The Four Loves

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) wrote On The Four Loves [read]. Recently in a seminary course (the history of Christian spirituality), we delved into Bernard’s writings. So good, meaty and challenging. Seems he was writing for our age, as well as to his.

Consider this outline on the four levels of love:

  1. The first degree of love: When one loves oneself for self’s sake
  2. The second degree of love: When one loves God for one’s own good
  3. The third degree of love: When one loves God for God’s sake
  4. The fourth degree of love: When one loves oneself for the sake of God

In our culture, what is considered “loving God?”

Is not the second degree commonly thought of as real Christianity? (Loving God for what He can do for me — rescue me, give me a good life.) We are fine if people stop there, and make the appeal as “do you want to go to heaven when you die?” as the essence of the good news of Jesus. Here’s good news — we posture it —God can do stuff for you. Don’t you want it?

(But, what if you ‘accept’ Jesus and life becomes harder and others reject you? How would that be good? How could we continue to love God when He doesn’t meet our expectations?!)

We are (I am) so prone to love God more for what He can do for us than for WHO He is. The third level of love is enthralled with who God is. The fourth then moves into sacrifice, giving up one’s own self-love as the ultimate and into a seemingly ‘radical’ life of love and worship. This must become the new goal; it shall be our reasonable response to all of who God is in Christ (see Romans 12:1-8).

Ask yourself: Is my heart on a trajectory towards the third and fourth levels of love as Bernard describes? Why not? How can this trend be reversed?

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