Love has to be one of the most talked about and written about things in the world. The apostle Paul has a wonderful definition in 1 Corinthians. I would add one thing to Paul’s list. Risk. I think it is important to add this for two reasons. First it is an obvious element in love and secondly it is important for theology.
The statement that “God is love” is ubiquitous in theology and religious sentiment. But if God is love then God must also be at risk. Many of the ontologies employed by theology neglect this idea and reduce God to a bystander. This has tragic consequences for the formulations of theology and the personal piety that ensues.
Perhaps an analogy would be apt to demonstrate that love entails risk. Most parents know very well how loving their children places them at risk all the time. Loving and raising children is more than just nurturing and guiding them as they grow. At times it means that one accepts a risk to oneself. That risk can be both physical and psychological. Parents are willing to take on both these risks. There is something in the makeup of parents that will risk life and limb to protect their children if they are in danger. Stories of this abound. But perhaps an even more prominent element of risk is psychological risk. As children grow there will always be situations that arise where the parent goes through psychological torment about the child’s situation. The vicissitudes of life come down on children just as they do for adults. Whether it be a child with cancer, a child that becomes addicted, or just the normal everyday challenges that meet children as they forge their own identity and deal with social situations and life challenges. These are times where even when the parent does all they can for their children there is always an underlying anxiety that persists as things play out. For many that anxiety puts the parent at psychological risk. The parent may loose sleep, feel panic, suffer depression, or many other serious psychological maladies. Parent are willing to place they own wellbeing at risk for their child. And for many that risk is not trivial. It can effect health, create financial ruin, and serious effect other members of the loved family. But parents do it because of love. If there is always the potential for personal risk in raising and loving a child should we not also attribute this to God? If God is love then God is also at risk.
If God is also at risk in God’s love for us then theology must take this seriously in its formulations. Many do not. In classic theism God is not at risk because God is perfect and immutable. In process theology God is not truly at risk because God only prehends what happens in our lives. This would be akin to a parent trying to influence what happened in their child’s life, feeling their pain, but not truly entering into personal risk. In my view, the only theological formulation that honors God’s risk is that based on the idea that God is a living God and that we are aspects of God. A living God enters into the very fabric of finitude, contingence, the potential for evil, and the loss of self. For a living God the risks are real. They carry all the risks of non-being, fragmentation, dis-integration, guilt, hopelessness, and anxiety. For a living God these are just as real and dangerous as they are for us. But God accepts these risks out of love. God’s love creates life where there is the potential for both great good and great evil, great beauty and great ugliness, great meaning and great meaninglessness. This is the structure of life. Only in this structure is there a life worth having or wanting. One could imagine a God who did not choose to live. One that rejected the risk of life and instead remained pristine in the Godself. But that is not the God of reality. God chose to live and create living aspects of Godself to love and participate in both the struggle and wonder of life.
There are certain crucial points that a compelling and lasting theology must confront and find an answer that is both true and existentially meaningful. That God’s love entails true risk should be one of them.