Sunday, May 2, 2010

My human love for God, in context

One of the more profound statements ever made by a Christian theologian is the final thesis of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, written in 1518, barely six months after he had nailed his epoch-making Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. The Ninety-five Theses were a call to arms against church abuses. The final thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation summed up the “ideology” that generated the call. Luther formulated it as a contrast between two kinds of love, human and divine: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.”

Consider, first, what Luther calls human love, but which is better described as distorted love. It’s elicited by the object of love; it’s basically passive in the sense that it depends on the object of love. Its only activity, says Luther, consists in “receiving something.” A person sees beauty – or goodness or truth – and wants to have it. As a consequence, people who love in this way seek their “own good” in those they love; they don’t bestow any good on them. A man may shower a woman with gifts, but he may be doing it so that he can ingratiate himself to her, enjoy her, keep her, or even worse, so that he can display her as a trophy. When we love in this way, we are receivers, not givers.

Contrast this kind of possessive love with divine love. First, divine love never had to come into being at all; it wasn’t elicited by its object. It simply is. It doesn’t depend on the truth, beauty, or goodness of the beloved. Second, as Luther stated, because God’s love isn’t caused by its object, it can love those who are not lovable, “sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise and strong.” Luther concluded, “rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good.” Such divine love is supremely manifested on the cross on which Jesus Christ took the sin of the world upon himself. ”This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.” Unlike merely human love, divine love gives and doesn’t receive.

-Miroslav Volf, "Free of Charge" (p. 38-39)

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