The Big Bang Theory is a funny show I like to watch from time to time. It’s not the most wholesome show on TV, what with all of the innuendos and all, but aside from its humor, it is also educational in a “social science” sort of way.
The character, Sheldon Cooper, is a quirky genius who epitomizes the word “phobia”. He’s freaked out by everything. In one episode he’s freaked out by a Blue Jay that takes up residence on the windowsill of his apartment. When the bird is accidentally let into the apartment through the window Sheldon is convinced by his friends that it is harmless. But just as Sheldon finally warms up to the bird and begins making plans for a long future together, it up and escapes through the open window. Flabbergasted that the Blue Jay would just leave him like that he shouts out the window in rage, “Get back here you stupid bird so I can love you!”
What makes the scene hilarious is that we all know quite instinctively that love cannot be forced, and the irony in Sheldon’s statement is lost to him. It reminds me of a Tiny Toons character I used to enjoy as a child named Elmyra. The same irony is explored there too when Elmyra “chases” and finally “catches” an animal and exclaims, “I’m going to love you and kiss you and hold you forever”.
All of this came to mind as I was plugging away at Thomas Jay Oords book, The Nature of Love: A Theology. In it Oord explores the history of a theology of love and one of the influential characters he looks at is Augustine. Augustine’s theology of love is distorted by his theology of God, a theology that has heavily influenced Western Christian thought. How can a theology of love really exist when ones theology of God is that He determines all things?
But well thought-out deterministic theologies have well articulated answers to that question. Sure no one can be “made” to love God because that is in itself an oxymoron. So what God does is give some people the desire to love him, thus they love him on their own accord, yet it is because God gave them the desire to do so. But this explanation, as well articulated as it can get, only seems to push back the inevitable. It amounts to giving a woman a “love potion” so that she will “fall in love” with you. She may then fall in love with you, but it is against her will and thus the “love” is disingenuous.
In order for a loving relationship to exist between God and humans, reciprocation must be genuine. I don’t think this is possible in a theological construct that sees God as all-determining. The difference between God and Sheldon Cooper in this scenario is that God, who has the power to make the bird come back to him, gives it a love potion so that it will desire to love Him. Genuine loves and genuine relationships can’t exist in a theology of God that sees all things as determined.