Christians believe that God is love. Only, there may be something about this love that the church fathers found to be so troubling that they didn’t want us to know about it. If you know what it is, Christianity suddenly makes a lot more sense, and you may be able to guess what the future religion will look like. Love is such a central theme in Christianity that this religion came to be known as ‘the religion of love’. According to the Gospel, Jesus said we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”1
Paul is believed to be the author of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It probably was written around 54 AD. There is little doubt that Paul wrote this letter himself, except for a passage claiming that the man is the head of the familiy, which some scholars believe to be a later addition. This letter may therefore be one of the earliest written sources of Christianity. It contains a remarkable poem:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.2
According to Paul, love is more important than faith and good works. But why? Christians believe the answer is:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.3
Christians believe in eternal life. The question is why? Jesus may have died on the cross but Christians believe he still lives because God loves the world. The author of the Gospel of John, who probably was not the Apostle John according to several scholars, may also have written the First Epistle of John, but scholars don’t agree on that either. In this epistle the author shares his views on the love of God:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.4
If you’re not a Christian, you might wonder why this was necessary? The idea that God loves us, and the proof being that God sent his one and only son into the world as an sacrifice for our sins, doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Christian claim is that Adam sinned and that we are all cursed for that, but then came Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified, so that we can all be saved. It seems that God could easily have chosen another path. And what about the peculiar phrase ‘born of God’? Could God be a woman?
Jews and Muslims don’t believe that God has a son. They also don’t believe that Adam’s transgression requires such a sacrifice. When God allegedly ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham was about to comply, God allegedly called it off. So what might justify this? There may be something about the relationship between God and Jesus that is removed from the scriptures. The odds are that it has something to do with love because that is what Christianity is all about. Ephesians gives a possible clue:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.5
Christians believe that Jesus was married to the church because of this verse. There is a an issue with this view. The church didn’t exist when Jesus lived. A historian might call this an anachronism. It is inconsistent in time. The verse suggests that this was a love like in a marriage. The Gospels imply that Jesus was married6 but the identity of the bride is never mentioned. And the verse claims that husbands have to love their wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, a peculiar thought.
There is a possible explanation that makes sense. God could be a woman. This universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced civilisation to entertain someone we call God. And God could could use avatars in Her own story and appear like an ordinary human to us. The love the Gospels expound on is the love of God. Hence, the bride may have been God. God appearing in a human form may have been another issue the early church fathers had to deal with. And so they may have deified Jesus.
The most likely candidate for being the avatar of God is Mary Magdalene. She may have convinced Jesus that she was the reincarnation of Eve and that he was the reincarnation of Adam and that Eve was not made out of a rib of Adam but that Adam was a son of Eve. And so Jesus may have believed he had eternal life and would not die.
Surviving records of Jesus’ words and teachings indicate that Jesus believed women to be equal to men. The equality of the sexes is peculiar within the context of a patriarchal society. Paul saw women as equal partners in the Christian movement. The Didache, an early Christian text dating from the first century, implies equality of the sexes.
At some point patriarchy may have been re-established. Texts may have been edited to to this aim. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has been added later.7 It contains the claim that the man is the head of the family. A similar claim is made in the First Epistle to Timothy.8 Scholars believe this letter was written later on and not by Paul as the letter claims.
A woman might like to see a man sacrifice himself to prove his love for her. And you may never love God enough. Christians see Jesus as a sacrificial lamb.9 It appears that God didn’t even care about Jesus. So if someone ever finds himself in the same position as Jesus may have found himself in, he might at first not be enticed by the proposition, until he realises that he may have no choice.
And loving God may not be all that difficult. The Stockholm Syndrome makes it possible to love someone who has taken you hostage and has total control over you and might kill you for some dubious cause. But it doesn’t have to end badly for him. Many things can happen. For instance, in a fairy tale a toad can be kissed into a prince by a princess charming. They may marry and live happily ever after.
Featured image: SpongeBob SquarePants. Nickelodeon. [copyright info]
1. Mark 12:30-31 [link]
2. 1 Corinthians 13 [link]
3. John 3:16 [link]
4. 1 John 4:7-10 [link]
5. Ephesians 5:25 [link]
6. John 3:29 [link], Matthew 9:15 [link], Mark 2:19 [link], Luke 5:34 [link]
7. Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Bart D. Ehrman (2013).
8. 1 Timothy 2:12 [link]
9. 1 Peter 1:18-19 [link]