“God created man in order to have someone on whom to shower His love.” (Irenaeus of Lyons).
“It was for you that God made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you!” (Augustine of Hippo)
To discover true love is to undergo a transformative conversion. It is to leave the world behind—the dictates, wisdom, and norms of culture and society and to reorient oneself to Love Himself. This process proves painful as one must shatter this earthly paradigm, un-learning and re-learning basic principles and definitions that rule one’s mode of existence, and begin to respond (and eventually surrender) to the love story of the ages: that of God and humanity.
The uniqueness of the Christian faith lies in the fact that the central character in its worldview is not God, nor his desire to impose His authority and power on humanity. The central character in God’s historical activity is humankind, with the basic purpose of love. The Economy of Salvation is Love made manifest, Love pouring Himself out to His creation, Love revealed in kenosis, all for humanity.
Humanity, then, must respond. Athanasius the Apostolic writes that God made man that man might become God. If God is Mystery and Unknowable, the first Johannine epistle elucidates who God is by offering the definitive: God is Love. If humanity’s purpose is also at times seemingly mysterious and unknowable, it follows that humanity must become Love in returning to the image and likeness of its Creator. God is love and to know and be love is to know and love God. The first Pauline epistle to the Corinthians begins to reveal this great mystery of Love Himself: He is long suffering, He is kind…He does not seek His own…rejoices in the truth. In doing so, humanity has a guide for growing in Love and its ultimate return to its intended, pre-fallen state.
“Pursue love, for when love exists within you, you become an image of that Holy Beauty in which you were made.” (Isaac the Syrian)
There are two possible responses, each dependent on free will and personal choice: to live (in the absolute fullness of the word) with God, to progress into personhood, to achieve humanity’s greatest potential OR to turn away from life, love, and light, to deny this work of progression, to walk into nowhere.
To choose the first does not guarantee ease, again, it proves a painful process. To become an outpouring of Love first involves a voluntary shedding of societal masks, a voluntary shattering of ego, a voluntary disappearance of self to manifest Love Himself. It is to embody Love in every interaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant because every encounter is a chance to cultivate Love.
For example, the first characteristic of Love the Pauline epistle describes is patience/long-suffering. To be patient and unhurried counters contemporary culture, which exalts instant gratification. The work of the Spirit is unhurried—if God is unhurried with humanity’s progress, should not humans be long suffering in encountering one another in relationship? Anytime patience is offered, Love is made Incarnate. Going through the Pauline characteristics of Love provides humanity with a guideline for becoming an outpouring of Love: longsuffering, kindness, good will, humility, and truth are all indicators of progression into personhood.
The more humanity responds to and surrenders to God, the more it will take Him on and leave behind the wisdom of the world. The world cautions against loving too fully, citing fear of hurt and heartbreak as sure reciprocity for such selfless sacrifice. A fear of being unloved and unaccepted holds many back from stepping out in faith to begin this process. Again, the first Johannine epistle declares that perfect love casts out fear. Humanity is not yet made completely perfect, so on some level, fear is a reality—but it must be cast off to realize what is greater than fear, Love.
This is part of Agora’s Trinitarian Love theme for the Symposium in 2020. Please join us in continuing this conversation on February 14 & 15.
Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias. “In Defense of Compassion.” Public Orthodoxy. November 20, 2019. https://publicorthodoxy.org/2019/11/20/in-defense-of-compassion/.
Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word, 54.3.
1 John 4:8
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere (CS Lewis)
As for us, let us disappear so that Christ might be manifest. (Kyrillos VI). See also John 3:30