"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Love, not Faith, is a Christian's Ultimate Goal

Tackling this subject in a blog post is nearly impossible because of all the implications which are involved. The Faith and Works controversies regarding the doctrine of justification are well known. Those who dispute in this controversy agree both faith and good works are required of the Christian. But the disputants argue over what role the good works play.

Considering the countless pages and gallons of ink spent on this subject, you would think that faith is the greatest of all the virtues; a doctrine around which ramparts should be built. But St. Paul is perfectly clear that it is possible to possess faith without possessing hope or love. (I Cor. 13:2) And in that same passage, the Apostle reminds us that love is the greatest of the three theological virtues.

Why then do Christians not speak more about the call to love, than the call to faith? Perhaps it is because being asked to believe in an all-powerful and all-loving God is a quite pleasing thought. It is enthralling to have thoughts and dreams about an infinite font of Goodness roaming the universe waiting to dispense mercy on every human being who seeks it. That mercy, that forgiveness is obtained through Faith. Obviously, for those who wish a proper standing with God, Faith is a desirable, necessary virtue, and gracious gift. Nothing which should ever be undermined.

Yet, all this being true, Faith is subjugated to Love. Why is love greater and why are so few people treating it as more important? The answer may well lie in the words of Jesus Christ on the night in which he was betrayed. "Love one another as I have loved you." (Jn. 13:34) We are required to love as Christ loved. This means the total giving up of the Self for the Other. Insofar as we keep any part of ourselves that could be given to others, we have not loved as Christ loved and we really have failed at even loving ourselves. In one of those tricky paradoxes of Christianity we discover that what we have not given away was never really ours in the first place. When we act in Self-interest that in any way offends another, we fill ourselves with emptiness. We CANNOT truly be the Humans God created us to be until we give of ourselves completely.

But selfishness remains a hindrance to this. There are parts of ourselves we want to keep for ourselves. Putting your finances, feelings, and efforts on the line for someone else can be painful; both the giving up of them, and the knowledge that they may well be misused or under-appreciated. Nevertheless, our desire should be to return to the state of Adam and Eve, who were likened unto gods in the Garden. We have the model of how to do it in Jesus. He showed us what humanity was supposed to look like. Indeed, he is the only true Human to have ever lived. That is precisely because he gave all of himself for others.

It is a lot easier to believe in that work (Faith) than to actually carry it out in our own world
(Love). God wants us to be conformed to the image of his Son. If we desire it, we must have Faith...we can never even begin to love without it. But as has been pointed out by better writers than myself; faith is like a seed, Hope is what leads that seed to spring up, and Love is the blossoming flower. When you think about it, it only makes sense that Faith is but a means toward learning how to Love as God loves, and that loving, that is, being Selfless to find your Self, is the ultimate goal of Christianity. For it was the Savior himself who taught us that the greatest commandment is "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (MT. 22:37-39)

We must die in Baptism to live. We must appear as fools to be truly wise. We must selflessly give what we possess, that is we must love, to become our Selves, that is Human. We will then have become worthy objects of divine Love, not because we were in any way lovable, but because God loved us first and taught us how to love as he loves.

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