May 26, 2021

Human Love VS Spiritual Love

 In his chapter on "Community" in the book, "Life Together," Dietrich Bonhoeffer says the following on, what he calls "human love" vs. "spiritual love."

"... there is a human love of one's neighbor.  Such passion is capable of prodigious sacrifices. Often it far surpasses genuine Christian love in fervent devotion and visible results. It speaks the Christian language with overwhelming and stirring eloquence. But it is what Paul is speaking of when he says: 'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned' -- in other words, though I combine the utmost deeds of love with the utmost of devotion -- 'and have not charity [that is, the love of Christ], it profiteth me nothing' (1 Corinthians 13:3). Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ's sake. Therefore, human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule.

"Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person.  Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him.  On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving. There are two marks, both of which are one and the same thing, that manifest the difference between spiritual and human love: Human love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a fellowship that has become false for the sake of genuine fellowship, and human love cannot love an enemy, that is, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it. Both spring from the same source: human love is by its very nature desire -- desire for human community. So long as it can satisfy this desire in some way, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short -- namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calumny. 

"Right here is the point where spiritual love begins. This is why human love becomes personal hatred when it encounters genuine spiritual love, which does not desire but serves. Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together, 1923; pg 33-35)

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