We see but the reflection of a riddle. 1 Cor:13

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are All Semantic Distinctions Just Semantics?

When i suggested in the subtitle that this blog would be variations on a theme, I hadn't intended to simply blog about the one topic using different words. However, I'm going to try to expand my thinking on the first post both as a follow up to my first post and in response to those who have commented (for whom I am truly grateful) and a number of conversations I have had in the last few days.

There has been concerns/critique expressed in regards to the way in which the suggested reorienting our focus from our own personal love to the love of God seems to abdicate responsibility or understate the role/place of the individual as a loving entity. In effect, I seem to be downplaying the agency of human beings in favour of a kind of human-vessel through which the love of God can flow/be known/become manifest. This is true insofar as I am wanting to suggest that "pure" love is of God and is God and as such, we cannot manufacture or contrive this love as if we were its origin. We can however, open ourselves up to God/love and by so doing, allow ourselves to become 'lovers'. We do this in all sorts of ways from the seemingly mundane to the seemingly life-altering. This is essentially a humbling before God ('dying to self' or however else you want to express it or whichever other Biblical allusion you choose to favour).

What I am trying to emphasise is the proper procession of love. We do not create in ourselves the "pure" love of God and thus join ourselves to God. But conversely, through our joining with God (loving as Jesus loved, that is to say, following him/trusting in him/believing in him) we reveal in ourselves that which is at the heart of our creation already: that is, God/love. Hence, it is true that when we love, we come to abide in God and God in us. Not in the sense that we have an equal share in the creative/love generating process, only in the sense that what is fundamentally true of us all inwardly, has been allowed to become manifest in us outwardly.

This is semantics I am sure, but it is a semantic shift that is also paradigmatic. For as long as we understand ourselves to be somehow creating/generating love within ourselves we risk falling into idolatry where we place ourselves as an equal 'eternal' partner in the relationship we have with God(or at least as eternal as God). We also put the onus on ourselves to be 'the loving ones' so that when we fail to love as Jesus loved, it is our fault, our failure, our weakness. This is the fuel for guilt and hopelessness (which was the main concern of my first post.

To avoid this idolatry (and the accompanying pitfalls), I suggest what is required is to approach love as truly 'other' while still confessing it as the very heart of our createdness and indeed our true humanity. This is to say, love is 'truly other' but is also wholly and intimately knowable. This 'knowing' of love is the participating in/revealing in ourselves and to others/atonement that all life is journeying towards and all life is created for. This 'knowing' is a gift not an achievement; grace not work.

Our experience and the Biblical witness suggests that while we are created for love, we continue to live in contradiction of that created truth. Thus we live as though love were an option among many, or as if love, though attainable, is beyond us most of the time. To trust that God (the source and power of life, among other things) is love, is to affirm that at the most fundamental level of creaturely existence, love is. Love then, is not beyond us, but the very truth of us. To trust in love is to trust in the truth.

Of course it follows that grace/faith without an expression in your life as love towards others is dead/empty/noise. But what is crucial in all this for me, is that God is the object of my striving. Not only the love of God for me in some abstract sense, but the love of God for me, and others, expressed in and through my life in concrete ways. Thus the love that is God's gift of creation, is made 'mine' insofar as it is revealed/known through me.


  1. ok...my mind hurts beautifully from that. The knowing, yep, yep, yep, that's it. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free........free from striving, free from works, free from guilt, free to love purely - free from you self most importantly of all I think. Yes we are accountable/responsible, that's a given. But I'm really loving the otherness idea, I think I get that, I've even experienced that - completely connected, yet in some inexplicable way not really anything to do with me, way beyond me so to speak. glimpses of the divine for certain, so included but how can I claim any of it. Wait, the bit I can claim is the willingness to believe, to trust and to accept the sometimes (exquisitely) painful revealing/knowing/opening up of ones self. Maybe it's like how I grow roses (spent time with them this week so might be an odd analogy but anyway). I do my part (responsibility) - water, feed, prune. But hello, God made the rose, if I had no rosebush (which I can't even begin, in my wildest and most obscure delusion, to imagine how to create) then no amount of responsible garden effort would result in a single bloom, and on top of all that, some utterly neglected rosebushes still bloom. It's so not us - we have our part, but we only have our part - plus it's also why silk roses just don't cut it. Wow, oh wow God, regarding love - and rosebushes - is all I can really say now. Keep it coming Phil, my head is fairly cracked anyway :)

  2. There is no small amount of a Barthian-like dialectic here. The wholly other God who becomes revealed to us in Christ; God, transcendant, yet immanent, to put it in the words of the master (St John that is!) 'the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.' The wholly perfect love we in our imperfection experience and participate in through grace. For, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

    My question here is in relation to anthropology. I'm not quite sure about, 'Love then, is not beyond us, but the very truth of us.', seems a little vague. Love is the very truth of God.

    What I would say, continuing on the dialectical road, is that, ironically, we are most fully ourselves, most fully who we are created to be, when we look away from ourselves to Jesus. Also strangely enough, it is in looking away from ourselves to Him that we most fully see ourselves, who we are truly meant to be; 'I am the light of the world.' We are those who are called Christian, called follower of Christ.

    Perhaps, at least in Christian theology and experience, paradox is not as paradoxical as we think!!

    Mike E

  3. Ah, sage like. I would totally agree with your clarifying statements. That was what I was trying to get at.

  4. Hi Phil. Just got back from a 7 day silent Dharma retreat and so, feeling spacious, thought i might my two (Dharma) cents worth ...well, actually not mine at all, rather a beautiful poem from one of my fave poets, Hafiz. To me this speaks of our (already) imperfect perfection, our already being whole. What relevance it has to your poetic piece, I'm not really sure!!

    Now is the time

    Now is the time to know
    That all that you do is sacred.
    Now, why not consider
    A lasting truce with yourself and God?
    Now is the time to understand
    That all your ideas of right and wrong
    Were just a child's training wheels
    To be laid aside
    When you can finally live
    with veracity
    And love.

    Now is the time for the world to know
    That every thought and action is sacred.
    That this is the time
    For you to compute the impossibility
    That there is anything
    But Grace.

    Now is the season to know
    That everything you do
    Is Sacred


  5. Thanks Holly, I will need to ponder on this offering for a while...

  6. Although I hadn't struggled greatly with your first post, I did find this one clearer and I think it's great. For me it is a helpful clarification and not about semantics. I think that people are often chided as being pedantic when I believe it is actually about clear communication and therefore a greater possibility of real understanding. Thanks Phil.

  7. I still want, in some way, to maintain some kind of responsibility for love. IN this I want to maintain the authenticity of love. It is important for me that when we say that we love, it is really us that is loving. We do not say to someone that I can't love you, but God can (even through me).

    For me, we are created by God in love, and love is at the very heart of who we are. Thus you do not need to know, or believe in God, to be able to love authentically, but that love is ultimately from God in the act of creation. Thus for us to love God is really us loving, not God loving himself through us. This love is given to us as part of our being, given in love, and given with the freedom that we might not love in return.

    However, when we know God, when we love God, then we have the privilege of his love enabling us to love more. We find we cannot love, so we ask for help in loving. God, in his graciousness, in his love for us, strengthens, or even transforms the love at the heart of our being to be able to love. It is both us loving from our hearts, and God loving through us. Even by the fact of us asking, or allowing God to love through us, it become authentically our love.



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