I had always thought of our loving of God and neighbor as related to God’s love the way a cue ball was related to the cue. God loved me in Christ (the moving pool cue) therefore I ought to love others (the cue ball), God’s love for me was sort of hermetically sealed off from my love toward others. They sort of “bump into” each other, but are discreet acts; God does his thing and I do mine, they meet in the moment of causality but then go on their separate ways. It has only been in the last few years that a series of experiences, books, conversations, and passages of Scripture that this paradigm of love began to shift. Though I don’t have the space (nor do you probably have the interest) to walk through all of those moments of insight, I’d like to offer a few reflections on this shift and the horizon opening up because of it.
Paul’s autobiographical polemic against those corrupting the gospel in Philippi is a good starting point: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss… in order that I may gain Christ – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:7-10 ESV).” What is this “sharing in” the sufferings of Christ which Paul refers to? It is related similarly to his suggestion that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24 ESV).” This doesn’t so much answer the question as indicate a deeper and more confounding mystery (at least to my modern Western ears).
Paul seems, at least, to suggest that there is level in which his experience as an apostle co-inhere’s with Christ’s passion. That is, to some degree they participate in each other. They are not merely externally related events (as the cue and cue ball), but share in the same reality. Or perhaps put another way, the Christ event (the passion) is extending itself into Paul’s ministry. Theologically speaking we might say that the Christ event is distinct but not divided from Paul’s ministry. Better yet, the reality of the Christ event is present in the sufferings of Paul. Paul’s self-awareness was such that he understood his own life was (and I know I’m treading on thin ice a bit here, but I am still trying to understand this too, so help me out) sacramental. Sacramental in that the sign (Paul’s suffering) signified the greater reality (Christ’s suffering) as a sort of vessel which held, but could not possibly contain, the glory of Christ. In this way, it seems to me, Paul can say to the Corinthian church that he has:
This treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV
The thrust, in closing then, is that our obedience (read “loving”) does not stand on its own outside of the Christ event as if his passion merely “caused” me to obey because it meant so much to me. Put another way, our obedience is not an autonomous response to Another’s love for us whereby we are not simply obligated to love because we are loved. I don’t think I am suggesting that Christ’s love doesn’t at some level “cause” or “obligate” us to love, but that those treatments don’t plumb the depths of what our love is in relation to God’s love in Christ. Our love toward God and others is an extension of Jesus’ own love for God and others, or in Pauline terms our love is “in” Christ.
Perhaps there is more to come on this…