The text was seven paragraphs long.
I wish I was joking.
“Honey,” it began, “I am so thankful your mama is in good spirits…HOWEVER…there are some issues u should consider…” In the next few paragraphs the author immediately began to warn me about all the potential complications, horrors, and related dangers of the symptoms doctors had identified thus far during her treatment.
The text ended thusly: “I just want to make sure you have CONSIDERED this honey thank you”
By grace, I did not respond. The text was well-meant, sent by someone with an abundance of love and maybe not a tight leash on the tongue, who I think genuinely is just concerned about my mother’s well-being and perhaps doesn’t know how to express that with tact. Or doesn’t recognize that hearing about the ten thousand what-ifs is not exactly healing, encouraging, or reassuring.
But it amusingly put me in mind of a similar conversation I observed recently on social media.
A believer had posted a blithe sentence about God and His love: “So glad to be wrapped up in the love of God! God is love—don’t forget!”
It was, truly, one of the most inoffensive posts I have ever read. It was so inoffensive that I didn’t even register it until I saw, in the comments, a theme:
“yes God is love HOWEVER we must not forget that God is also JUSTICE and WRATH and TRUTH”
“Whenever we mention God’s love we must balance it out with the understanding that God is also holy and cannot tolerate sin.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. The frantic disclaiming in the comments had the same frantic, chiding spirit: “Yes, okay, we know about love and grace and all of that but don’t get too comfortable! Sin is not acceptable. God will totally send people to Hell, okay?”
And, look. I get it. There are some people whose theology is only ever willing to accommodate love and nothing else. It is true that one cannot acknowledge God’s depthless love without also acknowledging His holiness. We cannot revel in the warm fuzzies of our redemption without also knowing, in our bones, that such redemption did not come at the overlooking of sin but rather the full wrath of God upended on it in the person of Christ Jesus. I know and respect that many Christians are rightfully worried about bad theology, and want to correct it, and I find that admirable. I know that in many circumstances the phrase “God is love” is used to water down, dilute, or otherwise obscure the truth and the cost of salvation.
But for heaven’s sake, there is a time and a place and a context to all things.
What I wanted to text back to the well-meaning friend I mentioned in the first paragraph was this: look. I know. I know, and have considered, exactly every single complication, potential problem, and issue you have identified and none of it is far from my mind. But what I need right now is not that. What I need, so that I can encourage my mother and myself, so that I can fight off the doubt and uncertainty that is the provenance of darkness, is to set my mind on things above, not on earthly things.
Similarly, while surely some bad theological actors are out in the world and social media blurting out that “God is love!” and doing so to obfuscate truth, a good many other people share that sentiment because that is where their focus needs to be just then, and rightly so.
For a person who spent a life mired in legalism, afraid of being punished, hardly daring to believe that God might love them in spite of their sin: knowing “God is love” matters. Is vital. They are already well aware that God despises sin.
For a person who is in the throes of an addiction, overwhelmed with self-loathing and regret, remembering that “God is love”—that the Father is eternally waiting with open arms for their return, that in the moment of their sin they were beloved enough by God that Christ sacrificed Himself for them—matters. They are already well aware that God is just and holy also.
For perfectionists, doubters, the depressed, the people who wonder if it’s really possible that they are saved, for the hopeless, the loveless, the lost: sometimes it’s necessary to hear a “God is love” without the requisite “and by the way, God is also just and totally hates sin” attached. They know! They are well aware!
Context matters. So before we jump off half-cocked correcting what we perceive as bad theology, or adding ‘nuance’ to someone’s declarations about God, it might be helpful to consider where they’re coming from, what their circumstances are, why their focus might be on God’s love right now.
“But it’s just the truth,” you say.
And my friend told me “just the truth” about a thousand potential complications. But I didn’t need those truths, in that moment. Those truths in no way ministered to me. They did not illuminate any uncertainties, strengthen my convictions, or otherwise alter life in any other way. Mostly, they made me heave a heavy sigh and then turn away.
A little thoughtfulness goes a long way. That’s really all it is.