Love: With Adult Understanding
“We are our understanding of God.” Emma Curtis Hopkins
When I was in grade school, my family used to drive from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon to visit my grandparents. Somewhere along the highway we’d come upon a visually boring stretch of road and sitting up straight, perching my neck in ready position, I’d prepare for my favorite billboard. As we drove by I gazed as long as I could upon it, memorizing all of its nuances; wanting to stretch out the moment of the pass-by. The paper background was bright white and to the left side was a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, head down, blood dripping from his wounds. It looked so real that I imagined I was witnessing the holiest of acts. Couched to the right of this picture was John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whomever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
My little mind said this verse over and over again in my head, romanticized this undeniable love — a love so deep that The Parent would let allow their child to die so that sinner me, who believed wholeheartedly, would live forever. I held this moment sacred close to my heart as my family didn’t go to church — they wouldn’t understand. I was the spiritually-committed one; and this was my personal gift. God to me.
John 3:16 would become my favorite verse that I highlighted in each of my new Bibles upon purchase reliving the billboard with each pen stroke.
January 28, 2015 happened. My feet hit my bedroom floor as I rolled out of bed and I heard the Bible verse well-up from
within me, as an old memory. “That is such crap,” I observed myself ranting as I became angry and the anger escalated. I do NOT believe in a God that 1. has only one son; we are all offspring; inheriting the capacity for Great Love. 2. would knowing sacrifice anyone in order to benefit others who believe. “This is a perverted; nasty; ugly; pile of crap,” I continued ranting. I knew at that moment that this one belief in human sacrifice as a sign of love has perpetuated and romanticized violence in our culture, turned logical-sane people away from opening to the Invisible Good, and created crazy Christians who’ve been guilted into religion. I began my investigation. I had to get to the bottom of this one meaningful scripture; I felt duped.
I read my theological reference materials. Not helpful. No new information. I went to Fillmore’s Book of John to get his metaphysical interpretation — closer, but not really it. Then I asked a Gnostic priest. He said the message is about opening to God’s grace. His explanation made sense to him; but not to me. I asked my practitioner, her understanding was more gentle; along the lines of Fillmore where as we awaken our inner Christ to God’s love; we are willing to put our belief in our Christ self over what we know as the world’s primary thought system.
I would find the greatest solace; and understanding through my Catholic Priest, turned Protestant next door neighbor Father Vern. He introduced me to “The Message” interpretation of the Bible (which can be found at Gateway.com). In this interpretation John 3:16 reads:
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” John 3:16-18
Okay, I don’t buy the Only Son piece unless we are talking about our shared Holy personhood as singular; and I also don’t buy the inherent sinner rouse. However, this interpretation makes sense to me in some way. God becomes man to demonstrate a way of living in the world that is beneficial; helpful; and by the demonstration of Divine Love; puts the world right again. As I spoke with Father Vern he interpreted the above message as as the “emptying of selfhood in order to express Godness.” There we go. God so loves the world; that he promises whole and lasting life through alignment with the Eternal Qualities of God. Through trust in this promise, and aligned action with it; we become free. Aaaahhh. Yes.
“Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting–when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do. We shape our God, then our God shapes us.” Ron Bell, Love Wins
I pause to rethink and redefine love as I know it to be as an adult.
Happy Valentine’s Day,