God is not loving. Obedience and fear are more primary to the Christian system than love. Those who obey receive love; those who do not are condemned. Love predicated on obedience is conditional, and if I love you based on a condition, then my love is not really love. Love with strings attached conceals a subtle manipulation: “I will accept you if you give me what I want.” What I love is a feeling state you give me; something I am getting from you, not you. As humans, our love is always imperfect and mixed with conditions on some level. But our standard must be unconditional love: that is the only love there is. If God’s standard is obedience, then God is not love and his love is not real. If god’s love is based on obedience and right belief, god is a narcissist, not a lover. God gives his love to obtain worship. Love given for the sake of worship is a ploy to obtain ego gratification. God is not love because the basis of relationship between human and god in the Bible is obedience. This is because the relational model between god and the cosmos in the Bible is one of a king to his dominion. The kingdom of god is the relational sphere wherein God’s love is given or withheld based on the criteria of obedience and worship (servitude).
The centerpiece of Christianity is obedience to god’s commands, according to Jesus, Paul, Moses, and the prophets. In Genesis, God enacts his kingdom by setting up Adam and Eve as vassal kings to establish his rule over the plants and animals. Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden and punished with death simply because they disobey the king. They commit no moral wrong; the crime is eating a fruit arbitrarily forbidden by the king. God’s kingdom is a reign of terror predicated on fear, not love. The Bible’s constant refrain is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). This is because, in biblical times, most kings were not noble or just. They were authoritarian narcissists who ruled to benefit themselves at the expense of their subjects. They sought worship, fame, and riches. Kings maintained their dominance by instilling fear in their subjects, with severe threats of violent punishment to the disobedient. They gave their love to their subjects if they worshiped the king and fought for him. The biblical god calls himself, “King of King and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:6). He crushes his enemies; all those who do not bow the knee and submit to his ego-reign.
In the book of Job, Job is ravaged by god’s allowance (though Job is faithful), and god rebukes Job for the crime of questioning god (a challenge to his authority). In the Old Testament, God establishes his relationship to his people based on adherence to a set of laws they must obey, or suffer the consequence of foreign invasion, exile, and death. To demonstrate that the main point of these laws is obedience, god commands arbitrary laws that demonstrate devotion and divine ownership apart from any moral benefit, such as circumcision and kosher. God’s law demonstrates that his subjects are his property: “The Lord God has chosen you to be his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). In the gospels, Jesus commands total planetary obedience and expansion of God’s rulership to ever human heart through The Great Commission. In Romans, Paul rebukes those who question god’s justice in condemning people to hell: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20). In the End Times, Jesus destroys nearly the whole planet for the crime of disobedience, which means failing to worship him.
God’s kingdom is not a rulership based on the good of his subjects: it is a brutally violent dominion founded to serve the king’s own ends at the expense of his subjects. This kind of kingdom was common in biblical times, so we can see why biblical people might have imagined their god to be a ruler such as this. There are many places where the Bible sets forth a higher vision of love. Love your neighbor as yourself, for instance, gets closer to the idea of love. But the foundational emphasis of obedience is a more dominant tone. Punishments and rewards of heaven and hell take precedence over love, and punishments and rewards are based on obedience, not love. Christian Universalism is hardly better, for it entails a domination of ideological superiority and conformity that precludes the possibility of freely loving humans. This is still a system of judgment, not love. And Christians (especially fundamentalists) so frequently extend a kind of love similar to their tyrannical king. They love those who obey the church, and those who do not are judged as evil and enemies to be converted for obedience to the king, lest they come under just eternal punishment, or some other form of divine judgment.
Love must be free of conditions. We must love at all costs, even and especially when love seems irrational, impossible, undeserved. The point of love is in its senselessness, its absurd refusal to attach itself to any conditions. This is how we heal our world.
Andrew Jasko, M.Div., speaks about exposing psychological abuses within religion and reclaiming spirituality. Jasko is a former minister, trauma recovery coach, and is working towards his doctorate in clinical psychology.
Contact Andrew: firstname.lastname@example.org