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Many readers of this blog have asked me why I have suddenly started to post articles on love. This is for a great number of reasons. One is because of my own quick and radical transformation with regard to my views on love. Another is because of my frequent and very enjoyable conversations with friends about love. A final one is because of my realisation and recognition of the deep importance of love, above all else, within Christianity. People have asked me why I have posted an article on “The Great Mystery of Human Love” on my theology blog. I reply, with St Thomas Aquinas and John Hick, that I think that analogical language is one of the best ways of talking about God and his nature and attributes. The Bible itself often uses analogical language to talk about God’s attributes and his love. We cannot use univocal language to talk about God (this would anthropomorphise and demote God) and nor can we use equivocal language (this wouldn’t allow us understanding of God’s nature) but we deeply desire to have some level and sort of knowledge of His nature and characteristics and so we must turn to the characteristics that we, who are made in His own image, have and then multiply them infinitely.
The Power of Love in Self-Discovery and Self-Identification
“It is thanks to you that I have come to know myself.”
(“Father Sergius” by Leo Tolstoy)
“Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.”
What Tolstoy and Smith are saying here is that it is only by, with and through our beloved, loving our beloved and being loved by our beloved that we ourselves can actually “come to know ourselves”, discover ourselves and find out who we truly are. When we live in isolation, we seldom realise our unique gifts, talents, attributes, characteristics and flaws. This can sometimes make friendships, conversations and interactions with others difficult as we are unaware of our failings. Love fills this gap as only the beloved has deep and intimate knowledge of you through getting to know you very well over a long period of time and through living in close proximity to you. Your quirks are all too apparent to your beloved and their quirks are all too apparent to you but this unique, special, deep, close and intimate union alone allows the discovery of this important knowledge of ourselves. This is one of the reasons why love is vital.
The Power of Love in Self-Transformation
Subsequent to this self-discovery and self-identification comes self-transformation as one then desires to smooth off the rough edges which the beloved has just enabled them realise and acknowledge.
“When one loves one doubts even what one most believes.”
(Maxim 348 by Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld)
“Love is a true renovator”
(Maxim 195 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
“I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.”
Here Rochefoucauld and Goethe are saying that love is a strong force and power which causes the individuals who are locked within its grasp to question, doubt and challenge everything they do, say, think and believe. They desire the beloved so much and they desperately want the beloved to love them back so they don’t want to hold onto any aspect of themselves that the beloved dislikes unless they really have to. Further to this, the intimate knowledge which only the beloved has of the other causes the beloved to realise the other’s prejudices and sometimes inadequate, weak and insufficient reasons for their behaviour, actions, thoughts, beliefs, views and deeds. The other either may not even realise these insufficient reasons when in isolation or may realise them but choose to ignore them.
Christianity argues that God Himself knows all of us humans better than we know ourselves and that he knew every detail of our entire lives before time itself even began. This means that divine love is so much more important and powerful than human love and causes so much more self-discovery, self-identification and self-transformation than human love. This idea of self-transformation as caused by love features prominently in Christian theology. It says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” and Martin Luther once said “We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone”. What is being argued here is that it is not possible to believe in God without subsequently loving Him. How could one truly believe that Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the only sinless human in history and the only son of God who is also simultaneously God Himself) died for the sins of the entire world, including all of theirs, but not then put all of their effort into trying to obey, please and follow Him and His commandments and teachings? This is why Matt Chandler and Dr Joe Cassidy have argued that there cannot really be a distinction between believing in the Christian God and loving Him. Now, if we love Him, we will want to follow Him and try to obey all of His teachings and commandments. We will often fall short but we will persevere and carry on and this is the radical and extraordinary power of self-transformation in Christianity.
By Ben Somervell
Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, you might be interested in the following articles which I have also written on love: