Each year on Valentine’s Day, people celebrate being in love with their significant other. They pass little notes, give each other gifts and candies, or go on dates. All of this is well and good. Building up love for our significant other helps us to be more resilient. We should remember, however, that True Love exists in a person, and it is only with His help that we are able to live a life of selfless love.
The image of Christ as Love is one that Charles Williams often highlighted. Williams was a poet, novelist, critic, and religious writer and was a member of the Inklings Oxford Literary Group with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. More than any of his friends, Williams stressed the importance of romantic love in knowing God. Based on his study of Dante, The Figure of Beatrice, he argued that all love is like unto the love of God, and that by experiencing love for another we gain glimpses of God’s love. Beatrice was a young woman with whom Dante fell in love, and he wrote about how this love made him a more Christ-like person. Williams believed, like Dante, all lovers eventually achieve a state of caritas (charity or agape) in which they see their beloved as like Christ and are willing to participate in self-sacrifice for love. Recognition of this fact is what leads the lover to spiritually experience God. In other works, such as his Easter pageant, The Rite of the Passion, Williams referred to Jesus Christ by the name of Love, making it clear that he considered all love as participating in Christ. He argued that love is not a personal possession of the lovers any more than nature is. Love does not belong to them; rather, the lovers belong to Love. They are not in love with each other; they can only be in Love or not in Love, that is, in Christ or out of Christ.
Many are familiar with the saying, “God is love.” Since Christians believe Christ is the “express image of His person,” Christ also is Love. While most preachers and theologians recognize that this is talking specifically about agape or selfless love, this kind of love assumes all other loves into itself in the same way that God assumes all things into Himself. When you are in love or you love your child, you are willing to sacrifice yourself for your spouse or your child. Your feelings of romantic and familial love become assumed into selfless love. Christ Himself exemplified selfless love, for “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Thus, whenever we experience love, our love leads us to the greater Love. We become selfless in caring for our spouse or children, and the love of God works through us. In other words, by being in love, we can also be in Christ. We need only see how one love leads to the other. All love no matter how small or selfish at the beginning leads us to Christ and is fulfilled in Christ, in whom and through whom alone we can experience the selfless love of God. Love leads us to Him, and He helps us to love selflessly.
Of course, we must be careful to recognize that our lesser loves are not a replacement for the greater. Simply being in love or loving your children is not the same as learning to love as God loves us. Some seem to believe that “love is God,” rather than “God is love.” They put the emphasis on their own love independent of God and believe that this is what is important. However, if we try to remain in our romantic or familial loves and do not advance to the higher love, we are making an idol of love. It is then that we begin to see our feelings as our own possession and an end unto itself. Our love stagnates and soon becomes intolerable to us. This is why so many seem to move from one lover to another without ever knowing true love. When we finally see that, by falling in love we can also start to fall in Love, that is in Christ, our imperfections become perfected, and our selfishness becomes selflessness. It is only by resting in Him that we can actually move past our selfish interests and become the lover and spouse that God desires us to be. It is only then that we truly know love.
When we come to the end of our own personal loves, our loves as ends in themselves, we see that Love is a person, and that person alone can help us to truly know selfless love. This is the love that He desires we experience and know, but we can only know it if we move from the shadows and embrace the reality. We then become in love with Love Himself. When that happens, we will love our beloved with an even greater love, the divine love of Christ.
© 2022 J.D. Manders