Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Haze, God's Love and Christian Love (Part I)

Haze at 10am
"My child, my dear child. When you are grown, all this will be yours."
"Eh," said the child as the Pollutant Standards Index rose to 150 and the dreary horizon was barely distinguishable from the grey sky and his throat burned from the acrid air,"that's very kind of you, but no thanks."
Weeks of dismalness and tenebrific bleakness has meant that most meals have been had, grudgingly, indoors, out of the eye-watering haze. (Beanies and scarves and boots stayed in storage because it wasn't the good sort of grey you get before a beautiful snowfall.) The air was thick with the dust of Indonesian fires and hints of Seasonal Affective Disorder, kept somewhat at bay by the cheap bawdiness of Ἀριστοφάνης.
Cornflakes and Aristophanes
"My friends," said someone, swishing a red dishcloth about grandly like a cape, thrusting forth a worn fryingpan heroically like a weapon of war,"this calls for drastic action!" So there were ladles of duck confit and hunks of bread and stone cups of cold apple cider and plates of crêpes spread thickly with crème de marrons and then more cider and some cake and also, because someone knew where they were in bloom, rainbow cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles, and a pretty slim red teapot (which, really, deserves to have a tearoom named just for it) for mugs of strong hot tea. There were cunning plans to convert smooth secretblack T2 cannisters (fresh from Tangs, Vivocity) into smooth secretblack pinhole cameras, and some tentative conclusions about Christian love.
Colour Scheme by Stendhal: The Red and the Black
(The story behind the conclusions about Christian love is this:
after CLOBS on 1 John 2, there were lengthy sms-es hurtling back and forth and back and forth through the night until the PatientOne finally said, in characteristic understatement,"Maybe talking is better than sms-ing". So after service on Sunday, there was congregating and by way of explanation, there was hasty scribbling of three circles on the back of the service bulletin. "Ok, three circles…", said the PatientOne, uncomprehending, but still mostly patient. "Mmm...three circles," said the ShaggyOne, peering shortsightedly, one ear still glued to a mobile. "Three circles? No such thing as three circles lah! There should only be two circles!" shouted the ShoutyOne, flapping about, before being distracted by a passing babe-in-arms. Later, after almost losing Firsttimevisitor to the incoming crowd, there was more talking and gesticulating on the landing outside the hall and then later, more shaping and refining and drawing out of implications over tea and muffins and then even later, more hurtling smses past midnight. And throughout the week, there was sitting on couches juggling Bible verses and biblical theology and doctrine, until someone, fresh from preparing a study on Thessalonians, began an impromptu sermon before being waylaid by a tasty bag of chocolate wafers, while another clock struck midnight. (Ah, the joys of the Christian family!)
And throughout the next week, accompanying the airconditioned life, were D.A.Carson's "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" and "Love in Hard Places" and Michael Hill's "The How and Why of Love".)

The troubling question that sparked these discussions was this:
what is this elusive thing called "Christian love"? We know from 1 John that as Christians, we are under an obligation to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, it is part of our new nature to love our fellow siblings. But before we can love, we must know what this love looks like, how it feels (in a tactile, not emotional, sense), its shape, content and substance.

And our tentatively-drawn conclusions on God's love, the prelude to Christian love, went something like this:
What is love?
(No, do not start humming Haddaway's pre-millenial German house anthem.) We know that love is not limited to hot steamy sex, nor, the sort of anxiety ripe for an angsty heartbreak (and lots of bad soppy poetry):
Falling in love is just that
Out of control
Of your heart and your soul

Falling in love is just that
That's how it feels
Falling head over heels

Why love when love hurts?
Why love when love ends?
I know how it feels
When it turns and pretends
It ends with the pain
And the making amends
Why love when there's peace
In the making of friends?

Losing your heart is just that
Too high a cost
When it's given it's lost

Taking a risk is just that
Been there before
I can't take anymore

Dick Lee, "Forbidden City"
nor is it the dewy-eyed sentimentality of too many a Hallmark card and Precious Thoughts figurine. It cannot be translated into the mere "niceness" of remembering birthdays, kissing babies, asking after sick pets nor general Jacintha Abisheganaden ditzy niceness (in any case, "I love you" cannot, generally, be considered a useful comment from a judge).

Our understanding of Christian love stems from our understanding of God's love. So what exactly does the love of God mean?

Erroneous (But Popular Definitions) of Love
Based on the lesser known work of Swedish theologian Anders Nydren, C.S. Lewis famously preferred to speak of "Four Loves": eros (ερος), affection (storge, στοργη), friendship (philia, φιλια) and charity (agape, αγαπη). In his "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" and his earlier "Exegetical Fallacies", D.A. Carson concludes that this sort of categorisation is erroneous:
In the past many have tried to assign the love of God and, derivatively, Christian love to one particular word group. The classic treatment is that of Anders Nygren. The noun eros (not found in the New Testament) refers to sexual love, erotic love; the phileo word group refers to emotional love, the love of friendship and feeling. By contrast, the agapao word group refers to willed love, an act of willed self-sacrifice for the good of another. It has no necessary emotional component, however generous it may be. Moreover, it was argued, the reason the agapao word group became extremely popular in the Septuagint and subsequently in the New Testament is that writers in the biblical tradition realised they needed some word other than those currently available to convey the glorious substance of the love of the God of Judeo-Christian revelation; so they deployed this extremely rare word group and filled it with the content just described, until it triumphed in frequency as well as in substance.

