Takeaway: God is love is not the only important thing in theology, but it may be one of the harder parts of the Christian life to truly accept.
I have a theological bias. I believe that any description of God and the Christian life that does not include God’s love as central to his essence, not just one of his characteristics, is missing the heart of the Christian life.
Yes, the ‘God is Love’ can be and has been misused. But I would much rather move toward the potential over-adoption of God is love than the under-adoption. Going too far is balanced by prevalent themes in scripture. But under adoption of the ‘God is love’ principle fundamentally changes the nature of Christianity. It becomes performance based, rule following, and eventually a self-saving religion that rejects the concept of grace and ceases to be the orthodox Christianity of scripture.
I like to be (and need to be) continually reminded of God’s love of us as fallen, broken humans. David Benner (who I have read previously talking about spiritual direction) has expanded and re-issued a trilogy of books which starts with Surrender to Love.
I did not read the earlier edition, but the expanded version is still just under 100 pages of main content. It could be a quick read, but I spent nearly a week slowly reading it and then it has been nearly a week of processing before writing this review. It also has helpful questions after each chapter that would make it a good discussion book or if reading alone help to focus the reader on the main points.
There are five short chapters that take us from Love as starting place, to the proper understanding of Love and Fear in scripture, to one of the better explorations I have read of what it means to surrender to and obey a loving God, to how we are transformed by God’s love, to how we become love to others.
The progress is very well structured and natural and not uncomfortably theological. Benner is a counselor and spiritual director. He is used to working with broken people that have a wrong conception of God. And so the obedience and submission chapter is so helpful in moving submission from obligation to surrender. We all want to be loved. As a perfect God, God is the only one that we can ever fully submit to. Fully surrendering to anything or anyone else, will result in frustration and disappointment. We are not surrendering out of duty or obligation but submitting to love that seeks after what is best for us, not trying to use us for their own purposes.
Jesus is both our example of perfect love and our model of what it means to surrender to perfect love. We are invited to surrender to God, not to be used or because God is more powerful, but to rest into person that God has created us to be. Not only does God love us perfectly, but God has created us as individuals and he is the only one that can help us grow into the person he has intended.
The end goal of God’s love is not any expansion of God, God is already eternal and complete. The end of God’s love for us is our own abundant life that has been transformed by God’s love. And then we can be reflections of his love for others.
This is a book to return to more than once. Absorbing God’s love for us is difficult. Even those of us that have grown up in loving home and who live surrounded by others that love us have a hard time conceiving of how fundamentally different God’s love is than the love of those around us. It is even harder for those that have been harmed by those that should have loved them better.
InterVarsity Press sent me a paperback copy of the three books (unasked) and have given away this book and will give away the others once I have read and reviewed them.