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god is love

First John 4:8 states:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

This is the one verse most Christians hang their hat on. God is love. He is the embodiment of what love is. When pressed to explain exactly what this love is, most Christians will quote the most familiar verse in the Bible, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

According to most Christians, God’s love for humanity is demonstrated by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus took upon himself all the sins of the human race — past, present, and future. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, human sin was atoned for, and if we put our faith and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our sins will be forgiven, we will be given a new life, and when we die, we will have a guaranteed room in Hotel Heaven.

Rarely do Christians take a hard look at the back story behind the belief that God’s love is demonstrated in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Why do our sins need to be atoned for? How did humans become sinners? Who is responsible for humans becoming sinners?

According to orthodox Christian belief, God is the first cause of everything. He is the sovereign ruler of all. All orthodox sects believe, be they Arminian or Calvinist, that God is in control of everything — including the Coronavirus. There’s nothing that escapes his control. It is rightly posited that if there are things that God is not in control of then God ceases to be God.

If God is the first cause of everything, then God is the author of sin. Most Christians are repulsed by the very thought of God being the author of sin, but if God is the first cause of everything, EVERYTHING includes sin.

Many Calvinists understand this and are not ashamed to state that God is the author of sin. Other Calvinists, the squeamish type, develop lapsarian views to distance themselves from the view that God is the author of sin.  The chart below illustrates the various lapsarian views Calvinists have:

lapsarian views

Arminian sects roundly reject the notion that God is the author of sin. They fail, however, to adequately explain how God can be the first cause of EVERYTHING and yet not be the author of sin.

Arminians believe that God created humans with free will. However, when pressed on whether humans have naked, autonomous free will, most Arminians will say no. Like the Calvinist, the Arminian believes that salvation is God’s choice of a sinner, not a sinner’s choice of God. No one is saved unless God saves them.

Arminians believe in what is called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is:

Divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.

Calvinists and Arminians savage one another over free will, yet when it comes to salvation, both agree it is in the hands of God and no human, unaided by God, can be saved. Both agree:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

So then, the love that God demonstrates to humans through the merit and work of Jesus Christ on the cross is needed by humans because God caused them or allowed them to be marred by sin. God made us sinners so we would need his love. Wouldn’t it have been better for all of us if God had not made us sinners?

When these kind of questions are asked, Christians often reply:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8,9)

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? (Romans 9:19,20)

Simply put, God is God, and you are not God, so shut the hell up. How dare you question God’s purpose and plan.

One the biggest obstacles to the notion that God is Love, is that the God of the Old Testament is anything but a God of love. Many modern Christians realize that the God of the Old Testament is problematic, so they distance themselves from this God and emphasize Jesus, the God of the New Testament.

Several years ago, a commenter on another blog told me that the God of the New Testament is a more mature God or that perhaps our understanding of God has matured. I reminded this commenter that the Bible says:

For I am the Lord, I change not . . . (Malachi 3:6)

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

All orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is God — that Jesus was God, is God, and will always be God. Let me chase a rabbit for a moment. Is the Bible really clear about the notion that Jesus will always be God? Consider 1 Corinthians 15:24-28:

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

Few Christians are even aware of this verse, and they can go a whole lifetime without ever hearing a pastor or a Sunday school teacher talk about it. According to this passage, when all of God’s enemies and death have been destroyed, Jesus, the Son, will be subject to God the Father. To be subject to someone means that the person you are subject to is superior to you in rank, power, and authority. If the Trinitarian God, the Great Three-in-One, are each equal with the other, why then is Jesus shown to be inferior to God the Father in the passage above?

Ok, rabbit trail ended.

Many Christians know that the Old Testament God is antithetical to the Christian message of God is love, so they focus on Jesus’ hypostatic union — fully man and fully God.

While a case can be made for the Jesus God in the New Testament being a huge improvement over the God of the Old Testament, how can the Jesus God be split from the Old Testament God and any sense of Christian orthodoxy retained? Wanting something to be so doesn’t make it so. Wanting to present to the world a kinder, gentler God is commendable, but it is theologically untenable.

Many Christians suggest the Old Testament God and the Jesus God of the New Testament are two sides of the same coin. Yes, God is love, but God is also a bad-ass that carries a Buford Pusser-sized stick that he uses to beat and kill all those who oppose him or get in his way.

This brings us to the book of Revelation. Whatever kind of God Jesus really was in the gospels is swept away, and Jesus, in perfect acting form, behaves like God the Father, the God of the Old Testament. Let me give readers a few examples.

In Revelation 5, we find Jesus, the Lamb, opening six seals on a book.

  • Seal one: behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
  • Seal two: And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
  • Seal three: lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
  • Seal four: behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
  • Seal five: I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held…and white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
  • Seal six: there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth…and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

Revelation 5 ends with this statement:

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

men of mayhem

In the hit TV show Sons of Anarchy — a show about a California-based motorcycle gang — the Sons of Anarchy refer to death as being Mister Mayhem. When a member sheds blood in the interest of the club he is given a Men of Mayhem patch.

