Love and Freedom: A Mother's Story

In my recent series on universalism we at times bumped up against the issue of human freedom and God's love. Specifically, I expressed concern about a view of God's love that stands back and lets humans be free. That is, it is often suggested that for God to be love God has to respect human freedom. And there are times in Rob Bell's book Love Wins where he makes this odd sort of claim.

Now, as I noted in my series I agree that God has to respect the volitional integrity of humanity. That is, God isn't going to force anyone to accept this love. So in this sense, yes, I agree with the notion that God isn't going to force people or push people into heaven against their wills.

But that is a far cry from saying that God is sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing. That is, there are times in Bell's Love Wins where God's love looks like walking away, or hand wringing on the sideline. That God's respect for human freedom means that God will do, well...nothing.

But it is my contention that God keeps after us. Wooing, correcting, educating, prompting, and even threatening at times. God doesn't leave me alone to "do what I want." Love isn't like that. God pursues us. God is the troubadour outside our window singing love songs. God is the parent always extending love to the runaway child. God is the prison chaplain who visits the murderer in the cell. God is always, always, always coming toward you. Yes, God respects your freedom. But God doesn't ever, ever stand on the sideline.

The #1 lesson I learned from reading George MacDonald is that the love of God is best expressed as the love of a parent. And that insight is the single greatest theological corrective I know of. Whenever I encounter a view of God I wonder about--"Is God like this?--my first question is always: Would I treat Brenden or Aidan this way?

I was reminded of all this reading a wonderful, poignant, and theologically profound reflection by Michelle on her blog Pondering Every Morsel. It's a story of a mother and a daughter with cerebral palsy. It's a story about God and humanity. It's a story about love and freedom.

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8 thoughts on “Love and Freedom: A Mother's Story”

  1. Richard,

    What then of Romans 1 when God simply "gave people over" to their various sins? Maybe there's an important sense in which letting go is not the same as doing nothing in the sense of lack of care or love.

    Maybe i'm misunderstanding what it is you're criticizing.

    Further, even though God is compared to a parent in scripture, He is also compared to a judge and a king, etc. Surely our conception of God has to respect His multi-faceted identity, no?


  2. Richard, have you ever read any of D.A. Carson's work on the love of God? In one recent lecture [] he said, "That is why in the Bible, this side of Genesis 3, God's love is always marveled at. God's love is wonderful, surprising, in some ways not the way it ought to be. Why doesn't he just condemn us instead?" I wonder what you think of that last question.

  3. I'm very wary of saying that God 'has to' do anything, or for that matter, that he 'can't' do anything. We're dealing with an omnipotent being, after all. I lean towards universalism on ethical grounds, but when it comes to whatever happens after death, the only real answer I've got is 'Dunno'. All we have is speculation.

  4. I think it foolhardy to say God has to do anything, either. And I don't need to know precisely what He's going to do or how. But I want to know HIM. And knowing how He feels about His children, what His intentions and desires are for them ... well, that's a big part of it. At least to me. The peace and trust I now enjoy, a true communion, were completely absent from my life when I believed the worst of Him.

  5. How do you feel that God pursues us? Because I have to admit, I don't feel pursued now, nor have I ever. Even when I prayed regularly, I didn't feel as though my prayers were answered, and though I was sure they were listened to, the Listener seemed distant.

    I suffer from deep loneliness and a desire to connect to Something beyond myself, but I feel no connection to that Something, much less a certainty of Its existence. If God pursues us, it is far more gently than a parent pursues a strayed child.

  6. i think there's a significant difference between being pursued and feeling pursued.


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