Friday, January 30, 2004

Love, Spirit and Law

As a Catholic who takes the Church seriously on theology and morals, I was surprised recently to realize that I had taken one of their most core teachings as a figure of speech for years. It's something so basic that I could only willfully ignore it in Catholic doctrine. Essentially, although I never would have said so, I really thought that life in God meant obeying a certain set of rules. I was wrong, and I felt I was wrong, but I didn't have a theory why until recently. And that theory has major implications for my life.

But first, a preliminary explanation of an important point. When I write about love, I definitely do not mean what American culture seems to mean by it. I am not talking about an emotion, not even anything romantically related. In this post, by "love" I mean what is also called charity; I mean what is agape in Greek: a giving of self. To love another is to desire what is best for them. What is best for the other may or may not be what they want; take for example a mother's love for her son, the love which keeps her from spoiling him. Again, it has little to do with moods or emotions; a husband and wife will not always feel the way they did as newlyweds, but their love for each other can continue as long as they look unselfishly toward what is best for each other. To love is not to believe that the other is such a great person; we are, after all, asked to love and forgive those who have hurt us, but not to pretend that they are perfect.

So, Point One: Love is desiring what is best for the Other.

Now comes the part I'm just putting together. We are told that all love is of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12) and that the Spirit is God dwelling in us. Love is first among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), according to Saint Paul. So, theologically, would it be a stretch to attribute all agape love to the Spirit? Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, which means the Advocate (John 16:7-15), a title in opposition to that of Satan, which means the Accuser (Rev 12:9). The Advocate desires our good, the Accuser our destruction. More significantly, this identification of love with the Spirit leads me to understand the last chapters of the Letter to the Galatians. Now, this does not mean at all that non-Christians cannot love; what it means is that all real self-giving love is the action of the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether the person understands it. We simply are not capable of "stepping outside of ourselves" except by that power, regardless of one's beliefs.

So I'll posit for now Point Two: Love is the action of the Spirit.

OK, I'll add to this later. You can start the arguments early if you wish.

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