A Quick Note on “Love is the Theme”

Yesterday, Todd asked a very interesting question: “God loves us: do we hear it too much, not enough, or just the right amount?” He pointed out that a common criticism of today’s preaching is that our homilists continually repeat the message “God loves you,” while “we need to hear that God detests our sins.” You will want to read the insightful responses to Todd’s question.

I suppose that my own response to Todd would suggest that we can and should speak of God’s love for us in a way that communicates the gravity of sin. This is easy to say, so I should be a little more specific. In a recent essay, Peter Bouteneff reminded me of “the perception shared by many Church Fathers of heaven and hell as one reality, that fire of divine love which is experienced as joyous light by some, and tormenting flame by others.” Dr Bouteneff gives us two quotes:

“The voice of the Lord divides the flame of fire” (Ps 29:7). … I believe that the fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn, while its illuminating and radiant part may be reserved for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing. (St Basil the Great, Homily 348 (on Psalm 28)

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? … For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more piercing than any torment. … The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. According to my understanding this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability. (St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 28)

Of course, further comments are more than welcome.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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