Love seeks to perfect the object of its love
Some time ago I was working through CS Lewis’s classic, The Problem of Pain. In it there is one line that I lifted out of its pages and plugged into my Twitter timeline – and shortly after that there started some dialogue with a fellow (we’ll call him Pete) who believed that the statement I offered was contradictory and he subsequently mocked it as such.
Well, either this Pete is a very intelligent man and CS Lewis was an idiotic fool or, quite probably, the quote I tweeted was most likely misunderstood.
Speaking on the necessity of God’s love for us and of the characteristic of God’s love for us, I echoed Lewis’s sentiment and tweeted:
[It is because God] already loves us [that] He must labour to make us lovable.
Moments after I shared this on Twitter, I received this reply from Pete: “lol contradiction is faith”.
When I inquired as to how the statement was contradictory, Pete wrote back that “If you’re lovable, you don’t need to be made lovable. You already are”.
Now that might sound reasonable, but I believe it misses the point entirely, let alone misreads what was actually tweeted (which was that God’s love for us compels him to make us even more lovable). Lewis was not stating that God already saw us as lovable. In an effort to correct Pete and to point this out, I tweeted: “Love seeks to perfect the object of its love”.
What did I mean by this? Parents know this all too well. When your child is born you love your child not for anything that your child has done, nor even for how adorable your child may be. I should think that you love your child simply because you choose to love your child – the word “lovable” doesn’t really come into it at this point. When your child wakes crying at 1am in the morning, then again at 2.30am, and yet again an hour later, as a parent, the word “lovable” isn’t the exact word that enters your head. But as a parent you do attend to your child out of the love you have for him / her – again, not for anything your child has done to deserve it.
Where I believe Pete erred is that he equated the term “lovable” to be a prerequisite in order to love. In other words, on his view, you cannot love someone unless that someone has a quality that you find lovable. Another problem in defining the term “lovable” in this fashion is that the definition is purely arbitrary – what I find lovable might well be unlovable to you.
God does not see us as “lovable” in this sense at all. In fact, God has some pretty strong words for how He does view us: He hates the sinner; we are far from being lovable (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Leviticus 20:23).
Paradoxically, God loves us immensely (John 3:16, John 15:13). He cannot love us for what we are – rebellious, wanton, unruly, sinful – for God is holy and his holiness will not tolerate what is impure. So what does Lewis’s statement, it “[is because God already] loves us [that] He must labour to make us lovable” then actually mean?
Part of the implication of Lewis’s statement is that discipline is involved in the act of love. It has to be: without discipline, love is not love at all. Without discipline, love morphs into an act of, as Lewis says elsewhere in The Problem of Pain, a Benevolent Grandfather who’s sole intent is to please his grandchildren; this type of love leaves unruly behaviour unchecked; and unruly behaviour left unchecked leads to the development of selfish and self-centred adults.
God’s love for us is far removed from that of the Benevolent Grandfather’s; God’s love is richer and purer. God’s holy love entails discipline. As the writer of Hebrews writes:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11, emphasis mine.)
So this is what Lewis means when he says that it is out of God’s love for us – his desire to see us develop into an upright and holy people – that God must work at making us lovable, more perfect, more like his son Jesus. This is why I responded to Pete that Love seeks to perfect the object of its love, to desire the very best – God requires that we be perfect for he is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet the only way we can be perfect is for God to work on us to become so and it is out of his love for us that he “labours” to achieve this (Heb 12:5-8).
God so loved us that he sacrificed his only son, Jesus Christ, so that through Jesus’ cleansing blood we become perfect in his eyes and, as a result, become truly, purely, lovable through and through.