Friday, January 08, 2010

Desire for God

I've been reading Augustine recently and have rediscovered the enormous significance and spiritual power of desire and joy in God. Of course, he famously wrote in his Confessions: 'You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you' (I.1), but he was constantly on about it. James Smith deliberately makes a similar point in his new book, Desiring the Kingdom, in relation to Victoria's Secret!

'I suggest that, on one level, Victoria's Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry – which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination – is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church ... Christians will tend to say, "Ah, but that's not love – that's eros, not agape!" But romantic theology refuses the distinction because it recognizes that we are erotic creatures – that agape is rightly ordered eros' (77, 79)

I'm not yet sure how this insight might look in practice, but I love the point he is making!


At 1/08/2010 8:03 AM, Anonymous Mike Bull said...

Great stuff.

Leithart has written on this recently:

At 1/08/2010 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The church, in large part due to Augustine's ideas of mortifying the flesh, has routinely shunned visceral, carnal actions like sex -- but life is a 'beautiful struggle', like a Victoria's Secret model picking her wedgie after walking down the catwalk.

At 1/08/2010 12:59 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Get what he's trying to say, just not sure I agree with 'eros' being 'rightly ordered agape'.

Whilst of course all created by and found in the same source (God) - and as C. S. Lewis points out in his great 'The Four Loves' - they are interdependent and like a Venn diagram, overlap at points. They remain helpfully distinct at times too.

To say that 'agape is rightly ordered eros' I think denigrates both agape and eros (but especially, of course, eros)

First of all, and crucially I feel, Lewis points out that eros is NOT simply 'sexual desire' - the chemical and neurological impulses that lead to the desire to mate, eros is still about 'love' and being 'in love':-

"Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved." [The Four Loves, p.109 - 1st Ed.]

Moving on though, Lewis points out the dangers of eros - that alone it can be used as an excuse to driving one to acts that are incompatible with agape: We were SO 'in love' and it felt so 'right', so I had an affair. Hence the need for the understanding of the whole to rightly restrain the individual, slightly wild and at times irrational eros.

BUT, and this is the BIG BUT... without the utterly wholehearted and completely committed and at times irrational nature of eros, we might not see the God of love stick with us. There reaches a point where, with all the evidence against us (see Ezekiel 16) that agape NEEDS the irrationality of eros to stick with us. Read also Hosea of course, and parts of Song of Songs...

I have probably opened a can of worms and cleverer people than me will point out my error and perhaps rightly the 'irrationality' of agape too... fair enough, but I actually think in this multi-dimensional, ridiculously complex area of 'love' (I mean, I LOVE my wife, but I also LOVE pork scratchings!), that the Greek language has helped us by distinguishing the whole - and each part needs fully understanding and respecting.

In short the multiplicity expressed in the language helps us to understand our varied experience of love, whilst in the end all pointing towards the source and the unity and the perfection of love: the God who IS love.

Too much time spent on this, back to the essay Chris might be marking...!

At 1/08/2010 8:42 PM, Anonymous Jason said...

CT: "I'm not yet sure how this insight might look in practice"

JH: I wonder if we'll see some of this work itself out the next time Tilling is on the cover of an advert for his college...

At 1/09/2010 2:52 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Pentecostals get happy praising God, desiring God.

I used to be Pentecostal.

I still like exercise and its exhileration, and many other types, and have tried to "reach out to God," but have not experienced the same results as in my youth.

I still want to live forever, and stay healthy for as long as I can.

I still dislike the idea of aging, suffering, and dying.

Apparently the ancients did too, read ancient Near Eastern literature on the topic.

As for Augustine, I think he was mixed up on a lot of things. But hey, that's humanity for ya. (I could send you stuff on the A-man so you'll know what I'm talkin' bout), but send requests to my leonardo3 msn email please

At 1/09/2010 7:50 PM, Anonymous Charles Augustine Rivera said...

Karl Barth has a nice treatment of Eros and Agape in the last chapter of Evangelical Theology.

It seems generally to be taken as a good thing that Greek has several different words for love because of the different nuances each brings out, but I sometimes wonder if the opposite is true, that a language like English has the advantage in encompassing many things in one word. After all, it is certainly an advantage to Greek that it has one root for the verb trust/believe and the noun faith, whereas languages like English and Latin have to use multiple words to get at all the things that the one word embraces in Greek.

It is also good to keep in mind that we can create just as many misunderstandings by magnifying the differences between words as we can by ignoring them.

At 1/10/2010 11:41 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for the link, Mike (Bull).

Jason, that is a picture we all want out of our heads!

Ed, "Pentecostals get happy praising God, desiring God" - I think Augustine, and many Pentecostals, would use slightly different language. I imagine one responding saying something like: "It is as if the entire purpose of our being finds its sweetest and most delightful state, in enjoying God". I.e. It is a bit deeper than "happy praising", and certainly nothing I could simply wave away in the same categories of likes, wants and dislikes.

Second Mike, Thanks for these helpful thoughts.

I really liked the point where you suggested that agape needs "the irrationality of eros to stick with us". Something to ponder! Perhaps Charles' point below is worth also bringing into this debate: "It is also good to keep in mind that we can create just as many misunderstandings by magnifying the differences between words as we can by ignoring them."

At 2/24/2010 1:31 AM, Anonymous R said...

I am chewing mightily on the thoughts presented here. I am currently teaching a class on the Great Commandment which has direct bearing on this idea. What does it mean to love God with ALL our being? Our current Christian culture has tended to make this a very rational thing. I love the Westminster Confession..."The chief end of man is to glorify God and ENJOY Him forever."

At 2/24/2010 1:41 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

R: "What does it mean to love God with ALL our being?"

Thanks for your comment, R. I think this is a key point - and the question comes back to what is the fount of love, the source of all loveliness.


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