More than a virtue
“God is Love.” – 1 John 4:8
“‘For what quality must I love you?’ ‘For no quality! To regard me for any quality of mind or understanding, were only to esteem me.'” – The Rivals by Lord Sheridan
There are many things called love. We love our new car, classical music, animals, sunsets, spouse and God, but do we really love God in the same sense as our car? Clearly, one word is working overtime to express too many meanings. The ancient Greeks didn’t have this problem because they had several words for love, including affection, the love of family, sexual love, altruistic (perfect) and one that is complicated enough to require a story to explain. The first four are covered very well in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves. The first three are covered sufficiently in popular culture, so our focus will be on the last two.
The only perfect love is disinterested and freely given. In The Rivals, by Lord Sheridan, Julia asks Faulkland what quality of his would be an acceptable basis for love. His reply is that no quality is acceptable, that her love must be given for no particular quality of his. Faulkland demands perfect love, not a love moved by a pleasing look or noble birth, but love given without reason.
This is the love God gives. We possess no quality attractive to God and have nothing to give that God requires, including our worship. The vain and silly notion is sometimes put forward that God has need of our worship and praise, but this makes no sense if we take God to be the Creator of all and utterly complete in Himself. God loves us because we exist, and we exist because He loves us. This is not a circular argument: it is not an argument at all. God is love, and so He created us so we might be loved. He gave us free will so we could love others in the way He does. It is nothing less than astonishing that we can love as God loves; it is equally astonishing that we have consistently refused to do so.
To love as God loves is to love without reason, without thought of return, without bound. It is to desire the best for others, but not to decide what is best for them. It is to desire happiness for others without necessarily knowing what will make them happy. It means helping others reach their potential, but not running their lives. It means being involved in others’ lives while keeping our own self interest out of it, being willing to suffer great loss rather than use the other person for our own benefit.
Jesus gave us the perfect example, saving a world he could not live in for long. He did not seek his own private happiness in this life, but gave everything he had for our benefit, taking nothing from us during his life and dying utterly abandoned.
Some will comment that this is a sick attitude toward love, and that it supports abusive relationships, but that is mixing romantic delusions in with the highest love, and it will not work. Perfect love must be given from a position of power, not helplessness, and requires freedom as well. Both of these factors, power and freedom, must be present, and a person being abused will have to get free of the abuse before they can love the abuser perfectly. It may be that the abuser must be kept at a distance for love to be possible, so that the one abused can have the necessary freedom and power. Again, this is not about romantic love, but wanting the best for the person. In some cases, it may be necessary to leave someone permanently if we are to love them perfectly. This can be painful for both, but in Jesus we have an example of loving so much it hurts.
Quite possibly there is no greater danger to love than the pretenders of romance, affection, infatuation, lust or duty. Love is made to excuse many sins, and ignoble motives are often buried under protestations of love. To love perfectly is to be a bit colder in some respects, not relying on emotion but on resolution. Love is not a feeling, it is a decision. In deciding to love, we have the full power of God’s Grace in us, for He always supports love and gives us the ability to channel it. In fact, it is never we who love, but rather we become channels of God’s love, floodgates of love from Heaven, letting God love through us. This is the highest calling possible, and completely possible for every human being.
For Continued Reading
“The Four Loves,” by C.S. Lewis
“New Seeds of Contemplation,” by Thomas Merton
“The Little Flowers of St. Francis”