God on a Mission – God ‘Wants’ to Save Us?
Missional theology offers an opportunity for sustained reflection on who God is. And it implicitly criticizes classical theologies that claimed God has no desires.
In criticizing predestination, I picked the easy fruit. I said predestinarians cannot account well for the biblical notion God wants to save us all. But let’s stretch to pick some fruit less often noticed.
God has Needs?
Many theologies – at least in their sophisticated forms – affirm an idea at odds with the missional notion God wants to seek and save. They say God lacks nothing whatsoever. God is “without passions,” to use ancient theological language.
Only a needy God, say these theologians, has desires. A perfectly complete God wouldn’t want anything. When the Bible says God seeks us, it isn’t saying God’s love desires or wants.
The Greeks called desiring love “eros.” Today, we unfortunately think of eros in sexual terms. But the original meaning of eros isn’t about sex. Eros love might best be defined as promoting what is good when desiring what is valuable, beautiful, or worthwhile. Eros sees value and seeks to appreciate or enhance it.
In addition to denying divine eros, some theologians believe the doctrine of original sin supports their view God doesn’t really have desires related to creation. Their view of original sin denies that anything good remains in creation. Sin – more particularly, the Fall of Adam and Eve – left creation totally depraved, they say.
A holy God would find nothing valuable in a totally depraved world, say these theologians. In fact, God would not associate with such sinful filth. We hear this argument today, in fact, when some say a holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. A holy God, so this argument goes, cannot relate to unholy people, because sin would taint God’s pure holiness.
To which I say, “Hogwash!” (or utter some other holy expletive)
Jesus Reveals that God has Desires
Jesus Christ best expresses God’s desiring love – even, or especially love for filthy people. Jesus was known for hanging around unholy folk. He earned a reputation for befriending with those of ill repute and ungodly character. He wanted – desired – those sick and broken be healed and whole.
In short, the desire for salvation we see in Jesus reflects the desire we find in God. And vice versa: the desires of God are expressed in the desires Jesus expresses in his missional life. In other words, the incarnation is our best argument that God’s desires are so intense and God’s love so radical “that he gave his only begotten son” (Jn. 3:16a).
A robust missional theology, therefore, returns us to the biblical portrait of a God who desires. While God’s nature is perfect and complete, God’s relational experience and passionate heart include wanting something better: the restoration of God’s leadership of love. God’s salvation derives, at least in part, from eros.