Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quote of the Day

Sexual eros points to something deeper in a second way. As we have just seen, it is a sign or type of a deeper reality, a kind of love for God of which we now just have hints and intimations. It is also a sign, symbol, or type of God's love -- not just of the love God's children will someday have for him but of the love he also has for them. As we noted above (p. 312), Scripture regularly compares God's love for his people and Christ's love for his church to the love of a groom for his new bride. Now a widely shared traditional view of God has been that he is impassible, without desire or feeling or passion, unable to feel sorrow at the sad condition of his world and the suffering of his children, and equally unable to feel joy, delight, longing, or yearning. The reason for so thinking, roughly, is that in the tradition originating in Greek philosophy, passions were thought of (naturally enough) as passive, something that happens to you, something you undergo, rather than something you actively do. You are subject to anger, love, joy, and all the rest. God, however, is pure act; he doesn't 'undergo' anything at all; he acts, and is never merely passive; and he isn't subject to anything. As far as eros is concerned, furthermore, there is an additional reason for thinking that it isn't part of God's life: longing and yearning signify need and incompleteness. One who yearns for something doesn't yet have it, and needs it, or at any rate thinks he needs it; God is of course paradigmatically complete and needs nothing beyond himself. How, then, could he be subject to eros? God's love, according to this tradition, is exclusively agape, benevolence, a completely other-regarding, magnanimous love in which there is mercy but no element of desire. God loves us, but there is nothing we can do for him; he wishes nothing from us.

On this particular point I think we must take leave of the tradition; this is one of those places where it has paid too much attention to Greek philosophy and too little to the Bible. I believe God can and does suffer; his capacity for suffering exceeds ours in the same measure that his knowledge exceeds ours. Christ's suffering was no charade; he was prepared to endure the agonies of the cross and of hell itself ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). God the Father was prepared to endure the anguish of seeing his Son, the second person of the trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. And isn't the same true for other passions? "There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Luke 15:7); is God himself to be excluded from this rejoicing?

Similarly for eros: "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5). The bridegroom rejoicing over his bride doesn't love her with a merely agapeic love. He isn't like her benevolent elder brother (although Christ is also said to be our elder brother). He desires and longs for something outside himself, namely union with his beloved. The church is the bride of Christ, not his little sister. He is not her benevolent elder brother, but her husband, lover. These scriptural images imply that God isn't impassive, and that his love for us is not exclusively agapeic. They suggest that God's love for his people involves an erotic element of desire: he desires the right kind of response from us, and union with us, just as we desire union with him.

We can take this one step further (and here we may be crossing the boundary into groundless speculation). According to Jonathan Edwards, "The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of His Son." This presumably isn't agape. It doesn't involve an element of mercy, as in his love for us. It is, instead, a matter of God's taking enormous pleasure, enjoyment, delight, happiness, delectation in the Son. Given the necessary existence of the Father and the Son, and their having their most important properties essentially, there is no way in which God could be deprived of the Son; but if (per impossible) he were, it would occasion inconceivable sadness. The love in question is eros, not agape. It is a desire for union that is continually, eternally, and joyfully satisfied. And our being created in his image involves our capacity for eros and for love of what is genuinely lovable, as well as knowledge and agenthood.

Accordingly, the eros in our lives is a sign or a symbol of God's erotic love as well. Human erotic love is a sign of something deeper, something so deep that it is uncreated, an original and permanent and necessarily present feature of the universe. Eros undoubtedly characterizes many creatures other than human beings; no doubt much of the living universe shares this characteristic. More important, all of us creatures with eros reflect and partake in this profound divine property. So the most fundamental reality here is the love displayed by and in God: love within the trinity. This love is erotic. It is a matter of perceiving and desiring and enjoying union with something valuable, in this case, Someone of supreme value. And God's love for us is manifested in his generously inviting us into this charmed circle (though not, of course, to ontological equality), thus satisfying the deepest longings of our souls. Within this circle, there is mercy, self-sacrifice, overflowing agape; there is also that longing and delight, that yearning and joy that make up eros.

Alvin Plantinga
Warranted Christian Belief

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