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Conversion, therefore, is fundamentally a turning of the will, a healing of the disorder of affection that afflicts us. It is a turning away from love of self, from thinking of oneself as the chief being of the universe, to love of God. But what is this love of God like, and how shall we understand it? William James, that cultured, sophisticated New England Victorian gentleman, notes the throbbing elements of longing, yearning, desire, eros in the writings of Teresa of Avila, looks down his cultivated nose, and finds all that a bit, well, tasteless, a bit declassé. Sniffs James, “in the main her idea of religion seems to have been that of an endless amatory flirtation . . . between the devotee and the deity.”395395 The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, 1902), p. 340. Here the joke is on James. There is an intimate and long-standing connection between eros and developed spirituality. The Bible is full of expressions of that longing, yearning, Sehnsucht, desire; the Hebrew word for knowledge, as in knowledge of God, is also a word for sexual intercourse;396396 A feature that is retained in the King James translation: “And Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived and bare Cain” (Genesis 4:1). and when the children of Israel are unfaithful, turning aside to false gods, this is represented as adultery. The Psalms are particularly rich in such expressions of eros:
My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you. (Psalm 63:1)
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I . . . behold the beauty of the Lord. (Psalm 27:4)
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1–2)
I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. (Psalm 119:131)
This love for God isn’t like, say, an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection. It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual: “my body longs for you, my soul pants for you.” It is erotic; and one of the closest analogues would be with sexual eros. There is a powerful desire for union with God, the oneness Christ refers to in John 17. Another perhaps equally close analogue would be love between parent and small child; and this kind of love too is often employed in Scripture as a figure for love of God—both God’s love for us and ours for him. Here too, of course, there is longing, yearning, desire for closeness, though not sexual longing; think of the longing in the homesickness of an eight-year-old or in the love of a mother for her hurt and suffering child.
Of course expressions of this eros are not found only in the Psalms. In Isaiah, we read, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people” (65:19); “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5b). This implies, I take it, not merely that God will rejoice over his people the way a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, but that the bride will return this love; when things go properly, God’s people love him the way a bride loves her new husband, with a similar sort of erotic desire. Then there is the Song of Songs, with its intensely erotic imagery, imagery the church has all along taken to be a picture of the love between Christ and his church:
I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me. Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love. (7:10–12)
In the New Testament, the relationship between Christ and his church is repeatedly compared to that between husband and wife:
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28b–32).
Christians over the centuries have echoed these expressions. Thus Augustine:
Late it was that I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new, late I loved you! . . . You called, you cried out, you shattered my deafness: you flashed, you shone, you scattered my blindness: you breathed perfume, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you: I tasted, and I am hungry and thirsty: you touched me, and I burned for your peace.397397 Confessions, tr. Rex Warner (New York: New American Library, 1963), X, 27, p. 235.
The great mystical masters of the spiritual life, furthermore, speak in similarly erotic terms:
And although the attractions by which God draws us be admirably pleasing, sweet and delicious, yet on account of the force which the divine beauty and goodness have to draw unto them the attention and application of the spirit, it seems that it not only raises us but that it ravishes and bears us away. As, on the contrary, by reason of the most free consent and ardent motion, by which the ravished soul goes out after the divine attractions, she seems not only to mount and rise, but also to break out of herself and cast herself into the very divinity.398398 Francis of Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Library of St. Francis de Sales, tr. Henry B. Mackey (London: Burnes and Oates, 1884) Bk. VII, chap. iv, p. 294. See also, for another example among many, Fr. Nouet Conduite de l’homme d’Oraison, Bk. VI in Anton Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, tr. Leonora York Smith (London: Roudedge and Kegan Paul, 1950), p. 111, quoted in William Alston’s Perceiving God, p. 54.
It isn’t only the great mystics who have this sort of experience:
as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost . . . the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed, it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way.399399 Quoted (anonymously) in William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 350.
