“Love can forebear, and Love can forgive…but Love can never be reconciled to an unlovely object…He can never therefore be reconciled to your sin, because sin itself is incapable of being altered, but He may be reconciled to your person because that may be restored.”
Centuries of Meditation, II, 30
My dearest children,
Your father and I were listening to an audio book over the weekend from one of the greats and upon hearing the following, I was compelled to share it with you on this day. I do not know where you will be in life when reading this but I know it will touch your soul and I ask that you never stop searching for the truth, that is, His all-consuming love. I write with a hope and burning desire that on this day in which you will be bomabarded with messages about what Love is, and in a world where we are justified in our mortal minds to do the most wretched of things in the name of Love, that you would hold on to this clear message of truth. Your father and I pray that like St. Valentine, priest and martyr for the faith, you will have the courage to give it all back to Him, every corner of your being: mind, soul and body; for then and only then can you truly love yourself and one another as He has loved you. Today, we give you something to ponder from someone who sought truth with his whole mind, with reckless abandonment and who found it…We pray that you won’t stop at what it written here but you will read the following excerpt in its entire context for this is just one brush stroke of the masterpiece.
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this, we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or that way, just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid that mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’. There is kindness in Love but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and where kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.
(with other powerful analogy’s in between…)
Finally, we come to an analogy full of danger, and of much more limited application, which happens, nevertheless, to be the most useful for our special purpose at the moment – I mean, the analogy of God’s love for man, and a man’s love for a woman. It is freely used in Scripture. Israel is a false wife, but her heavenly Husband cannot forget the happier days; ‘I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.’ Israel is the pauper bride, the waif whom her Lover found abandoned by the wayside, and clothed and adorned made lovely and yet she betrayed Him. ‘Adulteresses’ St James calls us, because we turn aside to the ‘friendship of the world’ while God ‘jealously longs for the spirit He has implanted in us’. The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasise is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved; his ‘feeling is more soft and sensible than are the tender horns of cockled snails’. Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones the least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.
The problem with reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ We were made not primarily that we may love God (though were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are, is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities no more than a beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.
The Problem of Pain