By: CS Knight, MTh
What is it like to love God?
What does it feel like to love God? As humans, our language regarding God will be in terms we can understand. And when we look at the bible, the description of the love relationship with God is generally clustered around two human love relationships: Parental and romantic. For example, loving God is often expressed in the bible as a child/parent relationship the quotes give the context:
God speaking to his people: “As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)
God’s people speaking to God: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.” (Isaiah 64:8)
Jesus teaching his followers how to address God in prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
God comparing his love for his people with a mother’s love for her child: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born?” (Isaiah 49:15)
Jesus comparing his love for the people of Jerusalem to the protective behavior of a mother hen: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how I have often longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Luke 13:34)
God comparing his love for his people to a parent teaching her child to walk: “When Israel was a child, I loved him…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in my arms.” (Hosea 11:1,3)
God comparing his love for his people to a parent raising a rebellious child: “For the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1:2)
In addition to characterizing relationship with God as a parent/child bond, the Judeo-Christian tradition also conceptualizes relationship with God or Jesus as an adulthood love relationship. A few more examples from the Old and New Testaments:
A description of God’s love for his people: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)
A description of God’s relationship with his people: “For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.” (Isaiah 54:5)
An image of Jesus, the Lamb, marrying his people, the Church: “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8)
A continuation of the above image from the book of Revelation, where the people of God are compared to the new Jerusalem: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)
The New Testament author, Paul, comparing marital love with Christ’s love for his church: “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)
When we speak of a relationship with God we tend to express our love as either child or spouse. Loving God is experienced in either familial or romantic terms.
But we also know that familial and romantic love can be complicated and conflicted. Love can also be peaceful and reassuring. Why these differences? If we look at the bible, and around our churches, it also seems that the love relationship with God has its ups and downs. Further, no two people seem to experience loving God in the same way. Again, how can we understand these differences?
Attachment theory has had its greatest successes in studying parental and romantic attachments, the very same two love relationships that dominant the biblical witness concerning loving God. That’s a wonderful convergence. And this convergence made some psychologists wonder if attachment theory might be effective in exploring what it feels like to love God and be loved by God.