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Divine and Human Love
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 13, 2011
Genesis 29:14-20 John 15:9-17 Psalm 33
With Valentine’s Day coming up, it seems fitting to reflect on the subject of love. We heard Bible stories that treat three forms of love. In the Gospel of John, we heard two forms of love. We heard of Jesus’ love for humanity, and we heard the injunction for us to love each other, which can be called brotherly love. Then in a beautiful love story in Genesis reading, we heard about the love between Jacob and Rachel. Jacob served Laban seven years to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage. And we are told that it seemed like only a few days so great was his love for her. When we experience love, we are often transported out of the realm of time and space. In all three forms of love, divine, brotherly, and romantic, time has no meaning as we are transported into eternity by the experience of love.
I think of these three forms of love as a triangle–with divine love at one corner, brotherly love at another, and romantic love at the third angle. I like the triangle image because these three loves are interconnected. Divine love is the highest form of love, and without it we would not have the other two. All the holy loves we know are from God’s unbounded love flowing into us. Jesus tells us, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We need to receive God’s love and wisdom in order to do good and to be filled with the loves for each other and for our partners. Jesus tells us,
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 5, 4).
Our love for God must come first. Jesus tells us to
Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).
We love God by learning His ways and then by incorporating His precepts into our lives. Only when we apply God’s loving laws to our lives are we able to practice the other two loves. For without the love that flows in from God, we are not able to love our brothers and sisters, or our partners.
While love for God is the highest form of love, I put brotherly love and romantic love on a similar level. Some might say that universal love for the whole human race is a higher form of love than romantic love, but I disagree. The experience of being in love with one special person is just as divine as is the universal love for each other. In fact, there are suggestions in Swedenborg that in marriage love couples feel the highest blessings of heavenly joy. Swedenborg writes of this love,
The states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, entire confidence, and mutual desire of heart and mind to do each other every good; and from all these come blessedness, happiness, joy, pleasure–and from the eternal fruition of these, heavenly joy.
Swedenborg is in love with repeating all these adjectives about marriage love as he explains why God instituted marriage love.
He from the inmosts infused into persons marriage love, into which He might gather all the blessedness, happiness, joys, and pleasures that together with life proceed and flow in only from Divine Love through His Divine Wisdom . . . Innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, entire confidence, and mutual desire of mind and heart to do each other every good are mentioned–because innocence and peace are of the soul, tranquility is of the mind, inmost friendship is of the bosom, entire confidence is of the heart, and mutual desire of mind and heart to do each other every good is of the body from these (CL 180).
I remember a debate I had with someone about this. He vehemently disagreed with my views about marriage love, or romantic love. His opposition was because in marriage love we want our love to be reciprocated. He thought that because we wanted to beloved back by our partner, we were not loving purely. He thought that we should love unconditionally, without any thought of being loved in return. However, my position, and the position of Swedenborg, is that all love wants to be loved in return. Not only to be loved in return, but to be conjoined with those we love. This is equally true of brotherly love or of marriage love. Swedenborg writes of the three essentials of love in his work True Christian Religion, “The essence of love is to love others outside of itself, to desire to be one with them, and to make them happy from itself” TCR 43). I think that loving someone outside ourself is pretty clear. And when we look at parents, for example, we see how much love wants to make their children as happy as they can. This is equally true of marriage love and of brotherly love. But what about wanting to be one with the beloved? Swedenborg explains the nature of divine love, and how much God wants to be conjoined with the human race,
Love also, viewed in itself, is nothing else than an effort to conjunction; therefore that this object of the essence of love might be attained, God created humans in His image and likeness, with which conjunction may be effected. That the Divine love continually intends conjunction is manifest from the words of the Lord, that He wills that they may be one, He in them and they in Him, and that the love of God may be in them (John 17:21-23, 26) (TCR 43).
There’s another striking line from that John passage that I would like to share with you. Jesus says, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (John 17:24). Indeed, it is God’s will to have us be with Him, where He is in heaven. This is the kind of love that flows into us from God. And as God’s image and likeness, we, too wish to be united with those we love.
It is true that we are told to love our enemies, from whom we would not expect reciprocity. But in this case, we would still stand ready to accept our enemy into friendship, should their heart change. This brings us to the third corner of the triangle of love: love for our brothers and sisters. As God does, we are called upon to love the whole human race. We are called upon to do good to everyone with whom we come in contact. We are called upon to wish well to everyone. But I don’t think that this means that we are to befriend everyone. We all have different dispositions and peculiarities. There are some people that we click with, and others that we just don’t seem to connect with. I don’t see this as a problem. Friends are made of shared experiences, similarities in disposition and likes and dislikes, and other particularities. I think it is a plain fact of human existence that we will find some with whom we get along better than with others; some with whom we will enjoy friendship, and others with whom we won’t. But universal love is still a strong force. Even with those we don’t befriend, we can enjoy making happy. Even to those we don’t befriend, we can do good. Even to those we don’t have a mutual bond of connection, we can wish well. In many cases, we may find that Christian love is strong enough to forge a bond of connection with people very different from ourselves.
Universal love for our brothers and sisters is not always exercised the same way. We need to express our love with discretion and wisdom. Sometimes we need to show what is called “tough love.” We don’t want to give a drug addict money so that they can score more drugs. We may have compassion and give them food. Or we may try to find them shelter on cold nights. But we wouldn’t want to enable destructive behaviors. This means destructive behaviors of any kind. A parent who disciplines his or her child is still showing love. Or sometimes we may need to confront acquaintances of ours whom we think are doing hurtful things. It is a true test of friendship to endure criticism and to feel comfortable to give criticism. None of us like confrontation. But as Swedenborg would say it, love needs to be given with wisdom. There’s a line to this effect. It goes, “Doing good to the evil is doing evil to the good.” Should we find ourselves in a position of discipline or correction, though, our words must be respectful, courteous, and loving. Gandhi said, “Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” Our object in healthy confrontation is amendment, not judgment or superiority.
With God in our hearts, our love life will be happy on all three angles of the triangle of love. God comes first, perhaps we will find supreme delight in marriage or romance, or maybe we will find love for the whole human race fulfilling for our souls. However and wherever we find it, love is at the very heart of Christian life. May we all remain open for opportunities to feel and to express Christian love in all our affairs.
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