in continual speculation—guessing how this or that conforms to what we understand is love. Sure, others provide their own (conflicting) guesses, but that is all it is—conjecture on the human’s part.
“God, why did my 16 year old son have to die?”
“Is it because he had lived long enough, and you wanted him home?”
“Was it a testimony to others, giving them a chance to get right with you?”
So we grapple and postulate; others giving their own theories, and arrive at some queasy solution. An uneasy restlessness, often wondering if we got it quite right. Always willing to re-evaluate and guess again.
For many deconverts this silence grew into a disconnect; it become more and more difficult to use a word so well understood—“love”—that when applied to God held little-to-no relation to everything we understood the word to mean. A “loving” God would allow ten-year-old boys to be raped by football coaches? And allow it to continue for years because the person involved were people of privilege? That is the BEST a “loving” God could do?
And already I hear some Christian say, “We can’t explain it….but maybe _________” and then provide some poor excuse for God’s absence. If you can’t explain it—shut up. Shut up with your easy explanation of “Why God allows kids to starve in Africa” when your car is strewn with McDonald’s wrappers. Shut up with your theologically overbearing rationalization as to why a “loving God” allows this atrocity or that tragedy because we are too insignificant to understand such a infinite creature.
If that is your excuse, stop saying “God loves you.” Because even you aren’t buying the product.
Over at Black, White and Gray, ,Bradley Wright is doing a series of posts regarding deconversion. (The first is here.) In this recent installment, he discusses an observed reason for deconversion—namely a “God who Failed Deconverts” by not answering prayer.
I am struck by how much these accounts resonate with sociological theories of human relationships, especially those coming from social exchange theory. This theory describes humans as judging the value of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. One variation of social exchange theory, termed equity theory, holds that people are satisfied with their relationships when they get the rewards that they feel are proportional to the costs that they bear. An inequitable is unstable, and it usually occurs because a person thinks they receive too little for how much they give.
Many of the testimonies given by former Christians described a broken relationship with God as one might talk about a marital divorce. They are emotional, even bitter at times. They contain the language of inequality. The writers did so much for God – praying, attending church, following God – but God did not do enough in return.
As usual with Christians attempting to understand deconversion, (and with genuine respect) Bradley Wright doesn’t get it.
We didn’t gauge God as, “I didn’t get enough for what I put into it.” We realized it made no sense to call God “loving” when the results we saw were nothing but. It is the abused spouse coming to terms that one doesn’t beat one’s wife, and receive approval for being “loving.” They must stop making excuses for the spouse.
In the same way, we came to terms with the fact we were making excuses for God. We, too, were trying to explain away these actions as loving—actions we would never accept the label of “love” in any other relationship. We, too, tried to apologize for God, using weighty meaningless terms, but our own words were now ringing as hollow.
We didn’t abandoned belief in God, because we weren’t getting what we wanted; we came to realize the patent ridiculousness of fitting the word “love” (and a whole host of other words) to a creature we immediately and in complete contradiction, claimed we did not understand. One who was silent when asked. One who allows any human, anywhere to make excuses for it, without support, disapproval or response of any kind.
We realized the true difference between the Christian’s “loving God” without plausible explanation and a God who doesn’t exist. None. No difference at all, except the growing recognition “no God” makes a whole lot more sense than “a loving God who doesn’t act loving, but we assume he IS loving, because any other possibility is too scary to even contemplate.”
It was not a divorce. In a divorce, the other person is still alive. There is still a relationship, an understanding of past love, and the possibility of future love with another.
This is a death. We see now God was never there.
God is gone, not an ex-spouse.