4/2716 Laura, Noah in their 20's
"I believe God is love" a young lady named Laura told us. "Says it right there in 1 John" she added. How could we argue against that? Why would we want to? But is it really that simple? We were talking to Laura and her boyfriend Noah, both early 20's, in a sidewalk Gospel conversation. Laura grew up in a Unitarian Church background, which generally believes all religions are different paths that lead to the same God. She and Noah had told us they believe that there is no existence after we die, so we should make the most of this life while we have it. Her belief that "God is love" - is that "God" is an idea, a rule for living, but nothing more. On the surface, it may sound simply right to just say "God is love" and conclude that all religion, then, should simply cause us to do acts of kindness and love. Who wants to argue against love? But Christianity is more than a religion of pleasant sounding sound bites.
I told Laura that the verse she spoke of is from 1 John which is a letter written specifically to Christians. The verse that reads "…God is love" in 1 John 4:8 goes on to speak not of some vague idea about "God" but of an historical God expressing His love through real, historical events: "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Also, and even more unsettling for universalists, the words "us" and "we" and "our" in that passage don't refer to all people in general but to those of us who have been adopted into God's family through faith in Jesus. A hard and uncomfortable truth of this letter is that not everyone is a child of God. Earlier in his letter John writes "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister." How awkward is that! The same author who penned "God is love" also wrote that some are "children of God" and some are "children of the devil". John's purpose is not to assure all people that they are saved but only those who have put their faith in Christ, a faith which is then expressed in repentance, love and good deeds.
I'm sure some who read this might label me a hater for pointing this out. Lauren didn't appreciate it, and the best we could do in our conversation was "agree to disagree" and move on. But is it really hateful to refuse to ignore the parts of the Bible we don't like? To point out one's false assumptions or mistakes in order to help them in their understanding of the Bible? To help people see the bad news - that they are outside of God's family - so that they can then receive the good news - that they can be reconciled to God and adopted into His family? Is that really being a "hater", or could it be one of the most loving things we could do?