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Do Christians Really Love God?

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A Guest Post by John

Do Christians really love God?

I was thinking about this recently and wondered, when I was a Christian, did I really love God? At the time, I believed that I did. But on this side of things, I realize it was a pretty weird and one-sided relationship. It certainly didn’t start out with me loving God. I was a 12-year-old at a YMCA summer camp in 1980. Most of the camp counselors were either Bible school students or just really devout Christians. One night towards the end of the session, all the campers assembled around a huge fire. It was during this time that the gospel was preached to us; a gospel that basically said because of Adam and Eve, we are all sinners; Jesus came and died and was resurrected to pay for our sins; if we believe this and confess him as Lord, we get to go to heaven instead of hell. Hell was described in Evangelical language: eternal burning in torment kind of thing. Well, shit! When they asked if we wanted to pray the prayer of salvation so we would go to heaven, of course, I prayed the prayer! I entered into this relationship with God not out of love, but out of fear. I can’t say that I ever thought about loving God until after college when I started hanging out with some Bible school students that I worked with.

And then there is the whole thing about being commanded to love God. In Mark 12, people are told to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” What does that mean, exactly? I’m not sure that I love anyone to that extent. What is the difference between heart and soul? And how do I love with all my mind and strength? What kind of strength are we talking about? And, can you love someone just because you are told to? I don’t think you can. Can you love someone that you’ve never seen or heard from? Mmmm . . . again, I don’t think so. I thought many times in my Christian days that God had communicated with me about something. But now, I realize it was just me talking to myself, or it was just my natural human intuition. It was all a one-sided relationship. I do remember being thankful, and thinking I loved God because he saved me from hell. But he saved me from the hell that he created. That sounds suspicious! I don’t believe in hell anymore, but you know what I mean.

I try not to think of all the money and volunteer time I gave to the church. Of course, the main reason I was told that this is what I was supposed to do is because I loved God. And, God loved me so much that he would reward me in this life and the one to come because of my love and dedication to him in the present. Yeah, still waiting for some of that. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed most of my time as a Christian in the churches I attended and my days in ministry. But looking back, there was a lot of manipulation and brainwashing going on. Think about the worship songs we used to sing. How many songs did we sing about how much we love God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?

I love you Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you,
Oh my soul rejoice.
Take joy my king
In what you hear,
Let it be a sweet,
Sweet sound in your ear.

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And there is no shortage of songs just like this one. And don’t forget all the songs about how much God loves us. It’s like we had to keep this in front of us all the time so we wouldn’t start questioning God’s love or if we really loved him. Or was I really just trying to avoid hell and some kind of punishment while I’m on this earth? Again, at that time, I would have told you that I loved God and was doing my best to love him more all the time. But when I really re-visit the things I did and believed, there were selfish reasons for doing so. Number one, I didn’t want to go to hell — thus my initial salvation and many rededications through my teen years. I tithed and gave because I loved God and my church, but I also was taught, and preached, the prosperity gospel. You reap what you sow, right? So if I sow money, I’ll reap money. It might be raises at work, or a better job, or my car wouldn’t break down, or something like that. But I can’t honestly say there was no thought of that in my giving. I wanted to know and live God’s plan for my life. Yes, because I loved him and wanted to do what he created me to do. But part of that was I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I figured if God really had a plan, surely I would enjoy it more than how my life was at the time.

Interestingly enough about that last part — God’s plan for my life — I’ve found life much more fulfilling now that I’ve left the faith. When I was a believer, I was always waiting for some kind of divine guidance to get me from where I was to where I thought I’d be happier. So I was never really present in the life I was living day to day. And the fact that I couldn’t seem to figure out God’s plan for my life only made it worse. Now, I’m present in my daily life, doing what’s in front of me to do. I’ve benefited greatly from secular Buddhist and Taoist philosophies regarding mindfulness and all that goes along with that. Is life perfect? Of course not! I work a pretty stressful job, I’m dealing with stress at home, I have some health issues I’m working through, etc. But I have tools to help deal with life that I never had as a Christian. And they are much more effective than prayer ever was! And I can say that I’m much healthier mentally and emotionally than I ever was chasing after God and his plan and working on loving him more.
So to answer my initial question, do believers really love God, especially the way the Bible says we should? I’d love to hear your thoughts and about your experiences with this.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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
    MJ Lisbeth

    John, you have delved into a question almost nobody in Christianity asks, or answers in a way that is honest or not a non-sequitir: How and why do we love God?

