Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Love and Suffering

Today is Speak Up For Universalism Day -- a day designed to coincide with the publication of Rob Bell's new book Love Wins:  A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  This new book espouses the view that God's love is all embracing, leaving no one out.  It is being greeted as heresy in some circles, and as a daring new teaching in others.  Among Unitarian Universalists, however, this is one of our foundational theological assertions.  The Universalist church has always maintained that "God is love" and that that love knows no bounds.

A colleague of mine posted this on FaceBook:
How can we affirm all-embracing inescapable love as the most powerful force of the universe in the face of catastrophe, with Japanese bodies washing ashore in the thousands and nuclear meltdown threatening? We do not know the answers, but we know they have something to do with our hearts breaking for all the suffering in the world. The truth that "love wins" does not mean there is universal happiness. Suffering is not noble, but it is a fact of life and the recognition of it connects us around the world.

I responded that I had once heard someone say "If God is Love, then God can do only what Love can do." This is still saying quite a lot -- love is a very powerful force -- but it is not all-powerful. An "all-embracing inescapable love" cannot control tectonic plates, but it can comfort and console the suffering of those devestated by an event such as the ongoin tragedy in Japan. And it can move observers to action.

I like the metaphor of God-as-Parent.  A parent cares for her or his children, wants the best for them, longs to see them happy and healthy.  The bottom line, though, is that children have their own (free) will and can make their own choices.  A truly loving parent recognizes that and gives their children the freedom to grow and develop in his or her own way.  She watches them, cares for them, celebrates them and consoles them, but does not even try to control them.

So too, I think, with God.  What kind of God would control every facet of our life and living?  An overly-controlling God, that's what.  And what kind of God would cause bad things to happen, even if they "teach a lesson"?  A cruel and caricious one, that's what.  I simply cannot believe in a God like that; such a "God" doesn't deserve the name.

We Universalists have always asserted that God is love and that this love knows no bounds.  It holds us, but doesn't control us.  It fuels our living, but doesn't force us to suffer for the sake of some inscruitable "plan."

I have summarized my theology with this phrase:  We are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love."  This love, which binds us together, is what I call "God."  And it is there in Japan, and in your own heart, too.

In Gassho,

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1 comment:

David said...

This one slapped me in the face, Erik. I don't know why I needed this so badly right now, but... thanks. :-)