God is a verb, not a noun.
—R. Buckminster Fuller
Let me begin by saying what God is not. God has no preferred pronouns. God is not a he, she, they, or it. God is not a transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, interventionist, supernatural being who can intercede in history, answer prayers, or perform miracles. There is no observable evidence for any of these claims. The continual presence of war, widespread gun violence, an epidemic of drug overdoses, the existence of massive poverty—all these put a lie to an interventionist, supernatural being acting for the good.
It appears that everything I learned in catechism classes about God was wrong. It reflected a God of the Old Testament as influenced by Greek philosophers and then interpreted by Medieval theologians.
Instead, according to the First Letter of John, “God is Love.”
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)
In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the phrase “God is Love” is “theos ein agapē” (THEH-ohs ayn ag-AH-pay). Agapē (ag-AH-pay) implies a selfless love, a self-giving love, often an unconditional love. It is a love directed toward others, putting the needs of others ahead of oneself. This is the kind of love people saw in Jesus. And for the early Christian writers, it described the love of God.
When the Bible declares that God is Love, it means that these two language symbols—God and Love—are identical. If God is Love, then the converse is also true: Love is God. God is not a loving being. God is Love itself.
Scholar Don Cupitt has written:
In the New Testament, in the First Letter of John, we are told that the words Love and God are convertible. You can’t slip a knife between them. If you love your fellow human being, you know God and are in God, whereas if you don’t love, you don’t know God . . . The word God doesn’t designate a distinct metaphysical being; it is simply Love’s name.
Therefore, the word “God” is a name we give to the spirit of selfless love found at the depths of our humanity and experienced in the relationship of human love toward one another.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented on our relationship to God:
Our relation to God is not a religious relationship to a supreme being, absolute in power and goodness, which is a spurious conception of transcendence, but a new life for others, through participation in the being of God.
The radical message of the New Testament is that God is no longer an external being who dwells in heaven. Instead of a transcendent God, God is immanent—within humanity. God has come to dwell among us, not just in the person of Jesus, but within the heart of every human being. Indeed, God has always—and only—been a part of humanity, located deep within human consciousness and projected as a divine actor in the human story.
God, in the form of compassionate love, is a latent presence within each of us, but this God remains hidden until humans outwardly express love toward others. Loving one another is the full expression of God on earth.
No one has seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is brought to full expression in us. (1 John 4:12)
God becomes an immanent reality within our hearts, within our minds, within our relationships, and in our actions. Selfless love is a divine reality that animates us, empowers us, and transforms us from self-centered and selfish individuals to self-giving people.
That means you cannot pray for divine intervention in life. Prayer cannot persuade God or change God’s mind. Instead, prayer is meant to focus our thoughts, to change us into more compassionate people, and to cause us to act on behalf of others.
God cannot act independently from humans. God has no power other than the relatively weak power of human love. Love represents the highest, deepest, and most powerful force in human life. It is the energy that fosters human growth and change. Love is the impulse behind empathy and concern, and the fuel that drives compassion and justice.
What we need is a much more powerful understanding and experience of a love that reorients our lives and transforms us into fully-human beings, fully-human agents of the selfless love we call God. If we allow it to be unleashed, the divine love within us will not let us remain the same. The radical love we see in Jesus pulls at us; it pushes and prods us out of our insular shells. It forces us to become more than we are, more than we are comfortable with, and ultimately all we are meant to be.
This means we have an enormous duty: to join with others in a conspiracy of love. Alone, we can do little. United, we have the power to change the world. The conspiracy of love is a small movement at the margins of society prodding the powers and principalities of an unjust world toward transformation. It is a network of people in our communities and around the globe who are connected by a common vision and mission. It begins small, working from the margins and from the bottom up, but the whole purpose is to effect great change over the lives of many people who are hurting and suffering under the way things are. It involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick, accepting the unacceptable, and ultimately transforming the politics of our day.
This is the conspiracy initiated by Jesus—people of compassion and good will engaged in the unending transformation of themselves, their families, their communities, their nations, and the world at large. The vision of Jesus can best be described in the words of philosopher Charles Eisenstein as “that more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” Not only does Jesus envision a more beautiful world, but it is more peaceful and just as well. It promises the poor of the world access to the fundamental means of life—food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education for a better tomorrow. And it allows us to address the powers of death: the devastation of war, repeated gun violence, increasing drug overdoses, and the massive poverty found everywhere around us. All in the name of Love.