Even (and perhaps especially) the Puritans, dour and emotionally pinched as they are often represented, are full of expressions of erotic love of God. There is of course Jonathan Edwards; but he was by no means alone. Thus Henry Scougal:
when once the soul is fixed on that supreme and all sufficient good, it finds so much perfection and goodness as does not only answer and satisfy its affection, but master and overpower it too: it finds all its love to be too faint and languid for such a noble objection, and is only sorry that it can command no more. It . . . longs for the time when it shall be wholly melted and dissolved into love.400400 The Life of God in the Soul of Man, or, the Nature and Excellency of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: G. M. and W. Snider, 1827 [first published 1677]), p. 62.
What an infinite pleasure must it needs be, thus, as it were, to lose ourselves in him, and being swallowed up in the overcoming sense of his goodness, to offer ourselves a living sacrifice always ascending unto him in flames of love.401401 Ibid., p. 66.
Amy Plantinga Pauw notes that
between Christ and the saints is described by such a staid figure as
Samuel Willard in frankly erotic terms: “We shall then dwell at the
Fountain of his Love, and the reciprocal ardours of Affection between
him and us, shall break over all Banks and Bounds, and we shall be
entirely satisfied, both in Soul and in Body.”402402 “Edwards on Heaven and the Trinity,”
Calvin Theological Journal 30,
no. 2 (November 1995), pp. 392ff. The quotation from Willard is
from A Compleat Body of Divinity (Boston, 1726), sermon 146. See also Abraham
Kuyper, To Be near unto God, tr. John Hendrik de Vries (Grand Rapids: W. B.
Eerdmans, 1918, 1925), p. 675: “The homesickness goes out after God
Himself, until in your soul’s transport of love you feel the warmth of
his father heart in your own heart. It is not the Name of God, but God
Himself Whom your soul desires, and can not do without, God Himself in
the outshining of His life; and it is this outshining of His life that
must penetrate you and must be assimilated in the blood of your
We should also note here some of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” for example, 14: Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine and seek to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee, and bend Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new. I, like an usurpt towne, to another due, Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end, Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend, But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue. Yet dearly ‘I love you,’ and would be loved faine, But am betrothed unto your enemie: Divorce mee, untie, or break that knot againe, Take mee to you, imprison mee, for Except you enthrall mee, shall never be free, Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
What is to be made of this erotic love of God, this yearning, longing, desire, and its apparent fulfillment in some kind of ardent union between “the devotee and the deity”? This phenomenon comes in all grades of intensity: there is the full-blown, breathtaking, overpowering scenario de Sales points to, but also the much quieter and more restrained movement of the heart toward God on the part of one who gives thanks for a glorious June morning, or who for one brief moment sees the glory and beauty of the Christian story and feels a pang of attraction deeper than gratitude; and there is every degree between these two. What is to be made of this phenomenon? Most psychiatric literature has tended to follow Freud in understanding religion as a kind of neurosis, the “universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.”403403 See above, chapter 5, pp. 137ff. See also Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, vol. 2, ed. A. M. Freedman, H. I. Kaplan, and B. J. Sadock (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975), in particular, the article by Mortimer Ostow, “Religion and Psychiatry.” From this point of view, religious eros is to be understood as a kind of analogue, displacement, or sublimation of (broadly) sexual energy (presumably on the part of those who have little by way of the more conventional sexual outlets).
What is it for sexual energy to be sublimated in art, or poetry, or love of God? The idea is that there is some finite store of energy whose ‘natural’ use or outlet is sexual; this energy can somehow be diverted into other channels, perhaps especially if the natural channels aren’t available. (There is also the suggestion that these other channels are socially somehow more respectable.) The person in whom the sublimation occurs, of course, is not aware of this origin of what he thinks of as his higher feelings and desires. (Here there is more of that unmasking for which Freud is famous.) We might stop to try to understand this claim more fully: what is this ‘energy’ like, and what does it mean to say that it gets pointed in some other direction, and why would energy be diverted in this fashion? And isn’t the whole claim really metaphorical (‘sublimation’, ‘energy’, ‘diversion’, etc., are all used metaphorically here), and, if so, what is it a metaphor for? Is there any way to give a literal statement of the theory? Let’s not tarry over those questions, however, and pretend we have a reasonably good grasp of the alleged theory: is there any reason to believe it?
