Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Is Love? Examining Biblical Claims (Part One)

This post is the first in a series of posts where I'll be critically examining Biblical claims.

The Text:

1 John 4:16-18 (NIV) -- "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."


Isaiah 8:13 (NIV) -- "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread"

Jeremiah 5:22 (NIV) -- "'Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord. 'Should you not tremble in my presence?'"

Hebrews 10:31 (NIV) -- "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Conflicting Claims:

The Biblical god is love. The Bible itself declares that "there is no fear in love"; yet the god of the Bible declares himself as "the one you are to fear" and "the one you are to dread".

Furthermore, the Bible declares that "the one who fears is not made perfect in love". However, Bible readers are exhorted numerous times to "fear" their god. While an argument may be made that "fear" referenced in some verses has a different definition than the "fear" referenced in other verses, I am confident that the explicit inclusion of terms such as "dread" and "tremble" should illuminate for us what kind of fear to which the text is referring, if the translation I have in front of me is has an accurate translation (it's NIV). So, the Biblical audience is repeatedly urged to fear their god, but those who fear are not made perfect in love, which their god is claimed to be. Is the Biblical god a god of fear or a god of love? According to the texts, the Biblical god is alternately both a god of love and a god of fear. However, the verses are clear here that fear is not a sound basis for love. Fear is not what love is. But the Biblical god is presented as a being to be feared, whom one should dread and also tremble in its presence.

But Aren't You Rejecting Love?

I believe that there is a greater love outside the contents of this book than there is within its contents. Yes, fear does nothing to grow or enhance love for one another. However, the Biblical god relies upon coercion and fear. Why not love for love's own sake?

Much of the Old Testament (and the rest of the Bible) was written by people who had a different understanding of the world than we do today. At that time, violence and bloodshed was a critical part of survival. Fear meant protection. Fear meant safety. Fear meant respect. The world was a much different place for those who wrote the Bible than it is today. One can imagine why people living in such fearful times would associate "fear" with "power". There's no real harm in acknowledging that our world has changed in the last few thousand years, and that our moral standards have also changed in the process. I agree that love, with a solid foundation in human empathy, is a powerful and worthy quality. I also agree that extreme levels of fear are counterproductive in preparing the groundwork of love.


Dave said...

>love, with a solid foundation in human empathy, is a powerful and worthy quality. I also agree that extreme levels of fear are counterproductive in preparing the groundwork of love.<

Well put.

Andrew said...

This is a little off topic Player, but over at the John Loftus site you remarked that I was wrong to say John Loftus would not publish my remark.

But I knew that saying that would require him to post it.

There is no FREE SPEECH at his blog.

He is a liar and manipulator.

I have sent over 40 serious posts that he did not publish, and I make a snide remark and he publishes it.

He truly thinks he is the greatest debater on earth, and regularly issues those arrogant challenges.

Read his biography in the first chapter of his book.

Ask yourself, why did so many people around him including some of his own familiy members, despise him?

Was it truly "everyone else is wrong" and nothing to do with his lying, cheating, and misrepresenting things about his beliefs to his congregation?

(And I take all this from his own statments, his own admissions...which he made AFTER he was exposed.)

Or was it that he was just a lying preacher who got caught and is bitter and has been driven to the brink by his guilt?

Publish that, free speech boy.

Andrew said...

By the way, as to your say that "at that time" violence and bloodshed were critical to survival.

As if they aren't today?

Or did the worlds leading athiestic scientists (Dawkins assures us they are atheists) just make it possible to fill the world with wmds that could poison...if not eliminate...all future generations just for kicks.

Guess those particular atheists didn't think too far ahead, did they?

Player Piano said...


Thank you very much!


Well, first of all I'd like to humbly thank you for effectively doubling the traffic of my blog. For that, I will be finitely grateful. ;)

I wonder why Loftus didn't publish your posts -- but if all your posts on Loftus's blog are like this one, why should I blame him for not putting up with you? Apparently you have very negative feelings toward Mr. Loftus. People get tired of being criticized. I don't blame him for excising your potentially libelous and harassing comments from his blog.

As for his book, I have ordered it, but I do not have it yet. When I have the book, I plan to read it, as I do with most books. It's a nice system. ;)

I really doubt the veracity of what you're saying about Mr. Loftus. Let's look at it this way: if John W. Loftus knew that people like you were going to criticize him so very harshly because of his personal story, why would he include it in his account? It seems to me that Mr. Loftus is being straightforward and honest. I will reserve my judgment until I actually read the account. For now, I take Mr. Loftus at his word -- but you, you seem to have some kind of misplaced vendetta against the man.

And yes, I do believe in free speech - and the free marketplace of ideals. You haven't said anything that's challenged me: why should I be afraid of you?

Yes, violence and bloodshed are still predominant today, as you claim. I was attempting to explain the emphasis on fear and its equivalence to respect and security in the OT, which is important because Yahweh is referred to multiple times as a war god, as a "god of hosts", so this historical context is important. And you're accusing me of not knowing what I'm saying? Again, I am not afraid of you and you have said nothing that's challenged me. When one has good arguments, and an equal opportunity to express them, why shouldn't one believe in free speech?

WMDs were going to be invented by someone at some point. Do you know anything about game theory? What did you favor - "turning the other cheek" to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the USSR? The weapons were going to be developed by someone, at some point, because science is a collaborative effort and the knowledge behind these weapons was relatively widespread among the intellectual communities. Once this knowledge existed, no one could prevent it from being used to construct terrifying weapons. However, I'd say the fact that we didn't annihlate ourselves during the Cold War shows that we did the right thing. It could've been much, much worse.

By the way, when President McKinley prayed to "God" before the Spanish-American War and "received the message" that it was okay to invade the Philllipines, causing us to become embroiled in a guerrila war, one could say that wasn't very far-reaching thinking either, was it?
Scientists aren't the only people who have to learn from history: we all do.

Player Piano said...

By the way Andrew, it's "atheistic", not "athiestic". Thanks.

Daniel said...

Good post. I agree with you that there is a difficult dichotomy to deal with when looking at those texts you describe between the God of "love" and the God of "fear."

My short answer would be what you alluded to that "fear" in the use of the Biblical authors can be defined differently than we might think of it. Fear, aka "eulabeia" is synonymous in the Hebrew text for words like "trust", "seek", and "take refuge". It is used often to denote the reverence that all the earth should have before Yahweh.

I don't know if a word search on this issue will convince you of anything but I guess the way I like to think about this is that God is worthy of our "reverence" (aka fear) because he is God and we are not. And in this understanding of what we owe to God, "fear", then we can be better loved and love others.

I admit that as a Christian I can understand how non-Christians cannot understand this dichotomy between fear and love. This sort of thing has only occurred from what I know as through experiencing God for oneself. I guess I would only conclude that even if I weren't a Christian this issue would not push me away from faith in God, because after all if any sort of holy scriptures in the world say a thing, they must be true. Thus the issue: how do we know which of the holy scriptures, if any, are true? It's like if the encyclopedia britannica says it and we put faith in the encyclopedia then that subject is true. But the issue is putting one's belief about the words and subjects in the britannica to be true.