All Love

by Kim on September 21, 2009

Thanks to the recommendation by Halden Doerge at Inhabitatio Dei - Halden has impeccable theological taste - I’ve just bought and read How to Become a Saint(2007) by the late Jack Bernard. That God is “all love” is the sun around which the author’s down-to-earth understanding of holiness, much inspired by the “being little” spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux, revolves. Here is one of many nicely observed and very wise passages in the book.

“The images we hold of God are the most important ones we have. The images of God that have motivated the church most powerfully toward faithfulness are images of God as love. But there are other images of God. The Bible also contains images of God as a God of righteous wrath. People who have been nurtured on images of God as wrathful judge often have a hard time getting hold of the image of God as love. How do these images fit together? I do not know. I do know that images of God as righteously wrathful must be interpreted through the lens of God as love and not the other way around…

“There are those throughout Christian history and tradition who prefer the righteousness (or justice) of God as the frontline image of God that Christians should attend to… However, when used as the dominant image of God, it does not seem to feed the life of the church over time. Over the long haul, a constant primary emphasis on God’s righteousness and judgment against sinners seems to slide downhill into a perverse image of God who is harsh and demanding and before whom we must scrutinize ourselves and each other constantly. This is not of the Spirit and is death to the life and mission of the church….

“We fulfill God’s righteousness exactly to the degree that we willingly place ourselves into the hands of the God we know to be ‘all love.’ The image of God as all love can elicit self-giving from us in a way that the image of judgment cannot, and self-giving love is the only response that actually leads to righteousness….

“Righteousness must never be used against itself. Righteousness can never put limits on God’s mercy or it is not righteousness. After the argument [with the Pharisees over keeping the Sabbath], Jesus proceeded to heal the man with the withered hand, and the Pharisees went out and conspired to destroy Jesus (Matt. 12:1-14)… Destroying Jesus is the natural consequence of holding an image of God as absolute purity and righteousness without allowing love and mercy to define what righteousness and purity mean….

“This is not an attempt to answer all the obvious ‘But what about …?’ questions… I am not concerned about people taking a unilateral focus on love as an excuse to sin, because I am not writing for people who care nothing about righteousness. I am showing people who care about righteousness how they can believe that God is all love without feeling this belief to be in tension with any other legitimate image of God. We can give ourselves without reservation to God who is all ‘yes’ to love, not ‘yes, but.’”

Jack Bernard, How to Become a Saint (London: SPCK, 2007), pp. 46-49.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


ee 09.21.09 at 12:16 pm

Very helpful and lovely passage. I’ve been having this same epiphany of late - that all aspects of God’s revealed character have to be seen through the lens of love. And it does do wonders for one’s ability and desire to actually then talk to God - because you trust his only thoughts towards you are loving, not kind-of-loving-but-kind-of-out-to-get-you-when-you-balls-up.


Richard 09.21.09 at 1:02 pm

As soon as I’ve finished Theology of Money, I think I’ll be ordering this one. Looks too good to miss.


Kim 09.21.09 at 2:56 pm

Yes, Richard - and it’s a simple (not simplistic) read.

How are you getting on with The Theology of Money. I gather it’s a dense read, but worth the, er, money. Yes?

By the way, unless I’ve got a blind spot, isn’t it about time you had Inhabitatio Dei on your side bar? Just asking.


DH 09.21.09 at 4:59 pm

Kim, I totally agree with what you say here. I believe we need to understand that God’s punichment for sin is love just as much as God holding us in the palm of His hand when we face “trials and tribulations”. We all tend to go overboard between the two emphesis’s and this posting is awesome and a great encouragement to me and I hope others. God in the Trinity is the perfect balance for God’s ultimate Glory. At times God uses righteous wrath in love for His Glory and other times God uses soft love during times of crisis where a comforting word is needed.

Kim, this article perfectly displays what we have discussed before “Lion of Judah” and “Lamb of God”. Remember Kim? :) This post perfectly states what I have said previosly on this. Maybe our discussions have had an impact on each other. :)


Kim 09.21.09 at 5:32 pm

Just the opposite, I’m afraid, DH. I am sure that Bernard would not say, as you do, that Jesus is, on the one hand, the Lion of Judah, and, on the other hand, the Lamb of God. He would say that the the lion imagery must be seen in the light of the lamb imagery, such that the lamb imagery deconstructs the lion imagery. The enthroned slain Lamb refuses to conquer as lions do, i.e. by savage power; paradoxically, he conquers precisely as the sacrificial victim, while, conversely, the Lion of Judah goes “Baa!” But we’ve been here before …


DH 09.21.09 at 5:46 pm

However, Kim, that isn’t what the article you posted said. It mentioned “righteous wrath” and doesn’t deny the importance of that in Scripture. If we assume that “righteous wrath” as the definition of “Lion of Judah” like the article appears to say. I DO place myself in the understanding that God is love that is why ‘righteous wrath” is part of His love just like all of the other imagry’s. When one reads Revelation, etc. then one can see that the Lamb of God doesn’t fully “decontruct” but is as aspect of. We live in a fallen world that doesn’t understand fully the “love of God”. Disciplining (whom He loves He chastens) and holding in the palm of His hands are both aspects of God’s love. We mustn’t deny aspects of God’s love when in fact they are. Righteous Wrath is done with God’s Love in mind just like the slain lamb. Remember Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Even in the NT the Epistles state something about conquering, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of this dark and present evil age.” If it as you say then why would God place a clear “Lion of Judah” passage AFTER the “Slainning of the Lamb” (Who in fact is beyond being slain in that He is resurrected to rule and reign at the right hand of the Father.)


DH 09.21.09 at 5:49 pm

The way the post read doesn’t contradict the understanding of the Lion of Judah/Lamb of God aspects of God for God operating at times like the Lion of Judah is all love just as much as the Lamb of God. So I do see the image of God as being love and is not based on the concern that the writer of the post said. AS he wrote the post I see no disagreement on my part. You may have given a clarification but I see none from the original writer so as for me to respond as I did with support for the writer.

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