What does theology have to do with love?

A Reflection from March 8, 2020 on John 3:1-17 | Jesus tells a religious leader about love

This week’s reflection begins with a short diatribe, but stick with me because it’s all a roundabout way of telling you what theology has to do with love.

Now, I have heard several pastors/priests/ministers give the advice about preaching, that nobody who goes to church on Sunday wants to hear about theology in the sermon.

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Perhaps I’m just stubborn (no, you are!) but I refuse to accept this advice. First of all, it’s the job of church leaders not just to educate people about religious things, but to help shape people’s desires so that we love what is good and right and true (i.e. God and God’s goodness manifest in creation). So if Christians don’t love theology, whose fault is that? Secondly, if people don’t think they like theology, it’s probably because their church leaders didn’t ever say what’s so amazing about it!

So what’s so amazing about theology? Well, inasmuch as theology is the study of GOD, theology is really all about LOVE! Let me explain.

One of the reasons that the Bible is so important for Christians is that it is the basis for all the claims made about who God is. In particular, the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, make claims about who Jesus is as God incarnate. What this means is that the human God (that’s Jesus) makes known to other humans (that’s us) what is most important about God.

With that in mind, we should listen closely when Jesus says things like, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In this powerful statement, often quoted only in part, Jesus reveals how he is part of God’s plan of salvation for us, but even more importantly, why God would want to save us in the first place–namely, because of God’s unconditional love for the whole world. The theological principle that describes this unconditional love is ‘grace.’

This verse has become a popular slogan at football games and other sporting events.

The message of grace says that our God is a God of love. Moreover, everything Jesus does to reveal God to humans, by becoming human himself, indicates that God wants us to know that love in our own lives.

As I talked about in last week’s reflection, sin is the greatest threat to love. But it’s really important to note that sin is what prevents us from loving God and God’s creation (including each other and the created world); sin is not what prevents God from loving us. I’ll say it again: sin is not what prevents God from loving us. And we know this because Jesus said in John 3:16-17 that he came because God loves us and intends, not to condemn us, but to save us.

I’ll give a new copy of “On the Incarnation,” by Athanasius of Alexandria to the first person who can count all of the theological claims I just made. Here’s a hint: I claimed that God is a God of love, that Jesus is the full revelation of God’s love, that Jesus came to restore us to relationship with God because God loves us unconditionally, and that this is the message of grace. What’s amazing about theology is that it tells us all this! Theology is all about love (whether you love theology or not!) because God is all about love.

What do you think? Share your thoughts about theology, love, and grace in the comments.

Athanasius of Alexandria – 296-373

John 3:1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”