Speaking of Jesus, in Revelation 1:18, the Bible states:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

Based on this verse and Revelation 5, Jesus, the supposed God of Love, is Mister Mayhem. While he may be on a temporary mayhem vacation, Mister Mayhem will return and go all Buford Pusser or Sons of Anarchy on those who are not Christians.

In Revelation 19 we see Jesus the Loving God returning to earth on a white horse to exact judgment on those who survived all the previous judgment he poured out on the earth. When Jesus is finished, no one will be left. All the Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, Gnostics, Animists, Homosexuals, Pagans, Democrats, Socialists, and St Louis Cardinal fans will be dead.

Praise be to Jesus, the God of Love, yes?

While I will certainly admit that God, as presented in the Bible, does love, it is a warped, self-serving conditional love. God says to humanity, believe the right things, live a certain way, and I will love you. If you fail to believe the right things and live a certain way, I will kill you, and judge you in this life and the life to come. (See Does God Love Us Unconditionally?)

How is this love? If any human acted towards someone as God does towards humans in the Bible, we would rightly conclude that he is an immoral psychopath. Decent, loving people do not treat fellow humans the way God treats those who don’t believe the right things or live a certain way. God even abuses and misuses those who say they love him and want to serve him. Why? Because he wants to chastise them, test them, or make them “stronger.”

God is Love is a myth that helps loving, kind, caring Christians reconcile the God of the Bible with how they think people should be treated. They are guilty of compartmentalizing God, ignoring any divine character trait that does not mesh with their view of God. While I understand WHY many Christians do this, such compartmentalization turns the Bible into an incoherent text that is little more than a poorly written horror story. This is why many of us decided that whatever God there may or may not be, the Christian God is not one we wanted to worship.

But, Bruce, I WANT to believe God is love . . . I NEED to believe God is love. Fine, that is your prerogative. Personally, I think progressive and liberal Christians do a wonderful work in the name of the God of Love. However, once a person appeals to the Bible, such a belief about God is impossible to rationally and theologically sustain. Just stay away from the Bible and all will be well.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    “How is this love? If any human acted towards another like God does towards humans in the Bible, we would rightly conclude that they are an immoral psychopath.”

    When you begin to think that humans are perhaps more moral than God, i.e. would you punish someone for ever and ever? Even if they were really evil? What if they simply didn’t like you or you didn’t like them much? When you begin to think like that God suddenly becomes pretty bad pretty soon.

    One of the first more blasphemous things I unintentionally read was Jung. Jung has some interesting and sometimes rather weird things to say. He was interested in Gnosticism and the occult. I read the book because I’m interested in psychology and I had become interested in his ideas after seeing A Dangerous Method. I like movies about psychology, another one I can recommend is Neverwas.

    I intend to read Answer to Job sometime, but have read Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In it he poses the question whether Jesus sent God not to redeem humankind with God but rather the other way around. Jung mentions how evil the God of the OT is and wonders if he perhaps regretted his actions, sending Jesus as redemption, as atonement for His sins…

    When I first read that I was a bit flabergasted and shocked, yet the idea strangely appealled to me. God atoning for His mistakes…. with the connection to Job. The book of Job is rather special and portrays God as a very appalling figure. Making a bet with Satan, looking on like it is some sort of play…. Never mind that he loses everything he has. God and Satan are having a ball watching Job’s life crumble to pieces… I felt pretty bad agreeing with Jung, thinking such evil things about God. It was one of the first moments where I realized my opinion of God was changing. That if I really asked myself what I really thought about God it wasn’t all good and grateful.

  2. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Again, you lucidly show the contradictory mess of creedal Christianity, of many of the doctrinal leaders’ hypocrisy or compartmentalization, of how all Christians are cherry-pickers or turd-grabbers when it comes to the Bible.

    But, Bruce, this isn’t only a characteristic of creedal Christians…

    It’s true of all of us humans to one degree or another.
    After I finally became convinced that Christianity can’t be true 3 years ago, I started searching for a new worldview, an honest non-contradictory place for fellowship and to work for human rights and equality, etc. for others.

    To be honest, so far I’ve not found one. It appears that all the human “houses” seem to have broken glass and false fronts.

    That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to give up, but I do think all humans do major in some of the same faults that Christians major in.

    For instance, the past few weeks, I was checking out another possible worldview to become involved in. It has many goo points, avoids some of the worst aspects of creedal Christianity.
    But then today, I found out something really bad about major leaders in the worldview.
    Sound familiar.

    Also, on the other hand, keep in mind that some people within various groups including Christianity,
    manage to let light and goodness and compassion shine through them despite the bad structure and bad failings of leaders.

    It all gets complicated.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Sometimes, when I am doing a home improvement project I have to shop at Menards, Lowes, Home Depot, and the local hardware store to get everything I need to finish the project.

      I have concluded that life is often like a home improvement project. ?

