God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them…
–The Biblical Creation Account; Genesis 1:27-28
In his book, Faith, Hope, Love, Josef Pieper examines the language we use to describe the various types of love, (e.g., self-love, friendship love, erotic love, selfless love) and finds a common theme regarding the nature of love: acceptance, in the sense of the Latin meaning, “good.” God’s first act toward created man and woman was to “bless” them, to praise their existence and to accept the first humans as “very good” (Genesis 1:31) “It is very good that you exist,” He says to all of mankind. This acceptance is based on nothing other than our very existence as humans, not our looks, our performance, or any other quality beyond our existence as humans.
Setting aside for a moment the fact we each have behaviors that should not be excused, stop and feel this statement: It is very good that you exist as a human being.
It is very good that you exist; for me, this offers the most profound comfort, a near tear-producing sense of acceptance in the core of my being. I feel a freedom I have never known, freedom from trying to earn acceptance and freedom from the fear of losing it. In God’s eyes, it is very good that I exist. God said it a little differently to His Son Jesus: “This is my Beloved in whom I wam well pleased.” This is the love God has for us, too.
Philosophers going back to Plato have tied one’s love to the acceptance of the other’s existence. Further, they have noticed that there are healthy degrees of acceptance. For example, I feel toward a stranger, and toward a friend, and toward my wife that it is very good that they each exist. Yet it is clear to me, and these philosophers agree, that I feel a different degree of passion toward a stranger than I feel toward my wife.
In the case of the stranger my affirmation of his goodness of existence simply acknowledges he is a creation of God. I have a general, caring passion–love–for him in the sense that he is a fellow human being. At the other end of the scale, however, my love toward my earthly beloved (my wife), entails an additional desire or passion to be united with her: a desire that we two become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-25). We remain remain distinct persons, but are united by a common passion to deeply know the other.
My longing for oneness with my wife is not surprising to me. It is a result of my Trinitarian theology. God is three separate persons, distinct in that the Son is the begotten of the Father and the Spirit precedes from Father and Son. And yet they are one in essence, each sharing the attributes of God. They are also one in relationship: theologians call it “mutual interpenetration,” Father, Son, and Spirit each in the other and each with the other in them. There is unity in their diversity.
I’m made in the image of God, Who is love. While God cannot share His essence with me, those things that make Him God, such as His infinite nature (I am forever finite), He has elected to allow me to share in His relationship; I am one with Him in relationship (see Jesus’ words in John 17:25-26). So, it is no surprise to me that in an earthly relationship I should long to be one in relationship with my beloved, my wife.
Great stuff, at least to me.
So, my love for another, in its most basic form, is the affirmation that it is very good that the other exists. But…doesn’t this understanding of love make it that much harder to obey Jesus and love my enemies, and in this particular case, Jessica’s killer? Can I really say to this killer, “It is very good that you exist?”