43. Three Degrees of Love
The phrase "the love of God," when used by Christians, almost always refers to God's love for us. We must remember that it can also mean our love for God.
The first and greatest commandment is that we should love God with all the power of our total personality. Though all love originates in God and is for that reason God's own love, yet we are permitted to catch and reflect back that love in such manner that it becomes our love indeed, in much the same way that sunlight reflected from the moon becomes moonlight.
The Christian's love for God has by some religious thinkers been divided into two kinds, the love of gratitude and the love of excellence.
The love that springs out of gratitude is found in such passages as Psalm 116:1, "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications," and First John 4:19, "We love him, because he first loved us." This is an entirely proper and legitimate kind of love and is quite acceptable to God even though it is among the most elementary and immature of the religions emotions. Love that is the result of gratitude for favors received cannot but have a certain element of selfishness in it. At least it is on the borderline of selfishness and is difficult to distinguish from it, the blunt fact being that it is roused only by benefits received and does not exist apart from them.
A higher kind of love is the love of excellence. This love is awakened by consideration of God's glorious Being, and has in it a strong element of admiration. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the leader among ten thousand. His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely" (Song of Solomon 5:10, 16).
This love of the divine excellencies differs from the love that springs from gratitude in that its reasons are more elevated and the element of selfishness is reduced almost to the vanishing point. We should note, however, that the two have one thing in common: they can both give a reason for their existence. Love that can offer reasons is a rational thing and has not attained to a state of complete purity. It is not perfect love.
We must carry our love to God further than love of gratitude and love of excellence. There is an advanced stage of love which goes far beyond either.
Down on the level of the merely human it is altogether common to find love that rises above both gratitude and admiration, The mother of a subnormal child, for instance, may love her unfortunate child with an emotional attachment altogether impossible to understand. The child excites no gratitude in her breast, for all the benefits have flowed the other way; the helpless infant has been nothing but a burden from the time it was born. Neither can the mother find in such a child any excellence to admire, for there is none. Yet her love is something wonderful and terrible to see. Her tender feelings have swallowed the child and assimilated it to her own inward being to such a degree that she feels herself one with it. And indeed she is one with it emotionally. Her life and that of the child are more certainly united than they were during that sacred period before she gave it birth. For always the union achieved by hearts is more beautiful than anything that can be experienced by flesh and blood.
The sum of what we say here is that there is in the higher type of love a suprarational element that cannot and does not attempt to give reasons for its existence. It says not "I love because;" it only whispers "I love." Perfect love knows no because.
There is a place in the religious experience where we love God for Himself alone, with never a thought of His benefits. And there is a place where the head does not reason from admiration to affection. True, it all may begin lower down, but it quickly rises to the height of blind adoration where reason is suspended and the heart worships in unreasoning blessedness. It can only exclaim, "Holy, holy, holy," while scarcely knowing what it means.
If this should all seem too mystical, too unreal, we offer no proof and make no effort to defend our position. This can be understood only by those who have experienced it. By the rank and file of present day Christians it will be rejected or shrugged off as preposterous. So be it. Some will read and will recognize an accurate description of the sunlit peaks where they have been for at least brief periods and to which they long often to return. And such will need no proof.
From The Root of the Righteous by A. W. Tozer. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Root of the Righteous - A.W. Tozer
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.