Episode 16: God is Love
Today, in Episode 16, we will reflect on a fundamental truth vital to peacemaking. This truth became the title of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical: God Is Love.
All aspiring peacemakers should read this document, which so beautifully describes the sacred love that knits together all Creation. They will come to realize that the phrase “God Is Love” is more than a Hallmark greeting card message. Rather, the phrase addresses God’s actual nature and describes God’s loving relationship with man.
The encyclical helps correct common errors. For example, all too often, when people describe God, they inadvertently slip into worldly thinking. They speak in terms that seem to render God an idol or icon, a thing among other things. One cannot blame them — they are immersed in a culture fixated on things, fixated on objects.
We find the tendency to objectify God is particularly strong among atheists. In their straw-man arguments against the existence of God they present all manner of false images. These views are so faulty that we do not know where to begin a discussion. They talk about a God we do not recognize.
However, they are not alone. Christians also sometimes become mired in objective thinking. They profess a God that fails to soften hearts and fails to invite relationship.
In contrast, when we use the phrase “God Is Love,” we profess a God who is the basis of all relationship. This is a God who loves man and who can be loved in return.
Immortal souls immersed in Divine Love are drawn into divine relationship. And, ultimately, this unity of “Being-In-Love” is what makes peacemaking possible. “God Is Love” is not a consoling platitude or a fantasy used for driving fears away. Rather, it describes the dynamics of Creation. God permeates the created world with his Being — with “Being in Love” — and then souls, exercising their free will, return divine love. They mirror the love that originally flowed into the world.
This universe is shaped by the relationship that emerges from the back-and-forth, the outflow-and-inflow, and the give-and-take of divine love. Divine relationship thus becomes the supernatural foundation of the created world.
Here we must look to avoid another common error — the mistake of assuming that God, as love, is non-personal energy. This is the error of thinking of God as an energy field, which is simply a more subtle way of reducing God to a materialistic concept.
When we reflect on Benedict XVI’s encyclical on God Is Love we take up a challenging theological inquiry. We now must consider the concept of God as Person — absent any physical form (or body). We must try to grasp the concept of personhood untethered from objects.
This is a difficult task when we are steeped in worldly Materialism. We find it difficult to think of God as Person without substance and form. We find it difficult to consider the personhood of a soul that transcends its mortal shell. These concepts, when viewed from a worldly perspective, make us nervous.
Yet these concepts arose in our earlier reflection on Idealism. We realized the supernatural consciousness of the Mind of God preceded any and all material conditions. Such supernatural consciousness is not an inanimate energy field, but rather the consciousness and intentionality of a Being — God as Person.
But most people, immersed in a world of things, objects, and bodies, find it difficult to detach or separate pure Being from objects. Their thinking has been conditioned to equate being with thing-ness. If something is… it must be an object or thing.
However, in order to understand “God Is Love,” it is vital they be able to separate God as Person from any and all objects. The phrase or definition “God Is Love” moves God from the realm of static icon or concept into the realm of relationship.
Love is not static. It is something that is given and received, something that is shared. Love is the quality of being together, a quality of closeness. It is a quality that reaches its pinnacle in mystical unity with Christ.
When we enter into relationship with God — who is love — the quality of that relationship is thus a function of the give-and-take of divine love. Let’s break that down so it is easier to understand: The sacred exchange, this give-and-take of love, begins when humans receive divine love. They accept God and thus his love and are lifted up. Once they are lifted up, they exercise their free will and return that love. This dance of love, back-and-forth, draws immortal souls closer and closer to God, and then into mystical union with Christ — the ultimate reconciliation.
These thoughts are usually confined to those involved in Christian mysticism. However, we can no longer ignore these core basics, these fundamentals that are brought forth in Benedict XVI’s encyclical “God Is Love.” These are ideas upon which all peacemakers should reflect.
Your reflection might begin with the first letter of John, Chapter 4, Verse 16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Benedict XVI, in the book God and the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, echoed this theme. He said, “God himself is love. In this sense, love is indeed both the fundamental rule and the ultimate aim of life.”
In another article, Benedict writes about John’s teaching. Consider the following quote:
“John wants to say that the essential constituent of God is love and hence, that all God’s activity is born from love and impressed with love: all that God does, he does out of love and with love, even if we are not always immediately able to understand that this is love, true love.”
At this point, aspiring peacemakers should be thinking: Divine love is THE critical ingredient in reconciliation. When a peacemaker works without the aid of divine love, the odds of success are greatly diminished. But what does this love look like?
Divine love is not trivial or sentimental; rather, it is imbued with intellect, discernment, and prudence. Only love infused with knowledge and wisdom can foster lasting solutions to conflict and war. When we seek reconciliation we must turn to love infused with wisdom.
When peacemakers first start out, however, they do not find a world awash in loving relationships. Instead, they encounter a fallen world. There is disharmony with the Will of God. The spigot from which the “living water” of divine love flows has been turned off. People experience a drought of love. They cling desperately to any small residual trickle of love. They guard any tiny drops of this elixir that remain. In order to prevent these tiny remnants from being stolen, they close their hearts, like vaults.
The peacemaking task is clear: The reconciliation process must infuse the parties with love. Peacemakers must increase the affinity between the parties — in any way they can. Doors and windows of the heart must be opened so divine love can once again flow in and out. As relationship on the vertical axis — relationship with God — is reconciled, divine love floods into the work. Peacemakers find they are in the presence of the Holy Spirit that brings about miracles.
My advice to all peacemakers — and theologians as well — would be to spend time reflecting on Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “God Is Love.” There are few documents in your peacemaker’s conceptual toolbox that will be as important as this one.
May God bless you and bring you peace. Good day.