Christian love

I will assume that you are still with me, at least interested in hearing a little more of what I have to say before you give up.

Notice that if I am right, Christianity is not really a matter of practice so much as theory: it is not what you do, but how you see things that is what makes the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

So for those who are impatient at all this theorizing and say, "Yes, yes, but get on with it. What are we supposed to do to make ourselves more Christian?" my answer is, "You are missing the point. Christianity is what the translations used to call 'penance' or 'repentance,' but whose Greek literally means 'alteration of mind': so the task to perform in becoming Christian is precisely this change in the way of looking at things.

And if my description of humility approaches accuracy, you can see that the Christian's mentality is totally and utterly different from the non-Christian's.

But of course, humility is just the negative way of looking at the Christian vocation: we are called away from concern for ourselves; but we are called to concern for something else. And concern for something other than oneself is called love.

I think I hear a sigh of relief. "Ah, so that's what it's all about. If you mean that we love, and because we love we care about others, then you were just being provocative when you introduced it by saying that we don't care about ourselves. I can handle love."

Unfortunately, just as there are forms of humility that are not Christian humility, so there are forms--thousands of them--of love which have nothing to do with Christian love.

Love in itself is not distinctively Christian. You could argue that Confucianism is really a philosophy of love; and certainly Buddhism is based on love and not caring about oneself. Atheists love; and atheists' love can often take on an intensity and a poignancy that no Christian can match. No Christian can equal the pathos of the lament of Catullus for his dead brother:

"Borne through all these lands, and over these many seas,

. . . I speak my useless words to mute ashes,

. . . And so for all time, my brother, hail--and goodbye."

His love was more intense than any Christian's could be because it had no hope; it was the stronger because it was known to be futile.

Now we cannot say that such love doesn't exist, or that the atheist's love is covert selfishness; the same charge could be leveled against the Christian, and with as little evidence. The atheist loves, but with the sort of love that the Christian cannot have and so finds it hard to understand, and is apt to rationalize into impossibility.

But by the same token, the Christian loves with a love that is different in kind, not degree, from that of the atheist, or non-Christian. Christians have all sorts of degrees of this love; but the kind of love they have is radically different from anything that the non-Christian possesses. The atheist, not having a love that is also a faith and a hope, cannot understand this kind of love, and he in his turn rationalizes Christian love into either delusion, masochism, or covert self-centeredness. Ayn Rand's "altruist" is a beautiful example of the misuderstanding of what Christian love is. One of the problems of love of any kind is that negatively speaking it always shows up as humility; and so it always resists understanding even by the one who has it, and all the more so by the observer who does not.

But this does not mean that love cannot be accepted as a fact. And it is for the Christian to reveal this supra-rational fact in such a way that non-Christians are forced to accept it as a fact, are forced to see that Christian love is different from any other kind of love, and finally brought to realize that it is truer than the love that they possess, and truer than their own self-fulfillment.

But of course to be able to do this, the Christian has to understand something about the love that is distinctively his, and how it differs from other sorts of love. We can't hope to fathom its mystery; but to give up and "just love" is silly. This, in fact, is one of the problems Christianity is having today. Tired of trying to understand things, Christians have thrown away their minds and started "thinking with their hearts," and "just loving." The result has been what one could have expected: they have done things in the name of "love" that would have made the Corinthians blush, and certainly have made the atheists laugh instead of marvel. The fact that Christianity is trans-rational does not mean that we should abandon reason and sink below it; that is the Corinthian temptation; it means that we should use it, but rise above it.

Christians are called to love in their Prince, Jesus, who is the human expression of God's love in the world. In one sense, we are called through Jesus; but in another, we are called to be Jesus--literally to be Jesus--because he is the man who loves with God's love because he lives God's life, and God is love; and those who live the life of grace are living God's life and so are living the same life of Jesus; and therefore are the same Jesus. This is what Paul was driving at when he said in the First Letter to the Corinthians, "It is the same as in a body. The body is one thing, but it has many organs; and even though there is a plurality of organs, they are all only one body; and this is how it is with the Prince. When we were bathed in one spirit, we all were bathed into a single body..."

It is in this sense that there is only one mediator, because Jesus is not a mediator in the sense Mary or the saints are, but rather the mediation--or even, the medium--in which human beings live with the life of God. Jesus says in John's Report, "[I pray] that they will be one thing, just as you are one thing in me and I am one thing in you; that they will be one thing in us, I in them and you in me."