Here I think things stand as with Freud’s account of religious belief as wish-fulfillment (chapter 5). We are confronted with a question: how is it that some people display this ardent desire and love for God? One sort of answer would be: “Well, God himself, according to Scripture and Christian belief, is essentially love; union with him is also the chief end of us human beings; it is therefore no surprise that he would create us in such a way that we have a deep desire for union with him, even if that desire has been partly suppressed and effaced by sin.” But suppose you think there is no God and that Christian (and other) theism is an illusion (and delusion) of some kind: then how does it happen that many of us display this love for God? I take it Freud’s suggestion is an answer to that question, or to that question with that presupposition. The answer is supposed to help us understand what would otherwise be (from that atheistic perspective) a puzzling phenomenon. The proposed explanation is that there is the natural, unsurprising, well-established phenomenon of sexual energy; we then imagine that this energy (for one reason or another) gets ‘diverted’ (in those deprived of the natural outlets) into another direction, a direction that may have some psychological function. In this way, we come to understand erotic love for God.
Like his account of theistic belief as wish-fulfillment, this account (assuming we can make real sense of it) is of the sort that is vastly more likely to be true if theism is false than if it is true. It is, of course, possible that something like it is true, even if theism is true too. Even if theism is true, it is possible that (due, e.g., to sin) there is something like a drying up of the natural sources of love of God, and a sort of makeshift interim arrangement whereby sexual energy is commandeered for this purpose. Perhaps it is even possible that we were originally designed, in the unfallen state, in such a way that it was sexual energy that was somehow diverted and used in this other fashion—that is, for love of God (although, if that was part of the original human design plan, why call the energy in question ‘sexual’?). These things are possible, though not likely (given theism or Christianity). Even if they were true, however, there would remain an important difference: from the Christian or theistic perspective, this system or set of systems would have been designed or redesigned with love of God as its aim or end: that is what it would be for. Not so, of course, from Freud’s perspective.
From a Christian perspective, then, here (as often) Freud has things just backwards. It isn’t that religious eros, love for God, is really sexual eros gone astray or rechanneled, and it isn’t sexual eros (important as it is) that is basic or fundamental, with religious eros somehow derivative from it. The fact is things are just the other way around. It is sexual desire and longing that is a sign of something deeper: it is a sign of this longing, yearning for God that we human beings achieve when we are graciously enabled to reach a certain level of the Christian life. It is love for God that is fundamental or basic, and sexual eros that is the sign or symbol or pointer to something else and something deeper. (Of course I don’t mean to say that the importance and worth of sexual eros is exhausted in its being a sign of love of God.)
