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.’
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.