Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Divine love and union

Is agapê just a benevolence, as on Nygren's view, or does it involve a seeking for unity? I think one way to an answer is to look at God's love as presented in the New Testament.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Now, the damned live forever, too, and it is not this kind of life that the text is talking about. Rather, it is an eternal life of knowing God, of living in the Father and the Son (cf. John 17:21).

God;s love is manifested in his acting that we might be reconciled and united with God. Now we can understand God.s intentions in two ways, which can be conveniently expressed by imagining God telling us of his intention:

  1. I intend your reconciliation and union with God.
  2. I intend your reconciliation and union with me.
Of course, "me" and "God" in these imagined speeches has the same referent, but there is a crucial difference.

On the first version, we can understand this as follows. God, being omniscient, knows that Patricia's highest good is union with God. And being loving, he intends that Patricia achieve that highest good. In this, God has an intention we can all have in the same way. We can all seek Patricia.s highest good, and we can all pursue Patricia's reconciliation and union with God. As it happens, God is the one who can pursue it most effectively. But that does not imply a difference in intention.

On the second version, however, what God pursues is Patricia's union with him, best indicated by Castaneda's quasi-indicator "him*". When we pursue Patricia's union with God, we are pursuing something essentially different from what God is pursuing.

The distinction is easy to see in other contexts. There is a world of difference between drill sergeant who wants to train the soldiers to obey him, and the drill sergeant who wants to train the soldiers to obey their superior, which in this case happens to be the drill sergeant. (The distinction would remain even if the drill sergeant necessarily was their superior.) In the case of the drill sergeant, what is preferable is that he train soldiers to obey their superior.

However, love differs here from obedience. For there is something incomplete about a husband's love if he desires merely that his wife love her spouse, reasoning, perhaps, that it is a good thing for a married person to love the spouse, and his wife is a married person, hence it is good for her to love her spouse. Granted, that is a good, and so he should desire this good for his wife. But he should, over and beyond that, desire that his wife love him*. And if his wife does not love him, it is a sign of something deeply lacking in his love for her if he is merely saddened that his wife is not a spouse-loving person.

Our reconciliation and union with God is a good thing, and being good, it is something that God pursues. But he does not pursue it impersonally. God pursues it in love, in the way that a husband loves his wife, as Scripture emphasizes. He desires our reconciliation and union with him*. I do not have a proof text for this claim. But think what would happen if in all the texts in which God lovingly, often sadly, uses the phrase "my people". Now replace this with "God's people". For instance, in Zechariah, God says: "they shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness" (8:8). Consider the replacement: "they shall be God's people, and God (or haShem) will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness." That would still be happy news, but the lover essentially speaks in the first person, except perhaps as a joke.

7 comments:

MG said...

I wonder how this seeking aspect of God's love can be reconciled with the complete self-sufficiency of God. When I think of God, I don't think of a being that is seeking after things, but that is sought after by all things.

C.S. Lewis' answer was that possibly God, by some sort of miracle, actually created in himself a need for his creatures.

Alexander R Pruss said...

God doesn't gain from our union with him, nor does he need it. But he still seeks that union, out of love for us.

I am worried that your objection does push on the central point in what I wrote. Does God seek union with us just to benefit us, or to benefit us and himself. If just to benefit us, then he is not seeking our union with him*, but our union with God. If both, then it seems he has a need.

So we have a dilemma. Either God is disanalogous to a lover in an important way or God seeks his own good.

Maybe one way out of the dilemma is to distinguish narrow from broad welfare. My broad welfare depends on all sorts of things outside of me. It depends on whether my beliefs are true, whether the people I take to be my friends are secretly laughing behind my back, whether my friends are prospering, etc. My narrow welfare is entirely constituted by intrinsic properties of me. God's narrow welfare cannot change. But God's broad welfare can. For instance, his friends can fare better or worse, and we can do good to God, in the sense of broad welfare, by doing good to those he loves, namely by doing good to our neighbor.

Perhaps, then, the attainment of union is a part of God's broad welfare.

I am not satisfied with this. On the other hand, there is the idea that we are created to glorify God. But we are created by God. It seems God created us to glorify God or maybe even to glorify him*. If so, then God's broad welfare does enter into God's intentions, maybe.

Nacisse said...

What about 1 John 4:12 : No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.


would that be Gods narrow welfare?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I would think wide.

Aron Wall said...

"For instance, in Zechariah, God says: `they shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness' (8:8). Consider the replacement: `they shall be God's people, and God (or haShem) will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness.' That would still be happy news, but the lover essentially speaks in the first person, except perhaps as a joke."

If so, the lover makes this "joke" at least five times in this book:
Zech. 2:8-11, 3:2, 4:8-9, 6:9-15, 12:10. In fact, some of the grammar in these passages, such as the word of the Lord talking about what will make the people realize that the Lord has sent him, seems to me only possible to fully explain in terms of the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son.

Once one brings in the Trinity, it seems that there are more options than just God wanting us to have God or God wanting us to have him*, since the persons of the Trinity can want us for one another. You mention the relation between the Father and the Son at the top of your post, but it might be valuable to rethink the distinction you are making in light of the Trinitarian relationships.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I need to think about the Trinitarian aspect. That's very interesting.

James said...

Alex: Our reconciliation and union with God is a good thing, and, being good, it is something that God pursues. But he does not pursue it impersonally. God pursues it in love, in the way that a husband loves his wife, as Scripture emphasizes. He desires our reconciliation and union with him*. I do not have a proof text for this claim.

I think Eph 1.21-23, where the church is referred to as Christ's "fulness", might communicate something along these lines. The idea, I think, is that Christ is somehow made complete by redeeming his people. Obviously, Christ is complete in and of himself (or at least God as a triune being is). Perhaps, then, Christ's being made complete refers specifically to him as the husband "given to the church" (c.f. 1.22, 5.27-79). If so, could we make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic completeness? As is probably clear, I'm not sure about all this.