Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Our love and God's love

I want to reflect briefly on this passage from 1 John:

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another (4:11).

There are many interesting things going on in this verse. For example, John establishes God as a moral paradigm for human persons. Human ethical imperatives can be defined (at least some of the time) by reference to divine action; in other words, what God does can at times provide us with an authoritative example of how we ought to act. Of course, there are certain things which God is said to do and we are forbidden from doing (see Romans 12:19-20). But in this particular case, the loving intervention of God in the person of his Son (1 John 4:8-10) is taken as a binding moral example for Christians to follow.

Beyond this, there is also a certain way of understanding the relation of human love to divine love which is implicit in this passage. It is taken as proven that God loves us, and therefore because of this love, he acts towards us in various ways, always seeking our benefit. In that context, we are told that we also ought to love one another. It seems to me clear, then, that our love for one another becomes a way of participating in the loving activity of God towards all people.

If God loves Bill, then he acts towards Bill out of that love, seeking his good. But if I am being called also to love Bill, well, another way of understanding this call is that I am being summoned to participate in the loving work of God towards Bill. Just as God is concerned for Bill's salvation and seeks to do Bill good in various ways, so also I am being invited to work alongside God—or perhaps it is better to say that God wants to work through me for Bill's salvation.

This is the doctrine of theosis: I participate in the "energies" or works of God in the world, and in this way I am deified. I don't become God by nature; rather, I work alongside him and he works through me to take care of the world. That's the dignity of the call to love! God himself, through my love which he gives me (because love is from God: 1 Jn 4:7), wants to take care of my neighbors.

Some people think that the call to love our neighbors and especially our enemies is an invitation to foolishness. It demands that we open ourselves up to victimization in a way that is beneath our dignity. On the contrary! The call to love bestows upon the human person a dignity which no other terrestrial creature shares: a chance to participate in the loving providence of God and in this way to be deified.

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