What is now quite clear to almost everyone who works in the fields of linguistics and semantics that such an understanding of love cannot be tied in any univocal way to the agapao word group.
Carson goes on to demonstrate that the frequency of use of the agapao word group arose not for theological reasons but for diachronic reasons in Greek philology. Even within the Septuagint New Testament, it is far from clear that the agapao word group always refers to some "higher" or more noble or less emotional form of love. For example, in 2 Samuel 13 when Amnon incestuously viciously violently rapes his half-sister Tamar, both the words agapao and phileo are used. Again, in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul writes that Demas has deserted him because he "loved" (agapao) this present evil world. This is an incongruous use of that particular verb if agapao only refers to the willed self-denial for the sake of the other.

Biblical Love
In "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" and "Love in Hard Places", Carson draws attention to five main (but not exhaustive) ways in which the Bible speaks of the love of God, and derivatively, Christian love:
(1) Intra-Trinitarian Love
The peculiar love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. John's Gospel (eg. John 3:35, 5:20; John 14:31) and letters (as we have seen in recent weeks) are especially rich on this theme. This intra-Trinitarian love is not the love of redemption: neither the Father nor the Son needs redeeming. Nor is it the love that is poured out despite the imperfections of the loved one: not only do the Father and the Son love each other, but each is to the other inestimably lovable.

(2) God's Providential Love
The Bible speaks of God's providential love over all he has made, even though by and large, none of the Greek words that would be translated into the English "love" is used in this connection. But the theme is not difficult to locate. God created everything and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be "good" (Genesis 1-2). This is the product of a loving Creator.

The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God's loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matthew 6:26, 10:29). If this were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson that Jesus is driving home in this context (that God can be trusted to provide for his own people) would be incoherent.

Even now in its disordered and rebellious state, Jesus taught that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mathew 4:45). That this is an act of love on God's part is shown by what Jesus says next:"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" (Matthew 5:46). In other words, our responsibility to love our enemies is grounded in the fact that God providentially loves the just and the unjust.

(3) God's Salvific Love
This refers to God's yearning, inviting, seeking, saving love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16) for it, that anyone who believed in him would have eternal life and not face death. However much God rightly stands in judgement over the world, people who are in rebellion against him, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels, the sovereign LORD cries out:"As surely as I live...I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11).

This is rather different from the love of the Father for the Son and distinguishable from God's providential love.

(4) God's Choosing/Selective Love
That is, God's particular, effective love toward his own elect. The elect may be the entire nation of Israel (as was the case in the Old Testament) or the church as a body or individuals (as is the case from New Testamental times). In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others. The people of Israel are told,"The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; cf 4:37). Again, "To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations as it is today (10:14-15). God's love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations.

This discriminating feature of God's love surfaces frequently: God declares,"I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated" (Malachi 1:2-3). This was grounded in the mind of God even before either Jacob or Esau "were born or had done anything good or bad" (Romans 9:10-12). Similarly, in the New Testament, Christ "loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25) even while people were still sinners.

(5) God's Conditional Love
God's love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way - conditional, that is, on faithful obedience. It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. The Decalogue declares God to be the one who shows his love "to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:6). Jesus commands his disciples to remain in his love (John 15:9) and adds,"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10). "Keep yourselves in God's love," Jude exhorts his readers (Jude 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God's providential love - it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God's yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love. One cannot walk away from that love either.

Carson continues:
It is better to speak of this list as five different ways the Bible has of speaking of the love of God, rather than as five different "loves" of God. We cannot view these ways of talking about the love of God as independent, compartmentalised loves of God. It will not help to begin talking too often about God's providential love, his elective love, his intra-Trinitarian love, and so forth, as if each were hermetically sealed off from the other, as if heturns different "loves" off and on for different targets or on different occasions. There is no good evidence that that is what the biblical texts mean.

Nor can we allow any one of these ways of talking about the love of God to be diminished by the others, even as we cannot, on scriptural evidence, allow any one of them to domesticate all the others. We must hold these truths together and learn to integrate them in biblical proportion and balance.

God's love reflects the complexity and variety of relationships in which he as a person engages. His love works out in a diverse array of patterns that reflects this.

Evangelical Clichés
"God's love is unconditional" goes a popular Christian catchphrase. That is true in the fourth sense of God's love but it is certainly not true in the fifth sense and we know that God does discipline his wayward children. Citing this cliché to a Christian who is drifting to habitual sin may lead her to shrug her shoulders at her sin and say, like Catherine II of Russia:"Et le bon Dieu me pardonnnera: c'est son metier" (And the good God will pardon me: that's his job)".

"God loves everyone exactly the same way" may be true in the second sense of his providential love. After all, God sends his sunshine and rain upon the just and the unjust alike. But it is certainly not true in the fourth sense - his elective love.

If this is what God's love is, then how should a Christian's love look?

Partie Deux: akan datang here's a stab at it.

(The love of God is not merely to be analysed, understood and adopted into holistic categories of integrated thought, just to identify what Christian love should look like. It is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt for its own sake. We ought to meditate long and frequently on Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21:"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God". Paul connects such Christian experience of the love of God with Christian maturity, with being "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). This suggests that Christians cannot begin to approach maturity as Christians unless they approach maturity in grasping something of the dimensions of God's love.

And the many facets of God's love has transformed and will continue to transform us as we dwell on them and understand them so that we inevitable perceive the sheer rightness of the first commandment: to love the LORD our God with heart and soul and mind and strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.)

Labels: ,


At October 19, 2006 4:22 pm , Anonymous king leotard said...

dear! suspense is killing us!!!! Hurry Up And FINISH Part 2!!!

At October 20, 2006 7:32 am , Anonymous prince lyotard said...

partie deux
partie deux
partie deux
partie deux
partie deux
partie deux
partie deux
partie deux

At October 22, 2006 2:41 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alamak! Akan datang until can not tahan la! Quickly update please

At November 03, 2006 1:16 am , Anonymous Roger the Shrubber said...



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home