A Valentine for God?

Listening to Miroslav Volf on YouTube, I came across a wonderful quote about love. It stands true, not only for one’s love for God, but for all true love.

“Either we love God for nothing, or we don’t love God at all.”

The brilliance of this simple principle runs counterintuitively to many of the principles (or, at least, the practices) in our world. “How do I love you you? Let me count the ways?” Yet, we have to ask ourselves regularly when this counting of ways “how” we love, becomes the marking of reasons why we love.

If I love someone, because of how they look, what they do for me, or how they agree with me; I have not loved them. Rather I have loved myself. Their beauty has done something for me. Their gifts or help have benefitted me. Their identification with my goals or beliefs has validated me. These reasons for loving, are based in a recycling of self-fulfilling dynamics. To love another, because it does something for me, is simply to love myself, and if this is the basis for love, love will end when the benefit has ended. When the beauty fades, millionaires find a younger model like buying a car, and leave a spouse alone and betrayed. When times become difficult and security seems to disappear, one person is left for another who holds a financial safety net. When disagreement over political, personal or lifestyle issues becomes severe enough people leave one another for places of validation, where egos can be stroked. This is evidence that it is not the other I loved, but myself that I have loved, and when the benefit to myself ended, so did the love for the other. This was never true love for the other to start with, it was love for oneself fulfilled by another.*

The debates of the problem of evil circle around this same self-fulfilling discussion of love. Te debate is focused upon a love for God, or perhaps better described as expectations upon God, and look much like the expectations we would have toward another person. Somehow, we expect total freedom in this world, but when total freedom falls into pieces in a world completely in our own hands, we are angry that things do not go our way. We blame God. We leave the relationship to our faith, like two people leaving one another in a marriage, because they did not agree, did not feel attracted any longer, or their sense of financial security was somehow challenged. When we find ourselves feeling restricted by expectations toward behavior (which are found in any relationship), it is we who leave God, and not God who leaves us. The cross of Christ is the solid historical evidence of God’s faithfulness to love without reason. It is we who do not love without reason in the Gospel story.

Truly generous love is only found in love without reason, because only love without reason is sacrificial and survives beyond the expiration date of reasons.

Today the Welsh monster guitarist Gareth Pearson posted a silly little poem to his fiancé on Facebook:

Valentine’s is stupid
Valentine’s dumb
For I found the one I love,
Upon calling God not Cupid.

I’d rather show true love,
Without buying gifts and cards,
But by spending my whole life,
Being your bodyguard

Good on you Gareth. 🙂

* there are times when safety, and betrayal demand leaving someone, but the lines we have drawn for those moments in today’s world are often based in self-love, and make sacrificial love impossible.


2 thoughts on “A Valentine for God?

  1. I think perhaps this “sacrificial” love is too simplistic. The lines of love are many, and in sacrificing on one front, many others are made to suffer. Perhaps the Cyrano De Bergerac’s represent the most selfish of loves for insisting they alone not share in its joys. Love will sacrifice, but it has as its goal the advancement of all, the fulfillment of all. It bears tragedy because its joys are a sum greater than the constituent objects when shared in relationship between “I” and “Thou.”

    1. Interesting thoughts. Not sure I agree with the assessment of sacrificial love, but this is probably semantics here. “Sacrificial love” assumes first of all it is “love.” In that sense, I do not think it is possible to be simplistic, because I am beginning with a definition of love, which is perfect. This perfection only survives unscathed in a perfect world, and therefore is idealistic and self-canceling. By “self-canceling”, I mean that it brings about its own death in a broken system. This is the Pauline “I die daily” dynamic. The outworking of this is far more complex, than some kind of suicidal compact. Rather, it lives for another. In a perfect system, the thought for oneself is unnecessary, because all laboring and living is for the other, and the thought of self is unnecessary. In the broken system, the thoughtlessness of selflessness is often only rewarded as the hero’s unlucky portion – a memorial of nobility in its truest sense. Thus, Jesus talks about those who honor the prophets, but whose fathers killed them. De Bergerac does not become a good model, because he plays a lie, and true love (“agape”) does not bear false witness. Paul speaks of sacrificing, and not having love. That is not what this is, obviously. And of course, the sacrificing dynamic in which some suffer, and others are helped, is also inherent to a broken system. People can take advantage of sacrifice, and there will be necessary moments to determine which direction to sacrifice. That does not make it less sacrificial, but the nuanced details of sacrificial love are probably not possible to detail by establishing standards. They are issues of the heart, and a much longer post methinks.

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