Saturday, September 4, 2010

The (Im)possibility of Loving God: A Romance

I was talking with a friend of mine recently. She told me she is only at the "liking stage" with God. "I haven't reached love," she said.

I was taught to love God. Loving God was just something I was supposed to do, like peeing in the potty. At the ripe old age of 5, I asked Jesus to come into my heart. It must have been love, because I had to stay late in the Bible lesson and miss snack time so I could say a prayer with the teacher lady.

Loving God was just something I did. As life went on, I stuck with God for various reasons. Sometimes I loved God to stay out of hell, which was a very real place to me. Looking back, I assume I feared hell more than I loved God. I didn't know what gnashing of teeth was, but it never sounded very pleasant.

I began to realize fear was a poor reason to cling to God. The author of 1 John writes, "We love him, because he first loved us." At some points in my life, I felt some need to be a part of that "we" and convinced myself to love God because God loved me first, not because of fear (1 Jn. 4:18-19). I graduated to loving God because God loved me. I didn't necessarily love God for God's character or personality, but because of God's affection--like adding someone to the Christmas card list because they sent you a card, not because you want to send them a card.

Tonight, I listened to Peter Rollins speaking with Rob Bell at Mars Hill Church up in Michigan (listen here). Bell asked Rollins to speak on love. Rollins said, in effect, you can't love someone you need. You can't have this desire, this longing, this emptiness, this need for someone you don't know, find them, and live happily ever after. Not even God.

If you need something, once you get it, you're fulfilled. Once you get it, you no longer need it. If I desire a glass of water, I drink and then I'm good (until I thirst again, of course). I don't need or desire it anymore. Neither do I love my faucet, because it gives me water. I don't love God because God gives me eternal life or gives me a sense of meaning or because I am supposed to. I don't love God because of any previous need I had, not even a need for God.

"Love is like this: [...] with people, you cannot desire or love someone you've never met, because you've never met them. [...] The romantic truth is this: I never needed you until I met you. But when I met you, I now realize I always needed you. The need is retroactively given" (Peter Rollins).

I've "loved" God for many reasons. I've "needed" God for just as many reasons. But it wasn't until I loved God that I needed God. It wasn't until I was able to conceive of meaning without God that I truly realized God makes sense. It wasn't until I could see beauty and truth in eternal life through progeny that I could receive eternal life from God. When I thought I might not need God for meaning or for eternal life, when I thought I couldn't love God, then I could love God and began to need God. When I began to struggle with loving God, when I began to get mad and reconsider my relationship with God--then I began to love God.

It has been touch and go since. I meet God often and a need for this God is retroactively given. Then I meet God again, realizing the God I met earlier is not the God I am now meeting and a new need is given. I continually realize the God is not the God I thought I knew. I guess that's what happens when you love someone: you begin to know them, again and again, and they always seem new to you and you always need that person.

I'm not always happy with the God I meet. God's not always happy with the me God meets. Now we need each other, because we once didn't need each other. If not for the possibility that one day we could meet anew and no longer need and no longer desire--if not for the possibility of divorce--then we wouldn't be bound so tightly together in a dynamic relationship.

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