Tag Archive for love for God

29. The Dilemma of Commanded Love

If God’s beauty is perceived through correspondent, or ordinate love, we face a dilemma. Love is not merely a mental choice between options. One cannot simply choose to love as a naked act of the will. As Tozer said, “[E]very man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be. He may not be as full as he wishes he were, but he is most certainly as full as he wants to be”. That is, Christians may wish that they loved God more than they do, but they currently love him with as much inclination as they do. Such a statement is not meant to be deliberately tautologous. It merely affirms what Edwards writes in The Freedom of the Will: the strongest inclination is the choice one makes, and that choice is the same as the will.

As we’ve seen, some of the problem began when the Enlightenment introduced a three-faculty view of human psychology. It also began viewing the will as a neutral faculty. In Edwards’ view, the human will is not the faculty that decides, it is the decision itself. Edwards’ two-faculty view of human psychology suggests that the mind knows the objects of desire, and the heart chooses, or loves, what it sees as the greatest good. The greatest motive always prevails as the thing chosen. In other words, what the will chooses is precisely what it loves. This is why it is not strictly correct to speak of “choosing to love”, for one is really thereby saying “choosing to choose” or “loving so as to love”. Logically, one would be forced to ask, what inclination is leading one to desire such an inclination? The same thing would need to be asked of that inclination, till one has an absurd infinite regress of choices to choose, with apparently no starting point.

The will does not choose to love; the will chooses what it loves. One’s chosen desires reflect what one thinks it best to choose. Loves can be formed and shaped, but they cannot simply be willed into being. In a real sense, as has been shown, love is the will in the direction of what it sees as good. One may speak of choosing the good or loving what is most beautiful, but not of choosing to love.

Here then is the problem: if correspondent love is fundamental to apprehending God’s beauty, how can his love be experienced, if love cannot simply be willed into being? In other words, how is this love to be obtained? Love cannot be willed. Desires can, however, be cultivated. Four ways of cultivating this love will be our focus, going forward.

1) Correspondent love is cultivated through a vision of what is beautiful. Humans are always inclined towards a vision of something they believe is good.  This picture is not a set of abstract ideas, as much as it is an aesthetic idea, an affective, sensible picture of what reality is really like or should be like. This corresponds to what we call imagination. This is not speculative fancy; it is the non-cognitive picture of the deep structure of Reality.

A Christian imagination is absolutely fundamental to cognition, perception, and interpretation. If correspondent love is the key to perceiving God’s beauty, and imagination is fundamental to perception, it follows that a Christian imagination is fundamental to correspondent love. This is the telos to which the human heart is inclined; it is its treasure, to which one will always find the heart inclined (Matt. 6:21).

2) Correspondent love is cultivated through a change in spiritual nature. In his Treatise on Grace, Edwards writes that “the first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration, is to give the heart a divine taste or sense, to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature”
Indeed, it may be a form of Pelagianism to assert that the affections can simply be commanded by an act of human thought or willpower. That is, an implantation of the divine nature has to be given for the human soul to find relish and inclination toward God.

The spiritual beauty of the saints is their consent to God’s being, but this consent comes only because something of God’s being has been created in the human being. Holy love for God cannot come without a new nature. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Ontological union with Christ provides the new nature, the new position from which ordinate love for God can grow. The second area of cultivating correspondent love will be through the presence of a new nature, or position of the Christian life. This new position must be present and remembered.

3) Correspondent love is cultivated though exposure. The new nature or position is meant to be fleshed out and experienced. The New Testament’s call to Christians is to become what they are, to practice their position, to cause their nature to affect their posture (Rom. 6:10–12; Eph. 4:1). Through this actual exposure to God’s love, love is cultivated through the experience of it. Edwards reminds one that beauty is not known in the abstract, but through exposure: “It is evident therefore by this, that the way we come by the idea or sensation of beauty, is by immediate sensation of the gratefulness of the idea called “beautiful”; and not by finding out by argumentation any consequences, or other things that it stands connected with; any more than tasting the sweetness of honey, or perceiving the harmony of a tune, is by argumentation on connections and consequences” The third area of cultivating correspondent love will be through exposure to the beauty of God through experiential communion with God, which one might term the process of the Christian life.

4) Correspondent love for God is cultivated through repeated practice or nurture. Habit is what shapes the heart. Liturgical practices, habitually repeated in acts of private and public worship, give physical form and memorable expression to an idea of ultimate reality. The human heart needs regular nurture in those spiritual practices that give form and expression to correspondent love. The fourth area of cultivating correspondent love will be through regular spiritual disciplines, which one might term the practices of the Christian life.