Posted by: dacalu | 24 January 2009

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Perhaps the hardest thing to understand about Christianity is Christian love. The word can be a bit dangerous, as we use it to mean so many things. I can say that I love ice cream. I can say that I love my country or my new car. I can even talk about sex as “making love” without really looking at what those words mean. And in all of this, I don’t think I have touched on Christian love. The love of Christ represents a radical reorientation of the world and our priorities in it. That love goes beyond any of the other definitions, though if we are lucky we may find the smallest part of true love within those loves.

 

There are closer loves: the love of a man for his spouse (or a woman for hers), the love of a parent for a child, the love of a true friend. Each of these loves comes closer to the reality, but even they do not fully capture what we mean, when we say “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

This may seem a bit of a digression, but I want to talk about suffering and evil for a moment. When we look at the world, it becomes clear to us that many people suffer. Smart people, and wise people, and deeply compassionate people have looked at the suffering of multitudes and asked the very important question, “Why does a good God allow us to suffer?” Historically, the church has affirmed that God is all good and all-powerful. How can this be, in light of suffering? Very well meaning theologians have alternately blamed those who suffer (invoking justice and providence), claimed God was not all powerful (e.g. process theology), or advocated the necessity of human intervention (e.g. liberation theology). Each of these attempts to understand gives us insight, but at a core level, I think they must be wrong. They are wrong because they fail to recognize the fundamental reordering of the cosmos expressed in Christ Jesus.(1)

 

As important as material well-being and mental well being are, they are not the primary concern. Remember that the soul is more than the body and more than the mind. So love is other than a matter of body or mind. Love is a relationship between souls. The best I can describe it is this: love represents an appreciation of souls for one another—independent of their attributes. Or, more commonly, love means being appreciated solely for yourself, for your essence or soul.

 

Once we have reoriented ourselves to this rubric, God becomes infinitely gracious to all. We each experience human souls, and we each experience the essences of created things. For all things in heaven and on earth may be appreciated as they exist, without reservation. Some would then say that all things have souls, but I think that gets us into unnecessarily messy territory. I do believe, with my Buddhist friends that all things have some element of sentience.  I hesitate to call that sentience “soul,” because it is inconsistent with traditional Christian usage of the word. Getting back to my point, though, all things may be appreciated for themselves, for their existence and essence. All things may be loved.

 

If you measure the world by wealth or power, then we must admit that God plays favorites. God gives to some and takes away from others. If you look at intelligence or compassion, wisdom or strength, God plays favorites. If you look at social goods, family, friends, and support; even then God plays favorites. Looking at Genesis, we see that God even offered his approval to Abel over Cain.  But when we look at existence, the presence and appreciation of souls, here God gives abundantly. Here, we can say that all have been favored by God and all have the ability to love.

 

Love is that gift that all are given, that virtue that all can attain, that blessing that all can accept. Love is a way of looking at the world in which God is utterly fair. (2)

 

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(1)   Note that I say expressed in Christ, not brought about by Christ.  I’m not sure how I feel about the latter.  I probably agree, but my point here is that Jesus truly and fully appreciated everyone, including Judas and Pilate.  This is the type of love I long for.

(2)   I don’t want to imply by this that suffering is not a problem.  I find the world unsatisfactory. Rather, I think that if we reorient ourselves in love, God’s favoritism ceases to be the fundamental problem that skeptics have made it.

 

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