Calvinism

Why do we love God? Part 2

[Part 1]

We cannot love for anything except love. Then what about the one without love? How could someone without love, ever begin to love? Perhaps, with no choice on their part, they might spontaneously begin to love. But if they don’t choose to, and so it doesn’t come from them, is it really them that loves? If they suddenly have a new will for something, ex nihilo, is it not a different will, and so a different person?

But they could not choose to love on their own either, as they don’t have the love necessary to motivate the choice, and so they are “slaves to sin”, incapable of love (but, according to St. Anselm, still have free will, as they couldn’t lose love without their consent, if they had it). The only way they could ever love again, is by the great miracle known as grace, somehow implanting love with free consent.

I believe grace is the mysterious working of God’s own love, deep inside the sinner, revealing true love to them, and revealing love’s absolute supremacy. It is an experience so radical that the will voluntarily surrenders itself, taking on a new foundation beyond its imagination. The will realises that God’s love is greater than it. In a moment of awe, the will drops all its desires, and accepts God’s love as its own.

In the depths of the sinner, Jesus Christ is revealed, encountered even, and yet revealed as a mystery so profound, it is impossible to grasp, except by its own light- “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (Is 7:9). The reason we can trust this light, is not because it reflects whatever light we had before, but because it illuminates everything else so gloriously.

‘We love because he first loved us.’
1 John 4:19

‘Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.’
Lumen Fidei n.26

Perhaps the analogy of a heart transplant applies here. Thanks to modern technology, we can actually live off of mechanical “hearts” (although maybe it’s not quite “living”, as there’s not a real heartbeat…), but eventually, we’ll need to have a heart of flesh transplanted.

‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’
Ezekiel 36:26

We cannot give ourselves a heart transplant. When we finally receive a living heart, the difficulty arrives of whether our bodies accept the new heart, or reject it, to their own destruction. The new heart is foreign, and the original body must give a verdict; yet if it chooses to accept the new heart as a part of itself, and so submit itself to the new heart, it will only be able to do so, because of the new life being given by the heart. And, should the body reject the new heart, it will also only have the strength to do so, because of the life from the heart- “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

When the heart is changed, the whole body is affected, transforming our whole realities. The heart becomes the body’s, but even more, the body become’s the heart’s, as the heart gives it life, and the body only receives it. And so, by the new heart, it becomes a new body. Likewise, by God’s grace, given entirely gratuitously, but accepted freely, the believer becomes a new creation.

So, we love God, not because if we do, He’ll be good to us, but because He has already been so good to us. “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. We love God because He first loved us.

God bless you!

P.S. This passage from St. Therese’s Story of a Soul seemed relevant, but I couldn’t find a good place for it in this post:

‘One evening, not knowing how to tell Jesus how much I loved Him and longed for Him to be served and honoured everywhere, I thought with sadness that not a single act of love ever ascended from the gulfs of hell. I cried that I would gladly be plunged into that realm of blasphemy and pain so that even there He could be loved forever. Of course that could not glorify Him, for all He wants is our happiness, yet when one’s in love one says a thousand silly things. This didn’t mean that I did not want to be in heaven, but for me heaven meant love and, in my ardour, I felt that nothing could separate me from Him who had captivated me.’

P.P.S. I should perhaps mention, that I originally wrote this with the teaching of John Piper, a leading proponent of “Christian hedonism” in mind, but was uncomfortable attacking the ideas as his, because I feel I really don’t know enough of his teaching to make judgments. Perhaps it is more subtle than it seems… The bit about salvation and condemnation just for God’s glory is definitely his teaching though.

P.P.P.S. I’d also like to say, I have here said some things on matters beyond my comprehension (particularly the end, on grace), and ask you for whatever correction you believe is needed. I feel quite confident of what I have said, but I don’t have the confidence of if I knew the exact same was taught by great saints, that I would very much like.

Why do we love God? Part 1

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.”
Matthew 23:12

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]

Salvation, Human Dignity & The Reason For Evil (with a hint of Batman)

“Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Thomas Wayne

The strange thing about the above statement, is how illogical it seems. The reason we pick ourselves up, is because we have fallen; how can we fall to learn to pick ourselves up? Wouldn’t this make both pointless?

But this thinking misses the real point: that picking ourselves up is more important than simply rising. The meaning of picking ourselves up, is greater than merely regaining height, and undoing the fall. Picking ourselves up, is an act that gives a man dignity. It is an act that declares man’s true nature, in rejecting the lowly nature thrust upon him. (Strange how this truth is hidden away in a Batman quote)

In this line of thought, a slave who rebels against his master may be expressing a greater freedom than a rich man who has had an easy freedom his whole life. The Christian life, as conceived at its beginning, was a difficult life of overcoming the world and bearing our crosses daily. In this, they saw true freedom (Philippians 1:20).

I believe we truly find our greatest dignity in helping others. In this, we pick ourselves up from selfishness, to our own dignity, and offer a hand to help others up in whatever way they may need.

And being helped up doesn’t lessen our dignity, because by accepting help, we are cooperating in lifting ourselves up. In this we show our own dignity, and participate in the greater dignity of mankind.

Does evil exist, to be overcome? Does sin exist, for us to climb out of (with divine help)?

When God helps man, does it dignify or humiliate man? Or perhaps both?

I believe that God offers all His hand, and it is up to us to grab it. In grabbing His hand, we are stating that we are more than what we have become, but cannot make the change on our own. We are both humbled and dignified. But if we reject His hand, we are proclaiming that we are enough already, and would rather work alone and remain this way. In this, we accept a far lesser dignity, and refuse humility.
[Compare to John 3:19-21]

However, not everyone has yet seen God’s arm extended towards them, and so may have done neither, and perhaps others may have grabbed God’s hand without knowing it.
But, could this idea be likened to God making us, to push us over, to help us up, making Him bully and saviour? Would it make Him a tyrant who damns, to offer salvation, to please Himself?

No, because we were never pushed over. It is more like a gymnastics coach giving students distance while they want to go it alone, then helping when they fall, if allowed, and then assisting and training them so they won’t fall again.

If God grabbed us without consent, and lifted us up, much as I’m sure we’d be grateful after, we wouldn’t have proclaimed our dignity or have been humbled in grabbing His hand. Being forced up, we would have a new and foreign dignity, as we hadn’t grabbed to prove the dignity was already there. This new and foreign dignity, would lead us to arrogance, as we would look down on those still down without.

The key for all of this being just, and dignified for us, is our freedom the whole time. That we chose to be away from God, and then chose to accept God’s help, makes it loving, just, dignified, and humbling.

God’s arm extended towards us is Jesus Christ. Born of a virgin in a manger, murdered upon the cross, and resurrected on the third day. Jesus of Nazareth is God’s invite to repentance, to salvation, to holiness, and to life eternal.

God bless you, today and forevermore.

[Here’s a link to the text of something the new Pope Francis said on Good Friday. It seemed relevant to what I wrote about God offering His hand. I didn’t expect to write about this when I began this post, but it was the answer to the questions that naturally followed writing about help and the reason for evil]