The Love of God

Here’s a long one. . . From “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis:

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 taht, but 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. . . 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.” . . . 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.

. . . Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. . . there is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are no coterminous. . .  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.  Hebrews 12:8.

It is for people who 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 contemptable and estrainging 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 . . . 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.

The relation between Creator and creature is, of course, unique, and cannot be paralleled by any relations between one creature and another. . .  Such a unique relation can be apprehended only by analogies: from the various types of love known among creatures we reach an inadequate, but useful, conception of God’s love for man.

The lowest type, and one which is “love” at all only by an extension of the word, is that which an artist feels for an artefact.  God’s relation to man is pictured thus in Jeremiah’s vision of the potter and the clay, or when St. Peter speaks of the whole Church as a building on which God is at work, and of the individual members as stones.  I Peter 2:5. . .  Here again we coem up against what I call the “intolerable compliment.”  Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be.  But over the great picture of his life – the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a mna loves a woman or a mother a child – he will take endless trouble -and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient.  One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute.  In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

Another type is the love of a man for a beast – a relation constantly used in scripture to symbolize the relation between God and men; “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” . . . Its great merit lies in the fact that the association of man and dog is primarily for man’s sake: he tames the dog primarily that he may love it, not that it may love him, and that it may serve him, not that he may serve it.  Yet at the same time, the dog’s interests are not sacrificed to the man’s.  The one end (that he may love it) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him,nor can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it.  Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the “best” of irrational creatures, and a proper object for a man to love – of course, with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object . . . man interferes with the dog and makes it more loveable than it was in mere nature.  In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely.  To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the “goodness” of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts.  It will be noted that the man takes all these pains with the dog, and gives all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale – because it is so nearly loveable that it is worth his while to make it fully loveableHe does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes.  We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses – that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more Love, but for less.

A nobler analogy . .  is that between God’s love for a man and father’s love for a son.  Whenever this is used, however, it must be remembered that the Saviour used it in a time and place where paternal authority stood much higher than it does in modern England.  A father half apologetic for having brought his son into the world, afraid to restrain him lest he should interfere with his independence of mind, is a most misleading symbol of the Divine Fatherhood. . .  It will become even plainer if we consider how Our Lord regards His own Sonship, surrendering His will wholly to the paternal will and not even allowing Himself to be called “good” because Good is the name of the Father.  Love between father and son, in this symbol, means essentially authoritative love on the one side and obedient love on the other.  The father uses his authority to make the son into the sort of human being he, rightly, and in his superior wisdom, wants him to be

Finally we come to an analogy full of danger . .  which happens to be the most useful for our special purpose at the moment – I mean the analogy between 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 theee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.”  Jeremiah 2:2.  Israel is the pauper bride, the waif whom her lover found abandoned by the wayside, and clothed and adorned and made lovely and yet she betrayed Him.  Ezekiel 16:6-15.  “Adulteressess” St. James calls us, because we turn aside to the “friendship of the world,” while God “jealously longs for the spirit He has implanted within us.”  James 4:4-5.  The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable.  . . 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 . . . Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God LOVES man: not that He has some “disinterested,” because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His loveYou asked for a loving God: you have one.  The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect,” is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.  How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes.  It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring. . .

To ask that God’s love should be content with as 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 loveable. . . when we are such as He can love with impediment, we shall, in fact, be happy.

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Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment  

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