Repentance and Love

Christianity is based on repentance, or the recognition of one’s own wrongness and God’s righteousness. How does this fit with an account of Christianity where God accepts us as we are or loves us unconditionally?

In one sense the answer is easy: God’s unconditional love is his righteousness and our wrongness is our failure to magnify it to the world. God’s unconditional love, in pouring out blessings on the just and the wicked and ordering the evils in history to the redemption of even those who commit them far exceeds anything that we do for others, to say nothing of what we do even for our enemies. We interpret a world where God gives blessings to the just and unjust as one where he not only does not love but cannot even exist, which shows the gap between our own ideas of love and those of the Gospel.

In another sense we have to acknowledge the danger that unconditional love can be perverted into spiritual anaesthesia, which has been recognized from the first days of the Church:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Rm. 2:4

The kindness of God does not “lead to repentance” by being a sort of sweet consolation that braces us for the bitterness of repentance, but rather it’s God’s own kindness, forbearance and patience that forms one pole of meditation that contrasts so sharply with our own self-interest, self-concern, short-temperedness, and holding others to standards we either excuse ourselves from or cannot bear to live under. We see that we need God present as a friend to strengthen us in the face of ur weakness. The spiritual dwelling with Christ, toward the Father and by the Holy Spirit obliquely condemns us but it directly strengthens us in the same way that those of weak habits will always feed off the stronger and more solid habits of those they dwell with, whether for good or ill. Love transforms one into what he loves, not in the way eating transforms food (which requires that the subject destroy its object and the principle of eating build up something other than itself) but in a way that preserves the identity of the subject transforming into the object. If the question is how something can be both transformed and preserved in its identity I say this is just how spiritual transformation differs from material transformation, and that the seeming contradiction arises from our tendency to conflate the assimilation proper to the nutritive soul or inanimate objects with the immaterial assimilation of cognition both in itself and as a principle of love.

We need God as a friend in the same way that any akratic or dutiful person needs his virtuous friend to strengthen his resolve and show him the joy of the virtuous life. God’s unconditional love consists in his willingness to dwell with us in the spiritual life and be that friend to us. This lasts literally to the end of time, i.e. to the end of our time in history as both individuals and as a race, after which our conscience will be perfectly illumined so that we might manifest of ourselves the truth of what we’ve done with divine love. Death, then judgment. In history, though, he stands and knocks with the offering to dwell with us.

Christ is not offering God-technology or magic. Technology and magic leave the heart just as it is and offer themselves as extensions and servants to whatever we happen to now want, and as such they are fundamentally sorts of self-love and not the love of a friend. This is one sense of unconditional love that God has nothing to do with and which is repugnant to his presence. So long as we pray for what is just magic or technology the prayer will never be answered as it is prayer to something that does not exist. God offers us friendship with himself, and the presence of a friend empowers, but not in the way technology does; it gives us what the heart desires, but not like magic does.

%d bloggers like this: