|St John the Evangelist - Giotto|
The theme of love is especially prominent in the Epistle and Gospel for this week, both from John. It is a theme to which contemporary Christians warm very readily since it is relatively ‘theology-lite’, so to speak. If 'God is love', can we not just speak of 'Love' to those who are puzzled or alienated by references to 'God'? Many Christians take this line, but the drawback is that it is too easy for talk of 'love' to amount to little more than the rather banal claim that 'we ought to care about other people'. Concern for others is admirable, certainly. The difficulty from a Christian point of view is that making a case for it doesn't seem to need the story of God's Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. Human decency is enough, surely.
There is in fact a deeper issue here. Is love truly God -- the animating spirit that informs the world in which we live? Materialism -- to which many modern Christians implicitly subscribe -- takes physical forces and biological processes to be the ultimate explanatory factors. If materialism is true, we are left to regard happiness as simply enjoying life to the best of our abilities, and helping others to do so.
Did Jesus have an enjoyable life? The question seems all wrong somehow. He tells his followers to "abide in love", but this love of life, he says, can find its fullest expression in "laying down one's life for one's friends" -- not ultimate satisfaction, that is to say, but ultimate sacrifice.
|Conversation with God - Nicholas Roerich|
How could that make sense? If the world into which we are born is indifferent (or even hostile) to what have proved to be humanity's deepest attachments and aspirations -- love, justice, beauty, truth -- then we only have our own resolve to live in accordance with these as best we can, while we can, and under the constant shadow of our own mortality. On the other hand, if those things on which our hearts are most deeply fixed lie at the foundation of reality, if they are the things that called us into existence in the first place, then there is a profound harmony between the human spirit and the creative spirit that underlies the world.
'God is love' means love is ultimate, not because we can make it our Ultimate Concern, but because the Eternal Word has made it the Spirit that infuses all things. We do not choose God; God has already chosen us.