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Inside: Thoughts on loving Jesus…and what does the word love even mean, anyway?

It’s the day before Easter. Such an odd day for a deconstructing Christian.

Coincidentally, someone on TikTok asked me yesterday if I loved Jesus. I responded with, “Hmmm, that’s a tough question. How much time do you have?”

An odd answer, I know. I’m sure it seemed especially odd to the commenter, who was clearly a follower of Jesus.

I used to love Jesus very much. I would talk to Him regularly, although I admit that the Father was my go-to member of the Trinity to converse with during quiet times.

But which Jesus did I love? And why and how did I love Him?

Redefining Love When Your Theology Changes

Did I love the version of Jesus who died on the cross for my sins? What if I don’t believe that Jesus had to die for my sins anymore? Do I still love him just for dying?

It seems more than a little odd to love someone for letting himself be killed by religious leaders.

For coming back to life then? I guess…but again, that seems more worthy of admiration than love, especially if you no longer believe the cross was a necessary sacrifice.

Did I love the one who turned over tables at the temple because he was so damn angry that people were exploiting the poor in the name of God and religion? I definitely admire that Jesus a whole lot at the moment.

What about the one who wept because Lazarus died…and maybe because he was being accused of letting Lazarus die? I love his compassion, his humanity. But I’m not so sure about the bit that he let Jesus die so he could bring him back to life.

When people talk about loving Jesus, they often talk about loving him because he died for them. For them. Because apparently we are responsible for Jesus needing to die, for God killing Jesus.

But I don’t believe that God had to kill Jesus anymore. I don’t believe that the sacrificial system was really God’s idea in the first place, mostly because it sounds an awful lot like every other culture with gods who demanded sacrifices back in the day.

So if I don’t believe in the system…and I don’t believe Jesus was a necessary sacrifice…and I don’t believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell…

Then love seems like a strange word.

Then again, I do love the fact that Jesus was a friend of sinners, that he constantly pointed out the hypocrisy of all the religious do’s and don’t’s of the day. That he would have been the first one to sit down with the immigrant, the transgender woman, the black man, the woman who exercised her right to choose.

He wouldn’t have picked the table marked “Christians”, full of the people obsessed with turning people away from the table.

So maybe I can’t use the same language anymore because “loving Jesus” is tied to theology I no longer believe in? But maybe I do still love Jesus?

Kind of like how I love L.R. Knost for the way she kicks evangelical Christian leaders to the curb about their messed up parenting teachings and offers parent a healthier, gentler, more respectful parenting philosophy?

(If you haven’t read her book Jesus The Gentle Parent, do it. She’s a total badass. When she’s done with James Dobson and the Pearls, there’s not much left.)

Related: Tell Me What You Believe About Children And I’ll Tell You What You Believe About God

You Keep Using That Word. I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.

Maybe it’s the fact that the word “love” itself is so damn complicated today.

Love is globally defined as:

“To feel deep affection for someone, or to feel a deep romantic attachment to someone.”

Oxford Languages

And quite honestly, the romance side of it was definitely emphasized a little too much in the evangelical church growing up…weird, and yuck. We were supposed to “date Jesus”. Oh, purity culture.

Only in the past two years did I realize that the word “love” means something very different to evangelical Christians than it does to me. They associate love with the God of the Old Testament, the God who sends billions of people to hell because “he has to”.

You can see where that kind of association would taint things a bit? Especially for someone who no longer believes that God is sending everyone to hell who doesn’t believe in Jesus?

I associate the word love with, well, loving someone unconditionally, not judging them. I associate it with embraces and warmth and support. You know, with love.

The phrase, “There’s not hate like Christian love,” has got to be my favorite one to discover during the pandemic. Only because it’s sadly so very true. Where parents cut off their children because they don’t live holy enough lives, or because they don’t believe in Jesus (after the past two years, can you blame the kids?).

So do I love Jesus? I don’t know.

Admire. Respect. Appreciate. Those are the words I feel good about using right now.

I admire Jesus. I respect Jesus. I appreciate Jesus.

Give me a few more years of deconstruction and just maybe I can get back to the word “love”. Or maybe not.

For now, those words are going to have to be enough.

Read Next: Wondering How Faith Deconstruction Starts? I Can Only Tell You My Story

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