Sunday, December 30, 2007

God Is Love: Correspondence With Dave Sim

One of the things I want to do this year is continue a study I did almost four years ago on God and love. Specifically, what does it mean when we say God is love? In the spring of 2004 I was giving this a lot of thought and got an insight into the matter. I shared this with Dave Sim, who wrote back quickly. As its the most succinct statement I've written on the subject, I thought I would just reprint it here. I understand Sim has included it in a collection of letters he published. I have recently had another insight on the subject, which is what has revived my own interest. I'll be posting that here.

My letter:

May 14, 2004

Dear Mr. Sim,

I wrote you in March about getting Cerebus into the graphic novel section at Munro’s Bookstore. I’m sorry you declined, but respect your reasons. The guys at Curious Books & Comics were pleased. They always keep your titles in stock.

I don’t know if you get a lot of letters focused on your religious beliefs (as opposed to letters focused on your views about feminism), but as I was reading your final issues I felt prompted to write to you about God’s love. I’m not sure why, specifically. It’s not in response to anything in Cerebus.

What I feel prompted to share is this: God is love, because God is one. Being one, He is unique, incomparable, but He can be understood (at least as far as He has revealed Himself to us), because love works as a bridge builder. It brings harmony, unity, peace -- and a desire for harmony, unity, and peace. It takes diversity and brings wholeness. At first it may seem simplistic to equate love with unity (or even monotheism), but the link is implicit in our attitudes and behavior. When we love we identify with the person or the thing we love.

Being love God works to bring all things into harmony with Himself, but having given us a free will He will not force us into conformity. He is confident that reconciliation is possible. That God has initiated this reconciliation is clearly stated in scripture, but a lot of people stumble at this point. They believe a god who is a god of love is a god who will accept them for who they are, that is, on their own terms. But this is not a love between equals. He is Lord. He is perfect. We are neither. If we share a harmony with God, it can only be on His terms. Scriptures about His work of reconciliation include 2 Corinthians 5:18 and 19, Colossians 1:20-23, Hebrews 2: 16 and 17.

Once we consider who He is and who we are, and of the nature of our reconciliation, we realize that His attitude towards us is one of mercy and that our response can only be one of submission. Scriptural passages that sum this up perfectly include John 3:30, 15:10 and 14, and 1 John 5: 2-4. In John 3:30 John the Baptist, speaking on the decline of his ministry and the increase of Jesus’ said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” If we are to live a life in harmony with His will, we must allow Him to increase in our lives until there is no room left for ourselves. In John 15:10, Jesus, talking to His followers, said, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love”; verse 14 He says ”Ye are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you.” In 1 John 5:2-4, John the Beloved writes to other followers of Jesus: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”

At first these passages might offend, or at least seem odd. What kind of friendship is predicated on obedience? Both our carnal natures, and the times we live in, teach us to despise submission to authority. But any relationship between God and man is a relationship between two great unequals. This is a relationship that could not exist unless God choose to allow and initiate it.

Well, that’s it. God is love. This statement is not based sentimentality. It does not conflict with His role as Law Maker and Judge. It is an expression of His true, monotheistic being.

I would also like to respond to a letter in issue 298. A reader advocates the Gnostic gospels and you said you weren’t interested. If you ever have any doubts about this decision, trust me: you made the right one. A good primer on this subject is Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way by Philip Jenkins. He lays out what these texts actually are and who (often feminists) make use of them to promote their own agendas.

I am also curious about how much the religious views expressed in Cerebus are your actual beliefs – particularly the commentary on the Torah – and how much of it was written to serve the story.

I started reading Cerebus about the time Jaka’s Story came out, and have been enjoying it many years. I don’t know where the Lord intends to lead you, but as a reader and fan I hope it includes something in comics.

David Bird

His response:

20 May 04

Dear Mr. Bird:

Thank you for your letter of May 14. I remember your letter from March about getting Cerebus into the graphic novel section at Munro's Bookstore and I appreciate you writing to tell me that the guys at Curious Books & Comics were pleased that I had chosen to keep Cerebus as a comic-store-only item. Just from experience I hadn't expected any comic stores to express any level of appreciation for my loyalty. They never have, so, you know, why start now?

I also thank you for those portions of your letter about God's love. I get a letter every once in a while whose motive, self-admittedly, seems inexplicable to its author. In fact I printed a letter on this very subject a while back whose author explained that the Greek term which is translated as love in the Gospels is agape which is based far more on reason than the princess telephone and heart-shaped pillows version it has devolved into. I think that the more conventional perception of love relative to God is probably more useful to women since they find reason to be anathematic and irritating.

In answer to your question about the extent to which the religious views expressed in Cerebus are my actual beliefs and how much of it was written to serve the story. The commentaries on the Torah are just that: commentaries. I prefer things that make sense and, as far as I can see, my interpretations are sensible. Of course there are a lot of qualifiers to be added: I start with the supposition that the Torah is a narrative. If you take the standard Judeo-Christian view that the Torah is a series of disconnected anecdotes or a rule book that ranges from literal do's and don'ts to metaphorical forms of the same then there's no need to make sense of it. You just infer whatever you like and declare that to be the truth. I came up with a narrative that, in my view, fits the words as constituted and answers questions like "Where does Cain's wife come from?" and "Why didn't men call themselves by the name of the Lord until the birth of Sheth?" which the Talmud and-so far as I know-all other narratives just avoid. That doesn't mean that my narrative is the right one. I'd certainly be interested in seeing what other construction another writer could make out of the narrative of Moshe's Law which includes all the given facts and follows logically into the Gospels and the Koran. That was the structure I used with Cerebus all along: I would supersede the previous reality with a new reality when a new reality presented itself to me. If someone comes up with a more functionally accurate narrative than my own, I'll certainly consider switching to the new, improved model. For now, mine is the only one in the narrative category (which, I must say, surprised me-I expected that if I was working on one and there are 8 billion people on the planet, there were probably several hundred being worked on at the same time in the same hidden way that mine was produced. One of God's Great Witticisms again. No, Dave. You were the only one working on one of those).

When you say that you don't know where the Lord intends to lead me but as a reader and fan you hope it includes something in comics-if you mean God, we'll just have to wait and see. For now, just staying current with the mail and my obligations to Following Cerebus and the Cerebus Archive seems like more than enough on my plate. I'm still hoping to get some time to take it easy as I did between December 17 and January 23 and so far I couldn't be further from it if I tried. Hard for me to believe that that was four months ago now and even harder to believe that it might ever slow down again.

Well, it still beats having to write and draw a monthly comic book.

Thanks for your kind words and please say "Hi" to the guys at Curious Books & Comics for me.

Dave Sim

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