“God is so in love with you that he wrote a love letter to express that love.” Ever hear or read that statement, or perhaps a version of it?
For quite a few years now a concept has spread in the evangelical Christian community and even other Christian traditions including some Roman Catholic ministries, that the Bible is a love letter from God.
Personally I first heard this idea when I was a young adult and eventually heard and read this concept spread and become very popular in many other Christian circles. Coming from the church background I did, this concept had an initial appeal, God’s wrath and judgment seemed to be constantly emphasized, and yet I also found this disturbing to me for reasons I couldn’t quite grasp or articulate. As time has passed I have found this idea taking on the form of common wisdom in most Christian circles, yet I have never read it analyzed or explained. As time has passed I can’t help wonder, is the idea of God’s “passionate love” and the Bible a “love letter” for me truly accurate or even misleading?
In order to address this properly I think it is necessary to come to some common understandings about what we mean when we make those kinds of claims. Language does mean things, but I have found that not everyone thinks the same things when specific words or phrases are used. For example, when I hear the word “passionate” my mind can’t help but conjure up the feelings I have for my wife and the physical way I often express that love. However, I also have a “passionate” love for my children, but that would be an inappropriate term for my affection for them since how I would express that love has much different parameters. Is the level of affection for them the same? Yes, but the nature of that affection would be expressed quite a bit differently.
This is especially true of “love letters”. For me, and I think I can assume most people would agree, a love letter has connotations of romance, physical expressions of affection, and many times explicit statements of intent of affection that would not be appropriate for any other relationship. Most love letters are dedicated completely to the expression of this kind of affection. The Bible certainly communicates the depth of God’s love for his people, and for mankind in general, but the terminology used in scripture is not always positive. For example, when the Bible says God loves his people, it often means necessary correction that doesn’t always have the outward look of affection.
Some would ask, “What’s the problem with this? Don’t we want people to know of God’s deep affection and care for his people?” The answer is of course, yes; and there are places in the Bible that God equates his relationship with his people Israel as a husband and bride. But God also calls them his children and never implies the kind of physical expression that a love letter would contain. Using the “love letter” or “passionate” love concept often misleads people to the belief that because God has that kind of “passion” he will then not allow correction or difficulty into their lives. In the book of Revelation Jesus tells the church at Laodicea that if they don’t change that he will “spit them out of his mouth”! I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen that in too many love letters. We need to take care of the metaphors and allusions that we use, especially the ones we repeat. They communicate important things about the scriptures. I understand the appeal of this kind of romantic notion that people want to believe God has for us. Certainly God loves us….deeply in fact, he gave his only begotten son for us, but that love is of a kind. It is important to ensure we understand that love and communicate it properly. God’s love as indicated in the scriptures has many facets; affection being one of them. There is however often the temptation to simplify God’s love in a way we can understand easily, and I’m not sure that’s helpful. The Bible contains letters, and in a way could be considered a letter to us, and certainly describes God’s love for us but it is not a love letter in the sense that is usually understood.