    In particular, I was struck by this: “Can we love someone just because you are told to? I don’t think you can.”’ I don’t think you can, either; I don’t think love can come from coercion or fear. And that, to me is one of the problems with the Christian love of God.

    While, as I said earlier, Christians almost never answer the question,’for every one who is disingenuous,’there are many more who, I believe, can’t answer it because their whole concept of loving God all but precludes such an answer. If your idea of loving God is based on something that isn’t a basis of love,‘how can you examine what “loving God” actually means?

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    I relate to this so much. I just had the conscious thought the other day where I finally could tell myself, “I don’t love God. I don’t love Jesus.” This issue was one of the breaking points for me. If there is a personal relationship with God, then it’s a toxic one where I do all the work and bear all the consequence for the state of it. So I just stopped. I stopped praying. I stopped talking to God and seeking him. If he loves me so much, he knows where to find me. So far, crickets. I also have started my journey with Buddhist teachings on mindfulness. I find it very helpful. I also feel so much more whole now than I ever did as a Christian. Appreciate your post, John.

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      Hi Sarah, thank you so much for your input! I love that you are being helped by Buddhist mindfulness! It really makes a positive difference in peoples lives.

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    I too appreciated and enjoyed your thoughts, John. Like you – and others here – I wonder now it took me so long to see that my ‘loving relationship’ with jesus, wasn’t a relationship at all, relationships are two-way. Thanking him daily for dying on the cross for me, wasn’t a two-way communication. He never responded to my gratitude in any way at all. How did it take me so long to realise that prayer was actually ‘talking to the ceiling’, that his amazing plan for my life was a fantasy…..I suddenly saw that ‘s*** happens’ to everyone on this planet, and when it does, our loving (fictitious) saviour is conspicuous by his absence.

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      Hi Matilda! Thank you so much for your comments. I love your last sentence! Yes, shit does happen to everyone on this planet. And yes, our loving saviour is absent. One thing that I keep seeing in my study of various philosophies (Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, etc) is that when people realize that the same shit happens to everyone, it’s much easier to have compassion and empathy for people.

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    Benny S

    This reminds me of my mid-80s deep plunge into fundamentalism. My pentecostal church had an associate pastor who, every Sunday at the end of worship time, would say: “If YOU love God, say ‘Amen’!” Even then, I couldn’t help but feel totally manipulated during those moments. Because if I wasn’t in the right mood to parrot “Amen” but instead felt more inclined to remain silent, it supposedly signaled to the people around me that I (apparently) didn’t love God. It still pisses me off to this day whenever I hear someone say: “If YOU love God, (do X, Y or Z).”

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    Thank you for sharing, John. One huge question I asked myself during my deconstruction was did I actually LOVE God or was I just afraid of him? The honest answer was that I was afraid of him. As a Christian, try as I might, I could never figure out what God’s plan or will for my life was. Eventually, I came to see that evidence leads in the direction that it was all made up.

  6. Avatar

    That’s a really interesting, and something I haven’t overtly considered. Let me posit this, that the only god that exists that would be any sort of personality in which a love interaction could occur is the god of the 3 lb universe: the human brain. The voice of god is easy, reflective thought is done in your own language and you’re merely communicating with yourself. To get god, just lower your internal voice an octave an voila! Instant God. “He” is perfect. Your beliefs, prejudices and ideas, are also His. Most people, I presume, love themselves, so to love God is just an extension of the self love that is a common human attribute.

    The second aspect of God is the like minded community that reinforces the shared notion of God. This works as a positive feedback loop to create the illusion that God is more than just one individual’s brain. By sharing the same notion of what God is, all participant’s beliefs are amplified. The question again is answered by the obvious. Most people love the people in their immediate community. Typically families, friends, and other non hostile actors. The love of the community is misattributed as the love of God.

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