June 1989By Elaine Hallett
Elaine Hallett, formerly an editor at Theatre Arts Books, lives in New York City and is co-author, with her husband, of two books on Renaissance drama, The Revengers Madness and Analyzing Shakespeares Action.
Knowing the Truth of Gods Love: The One Thing We Cant Live Without. By Peter Kreeft. Servant. 208 pages. $7.95.
God is Love. He loves each one of us, personally. He gives His love freely and offers it for eternity. He also gives us the capacity to love Him this is our purpose, our natural end. But He does not compel us to return His love. We are free to accept or reject it. Peter Kreeft puts this fact dramatically: God will entice us, but He will never force us: Love does not rape. However, God does require us to make a choice: The one and only absolutely important choice every human being who has ever lived must make is the choice between saying yes or no to Gods love. If you havent already said yes to God, or if your yes is tentative, this is the next book you should read. If your yes is hot and glowing, you might hand this primer to your favorite agnostic. But Kreefts book is for believers, too. It will be useful to anyone whose thoughts about God need some salutary structuring.
Kreeft accomplishes the daunting task of covering every conceivable aspect of the prodigious subject of Gods love in a minimum of space. He begins by stressing the importance of his subject. His second chapter emphasizes the fact that gives the book its subtitle: Gods love is the one thing we cant live without. This chapter, called The Point of It All, argues that the love of God is the ultimate cause and reason, the meaning and explanation for everything else. Having established the compelling nature of his subject, Kreeft begins to define this Most Important Thing (chapter three), goes Deeper into the Definition of Love by analyzing St. Pauls famous commentary on agape (chapter four), and only then moves into the Theology of Love (chapter five). Here, at the very center of the book, Kreeft describes Love in its highest manifestation, drawing the reader step by careful step into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The sixth chapter looks at the action of Gods love in history: Scripture as Love Story. Finally, in a long section that might have been called Part Two, Kreeft explains how what he has told the reader about Gods love has applications for modern everyday life. These four concluding chapters review a multitude of theological, social, political, moral, and personal problems in the illuminating context of the truth of Gods love.
A perennial difficulty with a book of this type is that the truths being defended are age-old. The challenge to the author is not so much to say something new as to make us attend to truths we may be turning our backs on or to help us comprehend already accepted truths at a more profound level. We know, or should know, that God loves us. How does Kreeft carry us beyond the commonplace? How does he make us more awake to Gods loving generosity? Let me cite two examples.
First, Kreeft makes us think more precisely about our relationship to God by showing what we were before God loved us into existence. Compared to God, he points out, we are dust motes in the sun. The saints know this. Saints say they are nothing . Surely they are right; for our very existence is not ours, but sheer gift and loan. This much we have heard. But Kreeft makes sure we grasp its full significance: Think clearly and squarely for just one moment about the fact that you were created out of nothing. If a sculptor gives a block of marble the gift of a new shape, that shape is a gift, but the marbles existence is not. That is the marbles own. But nothing is our own, because we were made out of nothing. Our very existence is a gift from God to no one, for we were not there to receive the gift before he created us. There is no receiver of the gift of existence distinct from the gift itself. The gift is the receiver. What are we? We are Gods gifts.
The second example provides a sense of the immensity of Gods love for us by making us feel, experientially, the capacity God gave us, as vessels, to contain his love. Boredom is modern mans main fear, Kreeft suggests. No one can run with hope or passion toward a goal that seems boring. But everything here is eventually boring . Sartre said, There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, Is that all there is? God designed all finite things to be eventually boring. Why? Because God designed our heart with an infinite hole in its center, a hole that cannot be filled even with the whole enormous but finite universe. There is a black hole in our heart analogous to the physical black holes in intergalactic space that can suck all the matter in the universe down themselves. This spiritual black hole is the restless heart that will not and cannot rest anywhere except in God, its home. The passage makes a compelling point, but long after the mind has grasped it, Kreefts cosmic image continues to resonate in ones awareness, awakening a sense of the vastness of the love that is available to us for the asking.
Throughout the book there are passages that stand out from the text and ask us to see something old in a new way. Such moments tempt me to wonder how the more committed Christian might respond to this book. If you are already reading de Lubac or von Balthasar or Barth, would this be a book for you? Kreefts book is popular by design, written for a general audience. At times, the devices employed to keep it light can be grating its rapid pace, its fear of long blocks of solid text, its occasional low brow metaphors (at a too-important moment human love becomes spiritual toothpaste). But however modish the surface, the truths being explicated never seem diminished. Periodically, every committed believer has occasion to make a searching review of all he knows about Christian love. For such a review, this book offers a bonus: Kreefts vision of the great truths is comprehensive and deep and, beyond that, sufficiently unique to open new windows onto a vista one thought one had seen from all possible angles.