In fact sexual eros points to two deeper realities. First, it points to human love for God, which is a passionate desire for the central condition for which God has designed us. According to the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. What is this “glorifying God and enjoying him forever”? The first is not fundamentally a matter of telling God how great he is, paying him effusive compliments, metaphysical or otherwise. God is, indeed, great, magnificent, and awe-inspiring beyond description; but he already knows that, and doesn’t need to hear it from us, as with someone who is insecure, or whose swollen ego needs constant feeding of this type. More likely, it is a matter of perceiving, noting, appreciating, delighting in, relishing, God’s glory and loveliness, his amiability and sweetness—the whole list of divine properties so often mentioned by Jonathan Edwards—and a natural expression of that perception and delight.404404 As Ronald Feenstra reminded me, it is also, no doubt, a matter of developing the image of God in us, both individually and corporately. And the second—“enjoying him forever”—is some kind of union with God, a being united to, at one with him. To quote Samuel Willard again, “We shall then dwell at the Fountain of his Love, and the reciprocal ardours of Affection between him and us, shall break over all Banks and Bounds, and we shall be entirely satisfied, both in Soul and in Body.”405405 Compare Edwards, “I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be wrapped up to God in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him” (“A Personal Narrative,” in A Jonathan Edwards Reader, ed. John Smith, Harry Stout, and Kenneth Minkema [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 284). Sexual eros with its longing and yearning is a sign and foreshadowing of the longing and yearning for God that will characterize us in our healed and renewed state in heaven; and sexual satisfaction and union, with its transports and ecstasy, is a sign and foreshadowing of the deeper reality of union with God—a union that is at present for the most part obscure to us. Bernard Williams seems to believe that heaven would be a bit boring for a person of taste and sensibility;406406 “The Macropoulos Case” in Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 94–95. and Michael Levine suggests that friendship with God could be fairly interesting, but doubts that it would be “supremely worthwhile.”407407 “Swinburne’s Heaven: One Hell of a Place,” Religious Studies 4 (1993), p. 521. Perhaps these reactions are as spiritually immature as those of a nine-year-old child on first hearing of the pleasures of sex: could it really match marbles, or chocolate?408408 Compare C. S. Lewis: such a person is “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea” (“The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, ed. with Introduction by Walter Hooper [New York: Macmillan, 1980], p. 4).
Of course it isn’t only sexual eros that is in this way a sign or symbol of love for God. Sexual eros and love for God are both passionate desires for union, a passionate desire to be united with the object of desire. And there are other manifestations of the same kind of desire for union. Think of the haunting, supernal beauty of the prairie on an early morning in June, or the glorious but slightly menacing aspect of the Cathedral group in the Grand Tetons, or the gleaming splendor of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker from Skyline Ridge, or the timeless crash and roar of the surf, or the melting sweetness of Mozart’s “Dona Nobis Pacem” that can bring hot tears to your eyes, or the incredible grace, beauty, and power of an ice-skating routine or a kickoff returned for ninety-eight yards. In each, there is a kind of yearning, something perhaps a little like nostalgia, or perhaps homesickness,409409 Kuyper, To Be near unto God, pp. 674–75. a longing for one knows not what. This longing is different from sexual eros, though no doubt connected with it at a deep level (which is perhaps one of the things Freud did see). In these cases it isn’t easy to say with any precision what the longing is a longing for, but it can seem to be for a sort of union: it’s as if you want to be absorbed into the music, to become part of the ocean, to be at one with the landscape. You would love to climb that mountain, certainly, but that isn’t enough; you also somehow want to become one with it, to become part of it, or to have it, or its beauty, or this particular aspect of it, somehow become part of your very soul.410410 Compare C. S. Lewis again: our “inconsolable secret” is that “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it” (The Weight of Glory, p. 126). Of course you can’t; you remain unsatisfied. Jean-Paul Sartre says that man (and I doubt that he meant to single out just males) is too much, “de trop”; perhaps the truth is more like “not enough.” He also says that man is a “useless passion.” What he should have said is that man is an unfulfilled passion. When confronted with beauty, it is never enough; we are never really satisfied; there is more beyond, a more that we yearn for, but can only dimly conceive. We are limited to mere fleeting glimpses of the real satisfaction—unfulfilled until filled with the love of God. These longings too are types of longing for God; and the brief but joyous partial fulfillments are a type and foretaste of the fulfillment enjoyed by those who “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
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,411411 See Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, tr. Philip S. Watson (New York: Macmillan, 1939). 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?”).412412 Can we say that Christ qua human being (according to his human nature) suffered while Christ qua divine (according to his divine nature) did not? This is hardly the place to try to address a question as ancient and deep as this one, but I’m inclined to think this suggestion incoherent. There is this person, the second person of the divine trinity who became incarnate. It is this person who suffers; if there really were two centers of consciousness here, one suffering and the other not, there would be two persons here (one human and one divine) rather than the one person who is both human and divine. See my “On Heresy, Mind, and Truth,” Faith and Philosophy, 16, no. 2 (April 1999), p. 182. 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.413413 He no doubt also suffers at the sufferings and defections of all his children: “this bitter grief is inflicted upon God, when a soul falls away from Him” (Kuyper, To Be near unto God, p. 30). 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.”414414 “An Essay on the Trinity,” in Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1971), p. 105. 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;415415 And this is the answer to one of the traditional arguments for the conclusion that God has no passions: the Father and the Son do indeed need each other, but it is a need that is necessarily and eternally fulfilled. but if (per impossible) he were, it would occasion inconceivable sadness. The love in question is eros, not agape.416416 “So when we say that God loves his Son, we are not talking about a love that is self-denying, sacrificial, or merciful. We are talking about a love of delight and pleasure. . . . He is well-pleased with his Son. His soul delights in the Son! When he looks at his Son he enjoys and admires and cherishes and prizes and relishes what he sees” (John Piper, The Pleasures of God [Portland: Multnomah Press, 1991], p. 31). 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.417417 The thought that God is trinitarian distinguishes Christianity from other theistic religions; here we see a way in which this doctrine makes a real difference, in that it recognizes eros and love for others at the most fundamental level of reality. Does this suggest that we should lean toward a social conception of the trinity, the conception of Gregory and the Cappadocian fathers, rather than the Augustinian conception, which flirts with modalism? See Cornelius Plantinga Jr., “Social Trinity & Tritheism,” in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, ed. Ronald Feenstra and Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989). 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.418418 For a more poetic account of connections between human romantic love and divine love, see Charles Williams, Religion and Love in Dante: The Theology of Romantic Love (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1941). (See also, of course, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Paradiso.) Williams argues (p. 11) that being in love (that more or less ordinary but also utterly extraordinary way in which most of us are at one time or another) is a way of participating in the divine Love himself.
Suppose we use the term ‘human eros’ to refer to sexual eros and also to the kinds of longing involved in our experience of beauty, nostalgia, and the like. I say that human eros is a sign, a symbol, a type, a figure,419419 See Erich Auerbach’s powerful “Figura” in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (New York: Meridian Books, 1959). a foreshadowing, both of God’s love, and also of spiritually mature human love for God: but exactly what does that mean, and why can’t I settle on just one of those five words? To take the easier question first, let’s settle on the word ‘type’; human eros is a type of God’s love and of love for God. Of course this is just to give it a name: what is that relationship? This is a large and nontrivial question; here I can only try to mention a few of the surface essentials. First, the relation is not symmetrical: human eros is a type of God’s love, but God’s love is not a type of human eros. Second, the relationship in question is not, of course, the familiar type-token relationship. A horse is a token of the type the horse; an inscription of the word ‘fish’ is a token of that word. But sexual eros is not a token of divine love, and divine love is not a token of sexual eros; hence, neither is a token of the other.
Third, like the type-token relation and unlike the relation between a word and what it denotes, the type-relationship here is not conventional. The word ‘fish’ stands for fish; the relationship between ‘fish’ and fish is conventional in the sense that this relationship holds by virtue of the existence of a certain linguistic convention. (Perhaps this relationship goes by way of the convention’s establishing a relationship between the word ‘fish’ and the property of being a fish, the former expressing the latter.) The relationship between ‘fish’ and fish depends on us human beings and what we do; it holds because we (or some of us) have done what it takes to establish the convention whereby the former is a word for the latter. The fish (the type) is also a symbol for Jesus Christ. The connection between the fish and Jesus Christ is also conventional, though in a slightly different way. The former was adopted as a symbol for the latter because of a relation between the Greek word for fish (icthus) and a certain Greek phrase: Ἰησοῦζ Χριζτο´ζ Θεοῦ Υικ´ζ Σωτήρ. The letters of the word, taken in order, are the first letters of the words of that phrase, taken in order. That relationship isn’t itself merely conventional; but the relation between the fish and Jesus Christ is, in that it depends essentially upon our treating that type and some of its tokens in a certain conventional way. Not so for the way in which human eros is a type of divine love: this relationship doesn’t depend on the establishment of any human conventions.
