Friday, October 26, 2007

Mysterious Love

I love it when the Bible gives a simple definition for something that most take to be very mysterious!

Take, for example, the following definition from God's Word: God is love. People spend their lives trying to figure out who or what God is; here it is! God is love!

So, if we only could know what love is, then we would know who or what God is. Thankfully, the Bible answers that for us as well: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Now, that's sacrificial language, laying down one's life for another. So, love is sacrifice, because a greater love is not possible than to sacrifice one's self for another.

God is love.
Love is sacrifice.
Therefore, God is sacrifice.

Indeed, God so loved the world that He gave (sacrificed) His only-begotten son. And the Son commands that we sacrifice ourselves (love) for each other, as He has sacrificed Himself (loved) for us.

Love is selflessness, sacrifice; love is God. The fruit of the Spirit is equally sacrificial: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). To "do" or "be" these things is to be selfless, humble, sacrificing one's "selfishness" for the sake and benefit of another -- to be "like" God in His creative activity, giving life to another. Forgiveness has this same quality and character: forgive us our trespasses (sacrifice) as we forgive those who trespass against us (sacrifice).

The icon of love is marriage. The two become one flesh. But 1 + 1 do not equal 1 in a human and fleshly way. The one flesh union of husband and wife is a sacrificial union as each member gives of themselves for the sake of the other, for the sake of the one. And one possible fruit of this sacrificial union is new life, like unto God's own creative activity.

"In the beginning God created...". The first revelation of Himself that God bestows is that He gives of Himself, He creates, for no other reason than that He loves - He is love. The pinnacle of His creation, man and woman, He joins together in love in His image and likeness, commanding them to "be fruitful and multiply" - to create in love, like Himself. Marriage, in sacrificial love, is an icon of the love of Christ for His Bride the Church, and an icon of God's own love for His Son in the Spirit.

All we need is love, love is all we need.


Pastor J. Sollberger said...

The mystery is that our Lord loves, and those who receive it possess a spirit of little children, as well as the spirit of as Bride who desires what she is submitting to. The intelligence and pride of humanity never submits in childlike humility to love; they fear what they would gain perhaps more than what they would lose.

BTW, Fr. Jon, as you so quietly quote John and Paul (Beatles, not Apostles) in your final line, it seemed to me that another line from this song perhaps confesses a bit of orthodox theology. Could it be that these humanists were onto a philosophical distinction of Law and Gospel: "There's nothing you can know that isn't known; nothing you can see that isn't shown..." He who knows is He who shows, the love that we are to receive. "Love, love, love..." (Quite Trinitarian, really). Or am I being rather absurd? Likely.

The other Fr. Jon

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

We are always tempted to find the "spark" in humanity that is "good" and can "cooperate" with God in some way. I think that "love" (defined as self-sacrifice, submission, etc.) fits the bill quite nicely. Love is something that is essential to man, because it is essential to God in Whose image man is created. We have a God-given image which is like God (God is love). Yes, our concupiscence corrupts every thought, word, and deed we would claim for ourselves, but our essence or image is not substantially corrupted, but is in bondage. God, who is love, has created us to love. This is why we sorrow and grieve in this world: we want to love and can't. We've no one to blame but ourselves, concupiscence is actual sin apart from volition, but God did not create sinful, unloving creatures.

Would be bride's loathe the word "submit". They understand it in terms of dominance and inequality. Why shouldn't they? Look at the history of man's treatment of women. But the mystery is in God's treatment of His Bride, both men and women, created in His image. The only proper response to God is loving, willing submission.

Regarding the Beatles: I'm often amused or intrigued, but not surprised, that artists, humanist or otherwise, often, unintentionally, hit upon truth, indeed, Truth Incarnate. Maybe it's natural revelation? Maybe it's the law written on man's hearts? Whatever, I find it frequently in popular music, film, literature -- and I love it! I often find such works helpful in illustrating, teaching the mysteries of faith.

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

I believe I perceive the beginning essence of what you're saying in that God is love and since we are of His Image, we have this essence of love, as well (although corrupted by sin). I seem to recall, however, orthodox theology speaking more of a "loss" of the Image of God in the Fall, rather than a corruption of it. Can you comment further, brother?

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

I think the problem is in how we define the "image of God". Yes, an orthodox Lutheran definition would be "righteousness, holiness", i.e., man was created righteous and holy like God. In the fall, man lost this "image" of God.

I do not disagree with this at all, but I believe that there is more to the imago Dei than this. How do the fathers understand imago Dei? Is not the ability, indeed, the desire, to "give life" to another part of the imago Dei - "God is love"?

I've been wrestling with an understanding of concupiscence lately. Man's essence (nature, soul, whatever?) is not created evil, sinful, but is conceived, born into sin (concupiscence) inherited from our parents (really our fathers). Thus our essence is not itself corrupted (essentially) but is enslaved, entrapped, so that it's every inclination is toward evil. I believe that love is in there, that desire to give life, to sacrifice the self, to be like God, but it is enslaved to sin, concupiscence.

This cannot be called synergism or Pelagianism, for I am not suggesting the we can do anything good or righteous of our own -- we are truly like Lazarus, spiritually dead, unable to change our dead condition. Only the Word of God, calling to us, can bring us to life, set us free from our bondage. Man can take no credit for this: we do not cooperate, choose, or anything of the sort.

Is this idea not in accord with the Beatitudes we heard this Sunday (or whenever you observed All Saints)? Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.? Yes, these qualities describe Jesus alone, the perfect Saint. But do we not share in these qualities, being made in the image of God, though they are enslaved, corrupted by sin (concupiscence)? Through faith in Christ and His substitutionary atonement we are set free from this bondage to be, and to do, these things -- in Christ.

Like I said, I've been wrestling with concupiscence and what it means lately. I know that some of the things I'm writing about are not the standard orthodox Lutheran definition, but I can't help but feel that the standard definition is a little too narrow.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to discuss such things amongst a wide variety of interested persons. Constructive criticism, argumentation is both welcomed and invited -- but, please, no charges!

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

A bit more concerning imago Dei:

Man was created "in" the image of God; man is not, in himself, "the" image of God. Jesus Christ is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore man was made, or is being made, "in", and "in the image of" Christ.

Throw 1 Corinthians 11:7 into the mix - man is the image and glory of God - and you get the following ascending schema: woman is to man as man is to Christ as Christ is to God the Father. You could insert "as congregation is to pastor (bishop)" somewhere in there as well.

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

Yes, I believe I see what you are developing, here. And could we say that it is actually necessary that the the image of God is corrupted raither than lost, since we see Christ coming into that which is sinful, yet without sin Himself. The image of God is not corrupted itself when it comes to sinful man in Christ, otherwise, Christ cannot truly be present in His Means of Grace, which come into man's flesh.
Further, I would put forth the thought that the imago Dei - if it be corrupted, rather than lost - is most completely lived out in marriage (man and woman being made one flesh, or bishop and people consumating this image of God in and with the Eucharist). It plays out thus in my poor head: As man carries the seed (and therfore the concupiscense), but also the vocation to teach the Gospel to those who are born of the union of Bridegroom and Bride, hence, both are needed for restoration unto God and His righteousness (imago Dei). Thanks for the responses.