Despatches from the front line of the Church
The 1990s was a heck of a time to be a teenager. Our formative years were at the mercy of a decade that thought that Mr. Blobby was a good idea (having learned nothing, apparently, from the 1980s Timmy Mallett debacle), curtain-style haircuts were the very height of cool and shell suits were considered trendy garments (and not, as they would ultimately turn out to be, tasteless and highly flammable). Generation Y know nothing of our suffering.
So this bizarre period, sandwiching the Cold War with the current Everybody At War global order, was the time in which we learned about the important things of life. And 1990s pop music couldn’t have been less helpful in shaping our young, pink minds about what ‘love’ was.
In 1993, German existentialist philosopher Haddaway posed the question, ‘what is love?’ The first academics to enter the discourse were the Rolling Stones, a year after, who concluded simply that it was ‘strong’. Later, Katrina and the Waves would teach us that it had something to do with light bulbs.
Respected commentators 2 Unlimited released the treatise ‘No Limit’ which seemed to dwell on eternity, though it was frankly unclear whether they were talking about love, their song, or techno, techno, techno.
Meanwhile, British thinker Gina G suggested that love was a limited resource, and that she was only able to acquire ‘just a little bit’. The Cure supported this view, exploring the cold reality of Conservative-governed Britain where love was rationed to one day a week. Indeed, by 1994, the shortage of love was such that noted critics Take That were forced to announce that it ‘ain’t here anymore’.
It was 1997 before Scottish collective Wet Wet Wet offered a counter-narrative, arguing instead that love was ‘all around’, while celebrated sociologists the Spice Girls seemed to explain why so many had failed to acquire it – if one wished to be a lover, they had to ‘get with’ one’s friends. Boom, boom, boom, agreed the Vengaboys, with the characteristic bluntness for which our Dutch cousins are so valued.
Meanwhile, over the Atlantic, American commentator Meat Loaf was of the view that love was of such value that he would do ‘anything’ for it, but this was immediately discredited when it became clear that he would not do ‘that’. In Australia, T-Shirt seemed to require, somewhat mystifyingly, that any lover had a ‘speedy butt’ (though unhelpfully did not clarify exactly what made a butt ‘speedy’ or otherwise).
Alanis Morrisette did not explicitly sing about love despite it underpinning all of her songs, which was, of course, ironic.
The views of Bloodhound Gang may be best considered another day.
“God loves you.”
It’s no surprise, then, given my musical heritage, that for years I had absolutely no idea what on earth the phrase ‘God loves you’ meant.
I understood what love was between humans – having experienced it, and having been the recipient of it. But how that applied to a giant invisible deity was less clear, as all the expressions of love I understood involved physical proxmity or at least reliably-understood communication. This was especially the case given the general chaos in the way that God was represented to me by differing Christians. Was my life trundling along according to an unchangeable Plan, in which God’s love was expressed, or was it a free-for-all in which I had to petition God for stuff and He’d show He loved me by answering? Why did we insist on using phrases like ‘personal relationship’ to describe how we interacted with God when a Divine superbeing of infinite intelligence couldn’t be less personal to tiny me?
Stuff people say in Church
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a passage frequently read out in weddings, usually in a pretty uninspiring and monotone way. This makes it easy to forget that these words are being beamed to us from 2000 years in the past, Doctor Who stylee. In this text, we have a record of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in the first century about love. Corinth was a major seaport, with all the things you’d expect from a seaport – a huge red light district, and all sorts of diverse groups. As such the fledgling church there was splintering into factions, confused about what to believe and arguing about what to think. Paul defines ‘love’ for them – presumably meaning for them to act these things out towards each other, but also giving us a solid and universal definition of what love is.
If we take that definition and apply it to God’s love, we end up 14 pretty powerful ways to answer the question – ‘what does it mean if ‘God loves me?‘. What was quite compelling for me in this exercise, was how different the below characteristics of God’s love were to how I had generally perceived the Christian God, and to how He is generally represented by the world and, indeed, by many in the Church.
I started to feel more at peace, and safer. And the question I found myself asking was, have I been looking for the right person? What if I started seeking out a God that looked like this – rather than a God that looked less patient, less kind, or quicker to anger?
Maybe it’s worth all of us asking that question.