Mary and the saints are helpers we have in the total community, which is visible as well as invisible--just as we have friends on earth. But we are Jesus and Jesus is God, and so we are God; in that sense, he is mediator as no other is mediator.

So the first thing to note here about the Christian call is that it is not a call to be "another Christ." There is only one Christ--one Prince--just as there is only one God. Your heart is not "another you"; it is, in its reality, you, because you are a unit, not a system of things hitched together. So, you are not somebody who "stands for" Jesus, or who has Jesus "living inside" him; you are someone who lives with Jesus' life; you are Jesus. You are just not all there is to Jesus, any more than your heart is all there is to you.

One of the things we have to be careful of with this analogy is to say that we are "parts" of Jesus the way an organ is a "part" of a body. This is true in a sense, but false in a sense. Paul did stress, using this analogy, that each of us has his own distinctive function in the supernatural life we live--so that not everyone is an "emissary" (apostolos; what we now call a Bishop), not everyone is a prophet, and so on.

But, though we make up the body which is the (social) presence of Jesus in the world today--the community is in this sense his body; and though each of us is a part of this body, which is literally the body, the physical body of Jesus (because it is matter which lives with his life, and matter is defined as "someone's body" when it lives that someone's life); still, this does not mean that we are "parts" in any sense of God, because God does not have any parts.

Christianity is not a version of pantheism. Jesus is God, and we are Jesus, and Jesus' body, just as the branches are the vine, not something "attached" to it. And so we are God's body. But, because we live with God's life, and God is spirit, not body, we are not parts of God, but God Himself. There is only one God, YHWH, and that is who we are. We are YHWH as Son, not as Father, not as Spirit, but with the Father and the Spirit identical with us.

This is a great mystery. We are not one "with" God, except in the sense that the Logos (the Word) is "with" God; but "the Word was with [i.e. "facing"] God and the Word was God." There is but one God, not three Gods, and if Jesus is one (thing) "with" God then Jesus is God; and if we are Jesus, we are God Almighty.

So we are not called to love God in the sense of knowing about someone and caring about him; we are called to be God. So the Christian call to love is not the call to love God; it is the call to be God, who is love.

How could we answer such a call? Obviously, we cannot. We must not only be called, we must be chosen. The answer cannot come from us; it must be given to us. Only God can give his life to us; we cannot acquire it. How could finiteness acquire infinity--yet that is what we are called to.

St. Paul says in "Ephesians," "This [every spiritual blessing in the heights of heaven] was what he gave us when he chose us in him before the world began to exist, so that we would be sacred and sinless before him in love; and when he had sonship to himself as his purpose for us from the beginning through Prince Jesus. ...the riches of his gift, which has also overflowed into us with complete wisdom and knowledge, because it has informed us of the secret of his will; that it was his pleasure, which he determined beforehand in the Prince, for things to work out so that when the time reached completion, everything in heaven and on earth would be brought together under one head in the Prince.

...[And I pray] that you will be strong enough to grasp, along with all the sacred people, what the length, width, and depth of the love of the Prince is, and to think the Thought that is too great to be thought--and so to be filled with the complete totality of God."

You see, I am not making this up.

So Christian love is not so much love of God as it is God, who is love. The Prince, Jesus, is the human expression of God's love in the world.

What this means, then, is that we are to love as God loves, with God's love, and not to love because God loves, or because we love God. These may be phases, aspects, or conditions of Christian love; but the essence of Christian love is that it is God's love, not any other kind of love.

"Your attitude is to be the one that was in Prince Jesus," as I quoted from Paul to the Philippians. The essence of Christianity is having God's mind, thinking God's thoughts, not thinking about God, or thinking about things because God thinks about them. But

"'My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways,' says YHWH. 'My thoughts are as far above your thoughts and my ways are as far from your ways as the sky is above the earth.'"

As I said, Christianity is a new way of looking at things; and we must change our way of thinking about things, if we would change into Christians. To "love" is not what Christianity is all about; to be the embodiment of Love (with a capital L) is what it is about. It doesn't matter what you do, if you do it with this attitude; and if you don't, then it doesn't matter what you do either. In the first case, your act will be Christian, and in the second, it won't, no matter how good it is.

