Posts tagged with: Religious views on love

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 23, 2013

Helping Hands sculpture, Mandela Gardens, Leeds - DSC07707Earlier this week, Elise noted an essay by Rev. Schall, which asked, “Do Christians Love Poverty?”

Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter also responded to the piece, with the comment, “Almost everything about this essay is obnoxious.”

But I think Winters really misses the central insight of Schall’s piece, which really is an Augustinian point:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

Thus Augustine explores the implications of such “spiteful benevolence,” which I understand to be the basic point of Schall’s piece. Schall therefore wonders, “Do Christians love poverty as such, as a positive good? Do they want people to be poor so that they can be loveable?”

The spiritual danger of a love for others turning into a lust for dominating power is a real one, even if Winters doesn’t acknowledge it. What Augustine and Schall are really looking for is an attitude toward help that humanizes, one that doesn’t foster dependency in order to keep people in a state of misery, intentionally or not, directly or indirectly. This reality is the kind of loving help that the doctrine of subsidiarity is supposed to engender.

One of the implications of this insight that there is spiritual danger in doing good is that we should always be asking whether our helping is actually hurting.

Duccio di Buoninsegna 029Today is Maundy Thursday in the Western church. One account of the origin of the unique name for this day is that comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” The command referred to here is that contained in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

There’s a sense in which this command isn’t new, of course. The basic obligations to love God and love our neighbors were constitutive of the covenantal community from the era of the Old Testament. Consider, for instance, Leviticus 19:18, which enjoins the Israelite to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

As Cornelis Vonk writes of the Torah, “It acquaints the church of today with her God, Yahweh, the Creator and Giver of life, who also has shown himself to be a Lover and Preserver of life, of genuine human life. We know that he loved life so much that he sent his own Son so that we might have life.”

So while there is continuity with the old dispensation of the covenant of grace, there is something really new about the commandment as well. Just as we refer to the era of salvation history ushered in by Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection as the “new” covenant, so this new commandment takes up the obligations of the old covenant and displays them in a new way.

The most obvious new way in which this love is displayed is in the life and work of Jesus Christ himself. This is what is “new” about the new commandment: Jesus himself is basis and the model for our love.

Over the rest of this Holy Week, consider just what that love means: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).

But just as in the old covenant, the covenantal relationship isn’t just about God and the individual person. We are to “walk before” God, to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” But just as Jesus’ example shows us, this love must be expressed in the context of community. There must be “others” for us to love, “friends” for us to show our sacrificial love to.

This is the new community created in the new covenant of Christ’s blood, governed by the new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”