Tag Archive for loving God

28. More Voices From the Past on Loving God

Brother Lawrence’s (1614–1691) collected letters, known as The Practice of the Presence of God, describe his attempt to love all things for God’s sake. He remarks that he was pleased “when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts” (The Practice of the Presence of God, 2nd Conv., VI).

Jonathan Edwards also differentiates between loving God as a means or as an end.

For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all that is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all. (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, 3:144).

References to inordinate affection, or non-corresponding love abound in Christian thought. Early church fathers such as Clement, Nemesius of Emesa, and Gregory of Nyssa all differentiate between evil passions and good. Puritans such as William Ames, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes wrote much on right affections as opposed to inordinate affections.

In his greatest work against positivism and subjectivism, The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes:

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others.

Roger Scruton, in Beauty, agrees:

for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their leisure and their taste: but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.

The so-called “worship wars”, whether ancient or modern, largely are debates over what is appropriate love for God, and what is not. Whether it be the matter of images, the order of the Mass, the use of an organ, singing in the vernacular, the presence of an altar, the presence of statues, crucifixes or candles and incense in worship, or priestly vestments, these all reflect a centuries-old debate regarding appropriate worship, and therefore ordinate or correspondent love.

The idea of correspondent or ordinate love for God has been present in historical Christian thought. Christians have written on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of love. The writers surveyed believed that for love to correspond to God’s love, it must be accorded to the right objects according to their value and nature, and thereby be of the right degree and kind.

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”.