Bernard of Clairvaux (2)
Excerpts from On the Love of God
1. Why God Should Be Loved
You ask me, “Why should God be loved?” I answer: the reason for loving God is God himself. And why should God be loved for his own sake? Simply because no one could be more justly loved than God, no one deserves our love more. Some may question if God deserves our loves or if they might have something to gain by loving him. The answer to both questions is yes, but I find no other worthy reason for loving him except himself.
God is entitled to our love. Why? Because he gave himself for us despite the fact that we are so undeserving. What better could he have given? If we ask why God is entitled to our love, we should answer, “Because he first loved us.” God is clearly deserving of our love especially if we consider who he is that loves us, who we are that he loves, and how much he loves us.
And who is God? Is he not the one to whom every spirit bears witness: “Thou art my God”? God has no need of our worldly possessions. True love is precisely this: that it does not seek its own interests. And how much does he love us? He so loved the world that he gave his only Son; he laid down his life for us.
2. The First Degree of Love: Love of Self for Self’s Sake
Love is a natural human affection. It comes from God. Hence the first and greatest commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” But human nature is weak and therefore compelled to love itself and serve itself first. In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This is planted within us for who ever hated his own self?
But if this love of ourselves becomes too lavish, it will overflow its natural boundaries through excessive love of pleasure. People can easily become slaves to the soul’s enemy: lust. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give to your neighbor.
But what will you do if your own needs are not met? Will you look to God to meet your needs? God promises that those who seek first the kingdom and his righteousness will have all things added until them. God promises that to those who restrict themselves and give to their neighbor, he will give whatever is necessary. Seeking first the kingdom means to prefer to bear the yoke of modesty and restraint rather than allow sin to reign in your mortal body.
In order to love our neighbor we must see that God is the cause of our love. How can we have a pure love for our neighbor if we do not love him in God? And you cannot love your neighbor unless you love God. God must be loved first in order that we may love our neighbor in God.
3. The Second Degree of Love: Love of God for Self’s Sake
God, therefore, who makes everything that is good, makes himself to be loved. He does it as follows: first, God blesses us with his protection. When we live free from trouble we are happy, but in our pride we may conclude that we are responsible for our security. Then, when we suffer some calamity, some storm in our lives, we turn to God and ask his help, calling upon him in times of trouble. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without him we can do nothing.