Monthly Archives: January 2021

27. Voices From the Past on Loving God Rightly

It would be an insurmountable task to gather the collective thought of Christians on the topic of love for God. Suffice it to say, that many Christians have spoken frequently on the degree and nature of rightly ordered love. They have spoken not only on the required order of Christian loves, but on their kind. Correspondent love is not a novel concept.

Augustine is best known for speaking of the ordo amoris.

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which someone has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: ‘These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.’ But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me” (City of God, XV, xxii).

Similarly, Augustine writes of how love itself is worthy of love.

Because in men who are justly loved, it is rather love itself that is loved; for he is not justly called a good man who knows what is good, but who loves it. Is it not then obvious that we love in ourselves the very love wherewith we love whatever good we love? For there is also a love wherewith we love that which we ought not to love; and this love is hated by him who loves that wherewith he loves what ought to be loved (City of God, XII, xviii).

Augustine refers to loving what God loves, to the degree that God does, in On Christian Doctrine:

Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake (On Christian Doctrine, I, xxvii).

Perhaps best known among his quotes on love is Augustine’s saying: “He loves thee too little, who loves anything with thee which he loves not for thy sake” (Confessions, IX, xxix).

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) wrote On Loving God. He likewise speaks of loving God for himself: “We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable” (On Loving God, I).

Similarly, he writes, “You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love” (Ibid.).

The anonymous author of Theologia Germanica, most likely writing in the late fourteenth century writes,

And where a creature loveth other creatures for the sake of something that they have, or loveth God, for the sake of something of her own, it is all false Love; and this Love belongeth properly to nature, for nature as nature can feel and know no other love than this; for if ye look narrowly into it, nature as nature loveth nothing beside herself. But true Love is taught and guided by the true Light and Reason, and this true, eternal and divine Light teacheth Love to love nothing but the One true and Perfect Good, and that simply for its own sake, and not for the sake of a reward, or in the hope of obtaining anything, but simply for the Love of Goodness, because it is good and hath a right to be loved (Theologia Germanica, XLII).

Thomas Traherne (1636–1674) expresses the idea of ordinate love being the same as Christlikeness.

Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. The end for which you were created, is that by prizing all that God hath done, you may enjoy yourself and Him in Blessedness…For then we please God when we are most like Him. We are like Him when our minds are in frame. Our minds are in frame when our thoughts are like His. And our thoughts are then like His when we have such conceptions of all objects as God hath, and prize all things according to their value. For God doth prize all things rightly, which is a Key that opens into the very thoughts of His bosom (Centuries of Meditations, First Century, XII).

26. A Biblical Theology of Loving God

Is the idea of correspondent, or ordinate, love present in Scripture? Does Scripture describe what love for God should be? It does indeed. In terms of degree, Scripture makes a hierarchy of loves very clear. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Deuteronomy 6:4–5 was the positive wording of the same commandment. In conversation with a scribe, Jesus explained that the command of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was the ultimate obligation, followed by a second: Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:29–31).

It appears that Christ was interpreting the Shema to mean that the uniqueness of God demanded an answering form of ultimate love. This statement by Christ can be stated as the first of three biblical definitions of correspondent love.

1) Correspondent love for God loves God ultimately, and all else for his sake. Only God is to be loved wholeheartedly, which is to say, loved ultimately, as the only God. A god is one in whom a person places ultimate trust and looks to it for ultimate delight. Gods are found at the end of one’s chains of value and are not loved as a means to another love (that is, instrumentally), but are loved for themselves (that is, ultimately). God alone is to be loved as an end, and not as a means, for no one else is the true God. God alone deserves to be loved for himself; all other loves should be instrumental to that end (Ps. 73:25–26). Jesus made this clear, when calling for this ultimate love to be given to him, as the Son of God:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs’ (John 21:15–17).

Similar Scriptures link the command to love or fear God ultimately to man’s ultimate obligation: Eccl. 12:13; Deut. 10:12; Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17. Love is repeatedly placed at the head of Christian character (1 Cor. 13:13; 16:14; Col. 3:14;1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:5–7). Loving one’s neighbour is also granted a kind of summary status as fulfilment of one’s moral obligations in Romans 13:9–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8.

If God demands ultimate love, what of other loves? The love of neighbour can further be divided into love for Christian brethren (John 13:34), love for family (Eph. 5:22–6:4), love for non-Christian neighbour (Rom. 13:9–10; Gal. 6:10) and love for enemy (Rom. 12:18–20; Matt. 5:4). The fact that love of neighbour is bundled together with love for God implies that the Second Commandment is an application of the First. That is, neighbours are to be loved for God’s sake.

How so? Here are three possible ways. First, when loving one’s neighbour, one is loving God by obeying his command to love neighbour, and Jesus said that obedience is a form of love for him (John 14:15). Second, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving the image of God still resident in that neighbour (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9; 1 John 4:12). Third, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving what God himself loves, for God loves all, including his enemies (John 3:16; Matt. 5:44–45). Love for those God loves is counted, in some sense, as love for him (Matt. 25:34–40).

