Christians have some explaining to do. They claim that God is loving but He just seems to be judgmental. They say He loves everyone then they start categorizing people as 'right' and 'wrong'.
When they say that God loves the world, or that God is love, how can they also say that he doesn't like the things we do? If God is so loving, wouldn't He accept me no matter what? And if He accepts me, then He also is fine with what I do.
It's inconsistent to try to say otherwise. Love and approval are inextricably linked.
You see this in your closest friendships. When you feel weighed down by 'the always puzzle of living and doing' and you just want someone who is 'there for you'. In a world of various hostilities, judgments, our own insecurities and inadequacies, what we want most of all is someone to tell us that we are okay.
This goes some way towards the idea of unconditional love. If someone is going to love me, that love needs to be big enough to envelope all of my scuffed edges and those parts of me that are held together by duct tape. If it's real love, it can't be based on me being strong enough, smart enough, or some category in their mind of good enough. It needs to be love that is affectionate to me no matter what.
I don't know how much experience you have with camera tripods. The concept is simple enough â three legs on the ground that hold your camera steady for a photo. You might have stood in front of one for a family picture, or even been the one who starts the timer before running around in front to your place in the group shot.
The beauty of a tripod is that with three points on the earth you can make a stable place for your camera. It would not be enough to have just two, even less so to have just one, but three points make it steady.
Of course each leg has the same goal as the others, they contribute to the common purpose. But it does not follow that since their goal is uniform, that they can be collapsed into one object. A one legged tripod is a pole, and a pole does not stand well on its own.
The same with love
It's the same with love. There is a commonality to love and approval, but collapsing the two together means we lose the unique aspects of each. Love and approval are inextricably linked, but they are not indistinguishably linked.
Because even unconditional love can't give us blanket-approval. Love necessarily disagrees with some things we do. Your best friend can't sit by while you make destructive life choices, your parents can't just shrug it off when they see you going down a dangerous road. Love isn't a mindless acceptance of every thing we do, and deep down we know we don't actually want it to be.
Love intervenes in the shrapnel of someone's terrible decisions. Love cares enough to want the best for another. Love has the difficult conversation out of concern, out of care.
Which is not to say that every instance of disapproval is love or is even necessarily valid. But when we simplify love to approval, we shortchange ourselves from its true depth and significance.
Because if you do find someone who never has concerns about your choices or actions you have either met an enemy or a stranger.
When Christians say that God loves the world, they mean it. They mean that He is fiercely affectionate for the human race, that our good is tied closely to His heart. God loves us too much to be disinterested with our choices and bevahiours, He loves us enough to want what is best for us.
God's love is strong enough to accept us with our blemishes and inadequacies, in fact it's strong enough to readily die for people who were His enemies. But it's also substantial enough to not just tell us that we are fine and doing everything right, but it takes us by the hand and leads us into truth, beauty, and a wholeness of life.
In love, God leads us home to a country we would not have been able to describe or desire on our own. And teaches us a language that doesn't come naturally to our mouths. Yet the more He changes us to be citizens of this new place, we don't become less of ourselves, but more.
When we were far away we didn't need to be told that we were home, but we needed to be taken by the hand and lead back to where we truly belong.
Sam Manchester is currently a theology student with an inescapable sociology degree behind him. In an attempt to reconcile the two, he reflects and writes about their coalescence in everyday life.
Sam's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-manchester.html