Let us be clear on this. It is possible to be good without being Christian. It is not possible to be saved except through the Prince and His community somehow; but that is a different story. Presumably, the sincerely good will be saved somehow, and so will somehow belong to the body which is Jesus; but their goodness, as Paul is at such pains to point out to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, is not their salvation, nor can it do anything to save them. Christianity is not an ethic, a rule of conduct; virtue in the Christian sense is not something that you "do."

To those who say that justification (virtue) comes by faith and not works, I would like to issue the warning that faith is not something that you "do" either. Some Sunday radio preachers exhort people to have faith and accept Jesus as their personal savior, as if this were something that they could do, and once they did it, Jesus would take over from there. But of course, that makes salvation depend on a "work" (the act of accepting Jesus as savior) and not "faith" in the sense Paul talks about it. Faith is a gift, not something that you "do." You can do nothing, nothing, nothing, to be saved; it must be done to you; and even the acceptance of the gift is a gift.

Can you refuse it? Certainly. But your non-refusal is not your act. Even your refusal is helped by God--not that he makes you refuse, if you refuse. There is a mystery here, and we trivialize it if we make "predestination" into something that absolves us from responsibility, or make our freedom something that gets us out of the absolute control--in everything, including our choices--of God.

[If you want to delve into this, see Modes of the Finite, 3.3.6.]

Christianity is a paradox, remember, not a dilemma to be resolved. We are absolutely powerless, absolutely, and must have God's help even to sin; we are under the absolute dominion of God. But at the same time, our choices (caused by God) are free, and are our own, specified by us and not determined or made to be what they are by God.

However you want to describe this paradox, you falsify your faith if your "description" explains it in such a way that God makes us do things, or that God doesn't have absolute control over our choices. We must hold onto both sides and affirm both sides. There is no contradiction between them; but to show how takes reams of paper. We know from faith that there is no contradiction; how they are reconcilable is something for the philosophers to ponder. We will have to get into this a bit; but it will be well to hold onto the facts and not to get lost in the explanation.

Notice here that this union with the Prince and so with YHWH is not really the love that the Christian has; if you will, the union is the condition for the love, because it is what the Christian is united to that is the love.

I make this distinction because we are inclined to think of love as union, or at least as for the sake of union; but this, I think, is a mistake, looking at love backwards. Love is unselfishness; but if union is its goal (that for the sake of which it happens), then again it is not unselfishness, but self-fulfillment--the self-fulfillment which consists in expanding the self by absorbing the other within it.

Now the lover does, in a sense, absorb the beloved within him; but this is the effect of love, not its essence nor its purpose.

What I mean is this: If I make, say, my wife's happiness a goal of my actions (if I choose to act for her benefit and not mine), then this is an act of love. And what it means is that her reaching some goal of hers has become a goal of my act; for instance, if I help her type her Doctoral dissertation so that she can get her degree, then her getting the degree is the goal of my choice to act. Insofar as her getting the degree is not chosen as a means toward some self-fulfillment of mine (such as greater income for the family, and hence for me), then this act is love.

Now then, her fulfillment as an independent person is what I am after: I allow her to define for herself what the goal is, and then that goal as hers and not mine becomes the goal of my choice to act. But that means that her goal (always as an independent reality) is also a goal of my choice; and as a goal of my choice, it is the goal of an eternal act of mine, and is with me after I die; and so must be fulfilled if I am to achieve fulfillment.

That is, my fulfillment now depends on her fulfillment as an independent person, because I have made her goal one of my goals. I cannot be myself unless she is (in some respect) what she wants to be.

Therefore, because my goal is subordinated to her goal, her goal is my goal, and her fulfillment my fulfillment; and so she is "with" me as an independent entity but part of my fulfillment. Her happiness is "part" of my happiness; but it is precisely not subordinated to my happiness, nor is her independence lessened by being "part" of my eternal life.

What this means is that the union with God that occurs when a human being loves God is not a subordination of God to the person's own goals, or an absorption of God within oneself; and this union is not really even sought. The Christian loves God simply because God is God; God as he exists is a goal of the Christian's life--or, if you will, God's "goals" are the Christian's goals, and God's happiness and "fulfillment" are the reason for the Christian's acting like a Christian.

Immediately, we run into another paradox. God, as absolutely perfect, has no real goals (things that he finds more fulfilling) and no real fulfillment, since he is absolutely "fulfilled" eternally and no further improvement is possible or even thinkable. Since God is absolutely successful and knows it--he is everything that even he could want to be, and knows it--then he is absolutely happy, and nothing can make him any happier or less happy.