Loving for God’s sake may be extended from neighbour to all of creation. All good gifts are to be received thankfully (1 Tim. 4:4; Jas. 1:17). Creation must be contemplated for the way it reveals God and loved accordingly (Ps. 19:1–6; 1 Thes. 5:21; Phil. 4:8). In this way, correspondent love is loving God alone for himself, and loving all else for his sake.

This love is a complete “consent” of will to God, making him the chief end and desire of all. This love finds complete union in God as the chief end of life, heartily making him its desire and delight, reflecting the spirit of Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever”.

25. Knowing God’s Beauty Through Correspondent Love

What can we conclude about God’s beauty and how to perceive it?

1) God’s beauty is his own consent, love, or affection for his holy being.
2) Loving this beauty, and necessarily, its object-God’s being simply considered-is the means of perceiving this beauty. Loving God is the analogue of God’s beauty in the creature: a creature participates and shares (and thereby perceives) God’s beauty, when loving it and God as God does.
3) The kind of love that perceives this beauty is of a particular kind: containing humility, faith, discernment, benevolence, submission, and union.

Here then, is my simple proposal: a certain kind of love for God will enable, and is identical to, the apprehension of God’s beauty. Loving God and his cosmos as God does, is both beholding beauty, and becoming beautiful. The perception of God’s beauty is an experience known through participative love.

This love must be carefully defined and qualified. This love must be humbly receptive and teachable. It must rightly imagine God as revealed in Scripture. It must guard against self-love, narcissism, and sentimentalism. It must possess sound judgement and exhibit maturity, having been shaped by the best in Christian culture. It must exist within an ontological and dispositional union with God. In other words, not merely any love for God will result in perceiving God’s beauty.

A term for distinguishing this love from counterfeit forms is the term correspondent love. Here, the word correspondent is used adjectivally, to describe and modify the noun love. Correspondent love refers to love for God that corresponds in degree and kind to God’s own love.

How can we discover what kind of love God has for Himself? Some theologians have cautioned that intra-trinitarian love is not a perfect analogue for the believer’s love for God. The perfect love of God for God is unique and infinite – and probably unknowable, in the truest sense, to a creature.

Though the creature cannot love infinitely as God does, creaturely love may still be rightly ordered, in terms of its hierarchy of loves and in terms of the nature of the love, to be conformed to the kind of love that perceives God’s beauty through submissive participation. When it is rightly ordered (or ordinate, to use the archaic term), it will correspond to God’s own love, in creaturely fashion. The degree or quantity, and the kind or quality of the love must be rooted in the nature of things: in this case, the being of God and his own love for himself.

What is love? In contrast to the modern idea of love as “emotion”, premodern Christianity understood love as a voluntary, rational inclination of the soul towards what it sees as beautiful. On this definition, love may include feelings, but it is not itself an involuntary feeling. Love is rational desire that moves towards union. Love is moved by beauty. When the soul is pure, it loves what is beautiful; when otherwise, it loves what is base. The love corresponds to the object.

Henry Scougal (1650–1678) put it this way: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (The Life of God, 70). Lewis, in Surprised By Joy, similarly writes, “The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful”. In other words, love is appropriate and correspondent to the degree that its object is truly God, and his beauty is properly seen and understood.

Love is rational desire towards what a person sees as good and beautiful. What does love desire in the perceived beauty? As creatures, humans may go toward the object of their love either in the form of need or in the form of gift. Lewis classifies these as Need-loves and Gift-loves. Need-love looks to the good or beautiful in the Beloved to meet a need in oneself; gift-love seeks to enjoy the good or beautiful in the Beloved for itself, or to beautify it further. In the case of perfection, beautify does not mean improve; it means simply display, magnify, communicate that perfection so that it is more widely shown.

In his essay “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis objects to the idea that love is primarily the negative ideal of unselfishness. For Lewis, love is positive desire. When accused by Kantians of mercenary motives in such love, Lewis answers that when the reward that a desire seeks is foreign to the activity, the mercenary accusation may be valid. But when the reward is the activity itself in consummation, such as marriage being the sought reward of love, such love cannot be accused of selfishness, except if one is beholden to Stoic or Kantian ideas.

Correspondent love pursues the good of all that God is; it pursues the pleasure of God himself. Christians love God because of what God is for them, and because of what God is. They love his need-meeting ability, and they love his excellence.

Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) helps one find balance: “You object that the truly regenerate should love God for himself: and you fear that you love him more for his benefits, as incitements and motives to love him, than for himself. I answer: to love God himself as the last end, and also for his benefits, as incitements and motives to love him, may stand well together; as a son loveth his mother, because she is his mother, howbeit she is poor; and he loveth her for anapple also. I hope that you will not say that benefits are the only reason and bottom of your love; it seemeth there is a better foundation for it” (Letters, 49/To James Bautie).

Correspondent love is then the inclination of the will (or desire) towards God for all that he is, both in himself and for one’s good. When God is rightly known and desired, the desire will be correspondingly holy.