Do we (or should we) love and serve God because as a result we will be happy, or because it is good in itself? Some claim we should, not because it is right, or moral, or good, but because it is what’s best for us (I’m thinking of so called “Christian hedonism”). I believe that we ought to love and serve God, even if it would only bring us pain and suffering.
My basic reason, is that selfishness destroys love. We cannot love for a purpose. It is always for its own sake.
‘Love me for a reason,
Let the reason be love.’
-The Osmonds/ Boyzone
The Osmonds got it. Hedonists can’t. It is impossible to love God above all things, if you love Him because of anything, including the pleasure He can give. Perhaps this isn’t clear without properly defining love.
‘By this we know love, because He [Jesus] laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
1 John 3:16
Love is revealed upon the cross. Not in the resurrection, or the ascension, or the glorious return of Jesus, but in his death. Love is pure gift, not pure desire.
Perhaps Hedonism is the natural development of Calvinism (or perhaps just some forms of Calvinism), with its doctrine that God Himself is both gracious (forgiving) and just (condemning) only for the sake of His own glory. If God saves or damns us for His own sake (without giving us a say) why shouldn’t we only be saved, loving and serving Him, for our own sake? Dare I say it, this God resembles no faithful spouse, but a promiscuous woman, who gets her self esteem by being desired, and from who she can “have” and who she can reject, and those she “has”, only desire her for their own pleasure.
But those who desire chiefly to be desired, to be a good to be consumed (as opposed to a person to commune with), are hardly even shells of real people. They do not give away all they are, but only the product they believe is desired, and always hold something back (at the very least their will is guarded tightly). And as their consumers only want the product, their consumers will never give all that they are either. They seek to possess others by being desired as a possession (whether they allow themselves to be possessed or not), and so all they are is primarily marketing; pretending to be desirable. They themselves are not being people, and they are not considering others as people.
On the other hand, those who desire in love to give themselves away entirely, are whole people. And those who accept them, must also give themselves entirely, because another person cannot be received while your own person has not been given; we must make space if we are to receive love. To encounter others in love, we must be surrendered, just as a knight must take off his armour to be touched. Both parties seek to belong to the other entirely, and so are mutually submitted, and enter into a profoundly humble communion, and are made one. Those who seek to be desired, can never be loved as perfectly as those who seek to love. Those who seek to be worshipped, can never be adored as perfectly as the One who seeks to be a pure gift. If God sought His own glory, He would be glorified less, not more. [This has beautiful applications to marriage, the Church, the Holy Eucharist, the Incarnation and Crucifixion, the descent of Holy Spirit, and I suspect much much more] As Jesus himself put it,
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
God is perfect in Himself, and nothing could ever be added to the infinite God. So why in heavens would God the Son ever be incarnated as a human, capable of suffering and unhappiness? What could God Almighty have left to gain from this? What is there or could there be that is not already His, merely by its existence or possibility? What necessity could command God to become man, that God may be satisfied? Nothing. Creation, the incarnation, the cross, our redemption, and all things, were not for God’s sake; that is, not for God’s good, but for God’s will. Only because God is good: Only because God is love.
Why did God create us? Because God is love. As St. Francis de Sales said,
‘God has placed you in this world not because he needs you in any way–you are altogether useless to him–but only to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory.’
Some believe, we are made in order to give God glory, by means of His grace and goodness to us (unless you are condemned). To St. Francis, we are made that God can be good and gracious to us. Some believe we are made to praise someone; St. Francis de Sales believed we are made because Someone is praiseworthy.
Love is never selfish. It is impossible to love for any reason except for love, because as soon as there’s a reason, it’s not love. Love is a crucifixion, and so demands absolutely everything: it can’t be for the purpose of anything, because that thing must also be sacrificed. Love either rules supreme, playing by its own rules, or doesn’t exist. As soon as we give in order to be repaid (whether on earth or in heaven), it’s just an investment. There’s no longer love or even morality, only thrift.
[I think this is a good time for a break. Go, get yourself a cup of tea, and then come back for part 2]