One of my friends, who is also in the philosophy class I help teach, emailed me several weeks ago asking why God loves us? It’s a great question. In light of our sin and the darkness within us why would a perfectly moral and holy being love us? I responded to her question and I thought I’d share it online here. So, to jump to the end and give you my answer up front: I have no idea why God loves us.
This is one of those things that you can surely put the puzzle pieces together to say that God is just and that God is loving. Any philosophy of religion text or systematic theology can articulate the theological coherence of these things. The hardest thing about this is that, like you, I still don’t get it. It’s certainly not a simple answer in my opinion. I’m an existentialist at heart. I think we find ourselves on the scene thrusted into existence without any ability to say otherwise. We just show up. Thus, we need to discover the essence of who we are (hence, existence precedes essence). Contrary to the secular existentialist the Christian doesn’t construct his own essence… he discovers it. Then, like the secular existentialist, the Christian revolves his life around this essence. What is that for the Christian? God. God is the one whom’s essence is imbued to us. Our meaning, value, and purpose rests in God’s willing this. It is because of God’s desire to enjoy us that we exist. We find ourselves on scene at an epistemic distance from God. One of the atheists from the audience at the VT debate asked me afterwards, “Why hasn’t God revealed himself to me? Why is God so hidden?” You know, it’s that hiddenness of God that makes this search for the discovery of the unveiling of our essence so romantic. What’s a love, which is so easy to know in full display? How boring would that be? This would satisfy you on a first date. All you ever needed to know was given to you at once. Why pursue further relationship? Why engage in the romantic pursuit of intimacy? I think it’s obvious that God doesn’t do this. He keeps himself veiled on purpose. Thus, the reason why we don’t see “Made by God” on every atom and quark and the reason why we don’t know the reason for every pain is because God has deliberately distanced himself and appropriated his revelation to us–enough for each individual to know him. Paradoxically, this epistemic distance was meant for a dual relentless pursuit of love between God and man is what we have used to distort God’s intended pleasures. In CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes to his nephew, Wormwood:
“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground (God’s ground). I know we have won many a souls through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures, which our Enemy (God) has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.”
These illicit pleasures return nothing to the soul. When we enjoy the commands of God and his pursuit of us and our pursuit of him these pleasures yield fruit. This fruit is the romantic love met with satisfaction that yields greater desires for more of Him. One of my favorite attributes of God, if not my favorite, is his jealousy. God is a jealous God. Think about that. When we pursue these pleasures apart from God and against his intentions we reap nothing. When I mean nothing I don’t mean a null neutral. When I say nothing I mean that our pleasures don’t yield the fruit our intentions had in mind. These illicit pleasures are akin to a parched man swimming in a cool spring and trying to drink the water but every attempt does not allow him to drink. He tries and tries but never tastes the water nor does he ever feel the cool wet feel on his tongue. It’s a tormenting frustration. We disguise this frustration as if it does satisfy but we really know that the only satisfaction rests with God. That’s what I mean by nothing. When God sees us abusing his intended pleasures he becomes jealous and wants to be the object of our desires. We waste our pleasures on things of the wind, as said in Ecclesiastes. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
So why does God still love us when we exploit his intended pleasures, while we run the other way when he pursues? —I have no idea.