If You Love Me…

As Christians we always used to talk about unconditional love, divine love, so-called Agape love. God loved us SOoooo MUCH that he had himself incarnated and executed in a most ostentatious manner on our behalf so that he wouldn’t have to kill us, even while we were still his enemies.

And remind me again: Why would I want to be his friend? Other than him guilt-tripping me, that is. I should have had a clue, from the shame that story evoked, that it probably wasn’t good for me. But that’s not really what’s on my mind today.

We described this as God’s unconditional love, a concept that came to its full expression in New Testament theology—a supremely artful display of repackaging if I do say so myself. No longer do we have to relate to the volatile and demanding war god of the Old Testament. No, Jesus has fulfilled the law, has paid the debt of sin on our behalf, and now we bask in his unconditional acceptance and support (properly defined, of course). Whereas the Old-Testament God was fearsome, Jesus is pure love.

So I was thinking about the following Bible passage recently:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

John 14:15-16,21

Turns out God’s love has conditions after all, even in the New Testament. Hmm… Who would’a thunk it?

Explain to me again how this is not abusive?

This is also part of the cult mindset. Note that you’re not allowed proper skepticism. You’re not allowed to evaluate Christianity’s claims as an outsider. No, it’s only after you keep Jesus’s commands and prove that you love him that he shows himself to you.

This is a sure step onto the slide of cognitive dissonance down toward self-justification. Once you accept the truth claims of faith and act on them, only then do you get the discernment of the Holy Spirit and are able to see God revealed in your life.

But at that point, you are literally not focusing on the truth. Rather, you’re focusing on the story and how it makes you feel.

A side note on “Agape love.” This is named after a Koine Greek word that we claimed was invented just for this purpose, as a different, more perfect kind of love. As it turns out, that’s not true. The Greek word agapaô mean, simply, “to love,” synonymous with phileô (from which we get English words beginning with philo-). Turns out, the story started with a completely different word, kuneô, meaning “to kiss.” It sounded a lot like kueô, meaning “to be pregnant.” This led to quite a lot of unsavory puns. So people started using phileô to refer to kissing and started using agapaô more often to distinguish it from loving. So you could choose either word, agapaô or phileô, to describe love.

In general, I get pretty disgusted with ads and other sermons that claim that the ancient Greeks had “four different words for love” or some such nonsense, as though we in English don’t have that depth of expression because we only have one word. If you doubt me, check out a thesaurus. (And yes, the ancient Greeks also had far more than four ways to refer to love.)