Then how can God's goals be our goals, his fulfillment our fulfillment, his happiness our happiness? We can do nothing to "improve" God, to make him any happier than he might otherwise be; nor, since he is unchangeable, can we make him any less happy (by our sins, for example) than he might otherwise be.

Let us be clear on this; we will explore it in detail later. We have, most of us, been taught that our sins "pain" God or make him "angry" somehow; and some of that seems to be reinforced by texts from the Bible, which refer to the "wrath" of God. But if God is absolute and unchanging (as the Bible also teaches and has been held since the beginning of Christianity), then these terms cannot be taken literally. Our sins in no sense make God any less happy than he would be if we had not sinned; he is absolutely content with our sinning and even with our damning ourselves. If not, then it would mean that we would have eternal power over God, and could prevent God from "fulfilling" a goal of his (make him less than he would otherwise be) by sinning and suffering forever in hell.

No, we cannot in fact alter God at all. Then his happiness cannot be a goal of our acts in the sense in which another human being's happiness is the goal of our acts. That other human being has goals; God has none; he is goal; he has none.

The point to be made here based on this is that the Christian, loving God, is faced with another paradox: How can we love without doing something for our beloved? But we can do nothing at all for God. The answer is that our love does not consist in "doing God favors," or in "helping him fulfill his goals," but in obedience: in doing what he wants.

But even this is a paradox, as we will see in the next chapter. God "wants" for me exactly what I want for myself--even if that is sin and damnation. If God has absolute power over me, then it is absolutely impossible for me to do anything except exactly what God wants me to do. Then no matter what I do--even if I try to be as disobedient as possible--I am obedient to God's will for me. It is not possible for me to disobey; and hence, to say that love of God is "obedience to his will" is not enough.

Yet if we have the attitude that was in Prince Jesus, we must become obedient. Then what can this mean? It must mean that we take on God's way of thinking. We are back where we were before. If I love God, I subordinate, not my actions, not my will, but my mind to him; the way he thinks becomes the way I think.

I am going to try to spell some of this out in general in the next chapter, particularly with respect to God's attitude toward the evils that occur in this world--both the bad things that happen to people and the sins that they do. I will then try to spell out how taking over God's way of thinking (i.e. loving as God loves) means one of three things: loving as the Father loves, loving as the Son loves, and loving as the Spirit loves; and these three dimensions of the Divine love, who are the three Persons of the Trinity, define the three states of the Christian life: the layman loves as the Father loves, the priest as the Son, and the Religious as the Spirit. (Since this is a work on lay spirituality, I am going to treat them in reverse order.)

But to finish this chapter, let me remark that the great Christian temptation is, instead of taking over God's way of looking at things, to pretend that God has our way of looking at things.

For instance, since, when we love someone, that person's deliberately ruining his life causes us enormous anguish, we then conclude that God (a) will not let us ruin ourselves, even if we want to and (b) that if we do, we will cause him infinite sorrow. This is to make God into an infinitely affectionate puppy-dog, because this is the kind of "love" that animals have, and we love that way because we are (thinking) animals.

If we command someone to do something and he deliberately refuses, we are angry; and therefore, we assume that God gets angry with us when we sin. Knowing that sin is an offense against God (a kind of attempt to slap his face), we assume that he is offended by it.

If we love another person, we tend to have all kinds of fantasies of our own about what the other person's "true happiness" is, and we proceed to try to make him happy by "helping him fulfill himself," when in fact what we are trying to do is to make him over into our idea of what he is; and so we assume that God has some kind of "plan" for our lives that we must discover and fulfill if we are to do what he "wants."

We want to be considered to be important, and therefore, knowing that God loves us, we assume that he loves us for what is worth while about us--weighing the good and the bad, he finds us more good than bad, and at least finds something lovable about us. Thus, we assume that God "loves the sinner and hates the sin"; but the sin defines the sinner, and if you hate the one you hate the other.

But in fact, God's love is not affectionate at all; he is perfectly happy with us if we sin and even if we are eternally damned.

God is not angry with us at all when we sin, or offended if we disobey him.

God has no plan for our lives that we must discover and follow.

God knows we are not important, objectively, and there is nothing lovable about us. He loves us because he loves us, not because there is anything to love. He loves the sinner and is indifferent to the sin.

In short, loving as God loves involves a complete reversal of the way we think.