Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Love and Law

It's a great shame there is only one word for love in English. It has led to all kinds of misapprehensions with earthly love being confused for spiritual love and then love itself regarded as the prime virtue which overrides all other considerations. It is an excuse for anything, even what has always been regarded as sin.

The first focus of love must be God. Without this love no others can be called spiritual, however meritorious they might appear on their own level. But spiritual love is directed primarily to God and only then out towards the creation which is always seen in the light of God not its own light (though it has its own secondary light too. That is the point of it, after all).

The modern liberal Christian says a lot about love but little about the law forgetting that the one without the other is impossible in a spiritual context. The two must always go together and cannot be separated. Considered apart, they are not spiritual but material corruptions of the spiritual.

A fine case in point was the preacher at the royal wedding last year. (See here for a post on that). He was a typical example of the false teacher leading his flock astray. For him (apparently) the human version of love was little different to spiritual love even though the one is clearly based on the earthly self while the other is centred in God. Obviously, the two are not wholly different since the former partakes of the latter but it does so as filtered through the worldly ego often taking on several false ideas in the process, one of which being that any love that makes us feel good emotionally is spiritually justified.

If people knew the difference between agape and other forms of love we might not have this kind of confusion or muddying of the water. Jesus defined true spiritual love for us when he said that "if you love me, you keep my commandments". Any love that does not inspire the one loving to keep the commandments (and to do so with joy) is not agape. True love always inspires the lover to purity.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Instead of thinking about an emotional state or frame of mind; I have been thinking of love as something like an active sharing-of 'alignment' with God; agreeing-with, approving of God's creation and its purpose and methods; ultimately a joining with God in the work of creation.

This seems to help me understand how love is the most important 'thing', how love is what hold everything together.

It's a bit like a committment to face and walk in the same direction as established by God (sin being a turning away from, repentance a turning back towards that direction).

William Wildblood said...

Yes that sounds right to me. Equating love with emotion as we generally understand it probably misrepresents it. It's more a blending of our heart with the rhythm of God.

Anonymous said...

The Greeks, from whom the early teachings were borrowed, had 4 types of love - 1. a physical body love, 2. eros, and emotive type, 3. philos, a love of form and idea in formal relation, 4. agape, a love indiscriminate (including so-called enemies). There is a 5th love arising out of the 4th which is a love which wills to work to develop the potentials/talents of being. Christ hints at it in the parable of the talents as recorded. He may have given the teaching in full to those present but the 'Book' only records agape for the time being. We are now in a new period and love as a will to work to develop potentials is the new dispensation.
The two commandments:- one positive, one receptive. Love God with all thy heart, soul, mind = positive (martial). Love thy neighbour (everyone and everything else) is a condition of 'tolerance' of both relatives, good and evil = negative (venusian).
Christ comes to 'fulfill' the law. Law is 'form' (O.Test.). That which integrates and ties together all forms is 'love'. Love is 'feeling'. The good feeling which comes when form is dissolved (even by some frankincense if that is enough these days for the average mental form fixation) may present itself as 'emotion' (like the preacher) or it may be an inner 'high' feeling and transfiguration.
Defining the use of the term 'God', what is He, what are His qualities, is He personal or infinite, would assist an individual approaching the application of Love. (not a robot)

William Wildblood said...

Love can be thought of as an energy (vague word but I can't think of a better just now) that manifests through the body, the emotions, the mind and the soul. There is also divine love which is the ultimate source of all these. The first three are human. Only that of the soul is spiritual. It shows itself through dedication to the Good and the desire to work for its fuller expression which includes expression in human beings. But the full expression of the Good will only come about when the Law is observed, the law being simply another word for truth.

edwin said...

"Love of God" is an empty phrase for most people these days. They they think of God either abstractly (Divine creative energy) or anthropomorphically (the man in the sky), and in neither case can they arouse a feeling that rises to the level of love as we know it between two people. Ask someone if they love God and watch the reaction. I think we have to begin with Christ, with doing what he exemplified and asked of us: loving one another as He loved us. In doing this, or attempting it, we come to know what it means to love God. But this knowledge/feeling can only be had experientially, not intellectually or through concocted emotion. Loving God happens in the moment when we keep back that snappish word or quash that nasty thought; when we realize that all creation is a sacrifice made for us. Perhaps, we should start with an appreciation for something closer to us in nature, such as our angel, then work our way up to God. To go too soon to God is a bit like trying to jump on top of a tall building. The more we attempt it by will alone, out of a sense of duty, the more we will fail.Perhaps having one word for love is not entirely a handicap. All love is really agape. Anything less falls under the category of desire, sentiment, good will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William and edwin - While I don't really disagree, I think it necessary to be pretty straightforward - and not too abstract - about what Christians mean by love.

And I think Christianity just is 'anthropomorphic' - because of Jesus being a Man; so we should not worry about anthropomorphism as such - just the wrong kind of it.

So, I would prefer to stick with what people already know about love, and say that the big problem is that our culture emphasises erotic love - driven by physical pleasure - as the primary kind; and plays down, mocks and demonises family love or the love of comrades; which is what Christian love should be.

(Indeed, the mass media has in recent decades enforced the trope that all intense male friendship is *really* sexually motivated! This is either a vile slander on love, or else a pitiful admission of one's incapacity.)

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is always described as loving specific people - and that is the 'gospel of love' from which most of our ideas about Christian love derive. So I think our love is meant to be like that.

But of course that kind of love cannot be forced. We cannot make ourselves love Jesus, or The Father. The love must arise spontaneously and then be acknowledged consciously; dervived from knowledge of our actual situation in mortal life - which is children of God, siblings of Jesus; and this world and life a gift of love.

I am trying to remove any obstacles to such a perspective in my own understanding, as being necessarily errors. If we can have such a perspective, then love of God will arise - assuming we are capable of it (perhaps some individuals are not?); and simply requires our whole-hearted assent.

edwin said...

Bruce, As I'm sure you know, Steiner distinguishes Jesus the man from the Christ. Without giving complete assent to the rather complicated description Steiner gives of how the Jesus individuality received the Christ at the baptism in the Jordan, there is something useful in the distinction he makes. We can never take another man inside of us, no matter how deeply we may love him. We can incorporate the Christ, not as an abstraction but as our true self. We can act out of Christ; we can admire Jesus. Those who wish to jettison the transcendent from Christianity prefer to talk about Jesus the man, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the Jew, etc. They stress particular aspects of personality. I'm sure you don't intend to to this, but I find that I have a harder time thinking about Jesus than I do thinking about Christ. Christian love comes from the inside out. The erotic love you reference comes from the outside in. It is evoked by the object plus our instinct, passion, etc. Jesus loved specific people, but I don't think his love was so much evoked by specific people as it was allowed entrance into them by their dispositions. I would be friendly to many people who do not wish to allow my friendship into their lives. When I find someone open to my good will, then I can let it flow out to them. Christian love, I believe, is largely experiential. It is only when we pray for an enemy, do a kindness to someone who doesn't deserve it, forgive a real and personal injury that something happens in us: a knot in our heart loosens and we see, if only briefly, what Christ meant and who He was an how He can live in us.

William Wildblood said...

Like edwin I think it can be helpful to make a distinction between Jesus and Christ even if it just a conceptual distinction and doesn't mean we are talking about two different beings. So, in a similar way, I would envisage Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who is separate from me while Christ is actually in me. "Christ in you, hope of glory" as St Paul says in Colossians 1. It is Christ in me not William in me that is the source of love. So spiritual love does not from us but through us.

William Wildblood said...

By the way, that doesn't make love some impersonal, universal force. Jesus had the disciple he loved and even the Buddha had his favourite disciple. Love may come through me but the fact it comes through me (underlined) makes it completely personal.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin and William - I don't think that Jesus and the Christ can meaningfully or (overall) helpfully be separated - but I don't mind if other people do!

I think one reason that I am do not find incarnation/ anthropomorphism to be restrictive, is that I have accepted Steiner/ Barfield's idea that - in the beginning - 'everything' was spirit, and incarnation is a kind of condensation and relative-separation... But that ultimately a great deal is interprenetrated and universal still.

(ie. This is a situation of polarity in which there is a distinction between body and spirit, but the two cannot be separated - because ultimately we are talking about a self-generating process of being; and being always creates both body and spirit in varying degrees.)

In other words, universality is something that needs to be overcome sufficiently for freedom/ agency to become possible (the self must separate and strengthen before we can become divine like God; and incarnation is a part of this).

In other words, it is common for people to assume that spiritual progress is from embidies to spiritual - from personal to abstract; but I see things the possitie way around.

(This I got from Mormon theology, initially - which sees God the Father as an exalted incarnated Man - and theosis as our progression towards this state.)

But there is no problem about incarnated Beings having direct spiritual contact, because that is natural and spontaneous and the situation we originated-from.