The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 28)
Knowing God and Loving God: Part One
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation of our sins (1 John 4:8-10).
To Know and to Love . . .
In everyday thought and speech we use the two words to mean very different things. We know with our minds; knowing is a rational act. We love with our hearts; loving is an emotional act. There is a kind of wisdom in the firm distinction. We hear the warning that “love is blind”. In order to know, we must remain objective.
True enough, but it's only a surface view of things. Maybe love that is blind is not yet real love, and maybe a merely objective knowledge is not yet a full knowledge. Maybe the mind and the heart are always quietly speaking one to another. Maybe Pascal was right: the heart as well as the mind has its “reasons”. Think of the scientist who sets out to gain a true knowledge of rocks or birds or dolphins or the digestive system of the body or the makeup of the surface of Mars. He is not likely to get very far if his interest remains “coldly objective”. His growing knowledge will fire up in him a growing fascination and wonder, that is, a kind of love. This is why, when one reads the works of Albert Einstein, his scientific analysis often sounds like a kind of religious testimony.
Knowing by Loving, Loving by Knowing . . .
This “conversation” between knowing and loving is most perfectly demonstrated in personal loving and knowing. Only love grants true knowledge of another person, and as this personal knowledge grows, so does love. Perhaps you have had the experience of meeting someone whom at first you found unattractive. But having come to know the person, you one day looked into his or her face and found true beauty there, as if some inward loveliness had made itself available to your deeper personal knowledge. To love another is to discover their beauty, which deepens ones love for the other.
This interaction of love and knowledge holds for all close human relationship. Long-time friendship is such a joy because you don't need to be always explaining yourself to the friend. In knowing you he has come to love you; in loving you he has gained the sympathy by which to understand you. But especially in the intimacies of marriage, loving and knowing are so closely related as to be virtually identical. The Hebrew language (in which most of the Old Testament is written) vividly expresses this. “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have produced a man with the help of the Lord’” (Gen. 4:1).
The Personal Love and Knowledge of God . . .
There is a love that is yet more intimate, and more truly personal, than that of marriage (but of which marriage is a sacrament). “And this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us (1 John 4:10). All human love has its beginning in God and its end in God, who is love. Just so, there is no knowledge of God that is not also love of God, no love of God that is not informed by the true knowledge of God. Where can we find this informed personal knowledge/love of God? And what if God's knowledge of us finds much that is unloveable? We will pursue these questions in next week's article.
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