Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Love of God? Resolving a Paradox...

First let me state the question: love, particularly the love of benevolence, is that by which we desire the good for our beloved. Now we are commanded to love God. Therefore it seems to follow that we must desire the good for God. But here is a problem: According to Catholic dogma, God is already perfect, already good; indeed, He is infinite Perfection, and infinite Goodness itself. He cannot gain or lose any goodness or perfection, He cannot benefit; it is impossible. How, then, can we desire the good for Him? - i.e. desire that He gain a further good? How can we rightly presume to desire something for God which is impossible? How can we truly have a love of benevolence for Him?

At the moment, I am able to think of two senses in which we can wish the good for God, our beloved. First, love by nature tends to a kind of union of wills between the lover and the beloved. Now the will is that by which one tends to a perceived good; this tendency of the will to a perceived good is called rational desire; and the satisfaction of this desire is what is good for the one who desires. Now, God has a Will. He quite evidently desires many things. This is manifest in His commandments given to us, in the guidance of His Divine Providence, etc. Thus, if we seek a union of our wills with His, we will submit ourselves to every desire which He has manifested to us. And in this sense, because we are seeking the objects of His desire, His will, we are seeking the good for Him, since good is the object of the Will. And it is in this very act that the love of God consists. Now, the good for God is not of a nature to complete Him and make Him better and more perfect. It is only the good "for" Him insofar as it is what He wills; but God Himself, in his very essence, cannot and will not change for better or worse if we choose either to seek or not to seek that which He wills.

A second sense in which we "will the good for" God pertains to God simply as He is in His essence, which is Goodness itself. To will the good for Him, in this sense, would be to glory in His Goodness which cannot change, to worship Him for the Goodness that He is in His nature, to contemplate Him with adoration and a sublime joy. Joy comes as a sort of consequence of the satisfaction of desire; hence, in this act we desire, as it were, that God be as He is; we embrace completely and absolutely His unchanging Goodness, and in some sense we "desire," or rather rejoice in, that Goodness for Him, that Goodness which He already is; we completely exclude anything less than this complete embrace of the Goodness of His Essence. And it is in this that our love of God consists. This does not involve a desire for His further perfection of the gaining of a greater good - again, this is impossible; nor, however, does this consist even in that desire for the good which is the object of His Will, mentioned in the above paragraph. This is a delight in the Goodness for God as it is already His essence, and a complete joyful embrace of that Goodness, as if preceded by an actual desire for His benefit, though not actually preceded by it. There is a quote from St. Francis de Sales which puts this quite well, in regard to the love of benevolence in general: "If he to whom we wish good have it already and possesses it, then we wish it him by the pleasure and contentment which we have to see him possessed of it, and hence springs the love of complacency, which is simply an act of the will by which it is joined and united to the pleasure, content and good of another" (On the Love of God).  

This second kind of love can apply in an analogous way to our love of neighbor, insofar as we delight in the perfection of another person, for that person's sake, this delight having come as a consequence of a satisfied desire for that person's own good. Normally, in human love, this delight does in fact take place after this satisfaction of our desire for the person to have a good which he does not yet have - he lacks the good, we desire his good, he attains that good, and we rejoice because of it. In our love for God, this rejoicing ought indeed to take place; the only difference is that it is not strictly preceded by a desire for the benefit of God, but only in a looser sense, insofar as our joy in His Good comes as if preceded by this desire, not having actually been preceded by it. And again, this is because God cannot benefit, as He is already Goodness itself. Thus, our love for God, in this second sense, need consist purely in the joy we take in the Good that He already is.

Thus it is shown that there is no real paradox, no real contradiction between the precept of the love of God, and the infinite, unchanging Goodness which He already is.

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