God First Loved Us . . .
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:7-10, 16b-19)
Yesterday I posted a definition of love provided by theologian Thomas Oord. Oord is at work trying to bring love into the center of Christian theological discussion. The question is -- how do we understand love. Oord's basic definition is:
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well being. (Nature of Love, p. 17).
In offering this definition, Oord is not implying that only Christians can love or even that God alone can love, but he wants us to consider what it means to truly place love at the center of Christian theology.
Two of the theologians that Oord responds to are Anders Nygren and St. Augustine. Both understand love differently, but in the end they both limit human ability to love. For Nygren, true love is agape, and this love comes only from God, without human involvement. Humans -- indeed Christians -- are simply tubes through which God pours out love. Augustine, on the other hand distinguishes between cupidity and charity. Cupidity is desire, and it is the only form of love humans can express -- and its less than perfect. Charity is something God alone shares, and that generally is shared with God alone. It's all rather complicated, but suffice it to say -- we can't truly love either God or neighbor.
But Oord disputes these definitions and wants us to understand that love is central to our relationship with God and to our relationships with neighbors. Love is at heart relational, even as it's intentional. That said, the question is -- where does love begin? And, writing as a theologian, Oord follows John and affirms that love is from God. Note:
God first loving us should not refer primarily to what God has done in the distant past. The idea God first loves should refer primarily to God acting first in any particular moment to make possible our love in response. This idea is what theologians often call "prevenient grace." It says God's loving action comes before and makes possible our free response. God is a personal and causal being to whose call loving creatures can respond appropriately. Creatures could not love if our relational God were not the Lover who initially empowers, inspires, and beckons them. (Nature of Love, p. 21).
"We love because he first loved us."In making this statement, when it comes to love, God does not act deistically -- planting the idea of love in the world and then backing off, letting nature take its course. Instead, God is always involved loving us first so that we might -- if we choose to respond in that way -- love God and neighbor, but as the letter says --