“It is godlike to love the being of someone” (Gilead, Marilynne Robinson).
In this short sentence from her novel Gilead, the author, Marilynne Robinson, expresses the deep, unflinching love of a father for his son. The Gospel of Luke provides an image of this love as the father runs toward his scraggy, prodigal son. Resolved, persistent, and old is the love that pierces through the “extras” added on to a person. This godlike-love doesn’t respond to talent, accomplishment, attraction, or any other thing additional to one’s existence. Additionally, it does not turn from the ugly, shrink from the needy, or return violence. The godlike-love loves because the person exists by God’s loving action.
Marilynne Robinson uses the image of a father and son in order to communicate this special kind of love—much like Jesus. The love of a father for his son is indeed a powerful example, and it is one that appears elsewhere in Scripture. Weeping upon news of his son’s death, King David laments, “O my son Ab′salom, my son, my son Ab′salom! Would I had died instead of you, O Ab′salom, my son, my son!” (2 Sm 18:33). Previously, Ab′salom had usurped his father’s throne and driven him out of Israel, across the Jordan river. Ab′salom was David’s enemy, but David loved Ab′salom all the same.
Jesus Christ commands us to love God and love neighbor, and this command extends far beyond natural conventions. For, we are told that there is no reward for simply loving those who love us; we are to love even our enemies. On the Cross, Jesus sets the bar high as he cries out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Our God prayed for the very ones who were hanging Him on a tree.
In one sense, Christ shows us the measure to which we are to love our enemies “whom we love out of charity in relation to God.” Yet, we should not merely look at Christ on the Cross as an example to emulate; there we see something beyond a merely human example of love. God manifests his divine love on the Cross, and he loves sinners with his own love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8).
So, when we follow after Jesus, we love with the love of God. We cannot love like Jesus or do as he does by our own strength, conviction, and determination. We have to love with the love we have received from God. In so doing, we are transformed into another Christ, and with divine charity reigning in our hearts, we begin to see reality as God created it. Herein, Pope Benedict wrote that not only do we see anew, but our gaze itself has the power to transform others: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave” (Deus Caritas Est §18).
When we love the being of someone, we see that one as God does, and we love them as God does. God not only gives us new eyes that we may see, but he gives us eyes so that others too may see if only we give them the look of divine love.
Image: Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Charity.