Still, none of this tells us what this relationship is. Perhaps we can make a little progress by considering a biblical example. In Hebrews 8:5, we read that the high priest “serves at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven”; and in the next chapter, that “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (9:23). What is meant here, I take it, is that the earthly sanctuary, the temple, is a type of what is in heaven, whatever exactly it is. The sacrifice of an animal, furthermore, is a type of the sacrifice of Christ, and the animals themselves types of Christ. The relationship here is that there is a certain kind of (sometimes functional) resemblance between the earthly copy and the heavenly exemplar, a relationship that is independent of any human convention. Of course that isn’t saying much: any two things resemble each other in indefinitely many ways (and indefinitely many ways independent of human convention); what’s at issue here is a relevant relationship, where it is easy to give examples but hard to say what relevance consists in.
Perhaps the answer lies in the following area. There are features or properties of God that are very good—that is, features or properties such that exemplifications of them are good. These features would include his love, power, knowledge, mercy, justice, beauty, glory, and the like, and it is by exemplifying these features to the maximal degree that God is supremely good.420420 Of course I don’t mean to suggest that God somehow depends on these features, or is ontologically subsequent to them (whatever exactly that means); these features themselvess, as well as other properties, can perhaps best be thought of as divine concepts. See my Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980). In creating creatures who are also good, God intends to make them in such a way that they resemble him by virtue of displaying some of these same features. They reflect and recapitulate the features of God in question. Of course there will be enormous differences; God’s creatures are finite, created, and conditional, while he himself is infinite, uncreated, and unconditional; the theme in question is, so to say, transposed into another key.421421 C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in Transposition and Other Addresses (London: G. Bles, 1949). Where b is a type of a, therefore, a will be of great value in some respect; b will resemble a in that respect, though b will be of less value than a (hence the asymmetry). Still further, part of what it is for human eros to be a type, a sign, or an analogue of divine love is God’s intending to create something that resembles him in the relevant respect, and intending to create it just because it does resemble him in that respect. (The sound made by a deer drinking at a water hole may vaguely resemble the sound made by a very small mountain stream; neither stream nor deer, one thinks, is created because of that relationship.) These things are (I think) necessary; are they also sufficient? I doubt it, but do not know what further condition to add.
The fact that human eros is a type of divine love means that this feature of our lives can be explained or understood a certain way. We understand it better, see what it is all about, see what is most important about it, when we see that it is a type or sign of divine love. We see how it fits in with the rest of reality, and how it is connected with what is most real. There are, of course, various evolutionary accounts of erotic love; they center, naturally enough, in the connection of eros with reproduction or, more broadly, with the mechanisms of survival and reproduction. Why do human beings display eros, and what is its significance? From an evolutionary or sociobiological point of view, the answer has to do with how this feature of our nature came to be, bit by bit, in small stages, each stage proving to be fitness inducing (or genetically connected with something fitness inducing). From a Christian perspective, however, things look quite different. The significance of this feature of our lives lies in the fact that displaying it is part of what it is to be created in the image of God; in this way, we human beings share in one of the fundamental properties of the First Being of the universe. The questions ‘Why is it there?’ and ‘What’s most significant about it?’ are to be answered in terms of its being a type of divine love.
In sum, then: according to the model, faith is a matter of a sure and certain knowledge, both revealed to the mind and sealed to the heart. This sealing, according to the model, consists in the having of the right sorts of affections; in essence, it consists in loving God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself. There is an intimate relation between revealing and sealing, knowledge and affection, intellect and will; they cooperate in a deep and complex and intimate way in the person of faith. And the love involved is, in part, erotic; it involves that longing and yearning with which we are all familiar. Finally, love between human beings—between men and women, between parents and children, among friends—is a sign or type of something deeper: mature human love for God, on the one hand, and, on the other, the love of God displayed both among the members of the trinity and in God’s love for his children.
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