  3. Avatar

    I recall doing a Christian crossword puzzle with the hint: “A synonym for love”, the three letter answer GOD. This provoked more thought than the author of the puzzle intended I’m sure. So God=Love like some kind of mathematical equation. The corollary to this when one does the transposition to the word “God” in the Bible one gets all kind of interesting theological insights. For example Love creates the universe (makes sense I guess, needed someone and something to love), Love kills almost every air breathing living thing in a global flood. Love mixes up human’s languages to keep humans from building a tower. Love harrasses Job by killing his kids to prove something to Satan. The list of absurdities goes on.
    Since God=Love, this also means God can not be anything except love. For example you can’t have love with a little bit of hate thrown in, so I’m going to say you can’t throw in anything else. Though I suppose Christians identify God as a personality, can love have a personality? Is love omnipotent, omnipresent, and bizarrely omniscient? According to the Bible love is eloquently defined in 1 Corinthians, does Love=God make the cut?
    I suppose another deep theological question. We athesist who believe in love, does this make us theists of some sort? Is this why Christians say there is no such thing as a true atheist?

  4. Avatar
    SG Yancey

    Perhaps the most obvious mistake the Christian Church makes (and other churches, too) is proposing that the Bible, every word of it, is the Word of God, and thus absolutely infallible, much like claiming the pope is infallible. It’s preposterous. I see the Bible as the history of a people trying to understand the spiritual forces at work inside them and in the world. Love is surely the greatest of these (as it rightly says). And of course LOVE is diametrically opposed to hate, which no rational person would consider a positive force…well, maybe not…today’s world being so fond of violence and all. But these stories were written by human beings, in a context of place and time. Not everything they say is true for us today. Why did they offer up an unblemished lamb? It is giving to god something very important to them, an act of sacrifice. Burning it sent it to the heavens. Good things will happen next, right? Did Christ then become the Holy Lamb, to secure our forgiveness. The unblemished Lamb? Did this make sense to the people back then? And did he willingly lay down his life for the truth? And did good things come out of that sacrifice? Are we still in pursuit of the truth today? Does this mean we should burn our money, or home, even our children, to show God our faith in him? We’re smarter than that. Christ’s message, as much about love as anything, is tainted by the storytellers, who can’t agree on exactly what happened (the gospels being recorded well after his life), and wanting to make him say what they see as the exclusive truth; and for some to demand that faith in him, and only him, will lead to salvation. Given the choices available at that time and place (Greek and Roman gods, and a myriad of others, too I would guess), he was the Way. Sacrifice. Pick up your cross. Love your neighbor. Be honest. Truthful. Caring. Just like The Way of the Buddha. Just like the Tao. There is something happening on this planet, and has been for thousands of years, among people with great COMPASSION for there fellow man. When faith in something greater than ourselves, something we can’t see or even totally understand, such as love, takes root, amazing things happen. Events begin to coincide with the internal struggles of the individual as well as the human race. The universe talks back to us. I don’t understand scientifically the concepts of dark matter and dark energy, but they attempt to explain what is happening to the universe on a cosmic scale. Jung tried to describe a collective unconscious that accounted for the remarkable similarities that exist in very different parts of the world, as he postulated a collective human soul on a planetary scale. Singularly, human beings everywhere try to understand what happens when the breath of life leaves the body, and when a new one is conceived. We don’t have to believe in a Christian heaven or a Buddhist nirvana to wonder what, if anything, comes next. We know energy and matter are never lost or destroyed. They simply change one into the other. BUT WE CAN WONDER. We can recognize the power of love…greater than any instinct or power on earth. The power of creation. The power of life. The power of one living , breathing soul to die for another. Something far greater than ourselves.

    Zen and the Art of Happiness conveys the idea well (not perfectly of course, because the author is human). Open your eyes and you will see. And if you find mistakes in what I’ve said, good! I’m human, too. And if your searching, you will find…the truth as well as the mistakes. Nice talking to you!


  5. Avatar

    Yeah. The God of the Bible is a judging God, and a vengeful God. I used to wonder why Jesus had to die. Explanations that Jesus had to pay the price really don’t make sense. If God is over all things, then why couldn’t he just fix us?

  6. Avatar

    I once knew a pastor who had originally been Jewish. His views had changed and he was a KJV or nothin’ kind of guy when I met him. One evening during a bible study conversation with a bunch of us, he said he really missed the opportunity to dialog with other people they way he had when he was Jewish. That’s what the chart reminds me of. So convoluted and twisted and crazy.
    It seems that some people never get tired of dissecting and pondering theology and ‘what this REALLY means’.
    I get weary when I think about the people who think about it.

  7. Avatar

    I asked too many questions and got back nothing satisfying in return. It all went back to “humans are too stupid to understand God, ask him in heaven, accept it and shut up”.

  8. Avatar

    It amazes me how Christians will tie themselves in knots to try and explain this nonsense as facts. The bible tells us that god is the original abortionist, rapist and murderer. No thanks.

  9. Avatar

    Years ago, actually reading the Bible, chapter by chapter, not just the cherry- picked verses, was a path to no longer believing. It just didn’t hold up.

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Bruce Gerencser