Irresistible Grace and Soren Kierkegaard

September 25, 2010

I came upon a quote by Soren Kierkegaard, that says “love does not change the beloved, but the lover.” I think many of our troubles arise from trying to change the person we love. Many other troubles still arise from trying to change into less-essential non-beings. One essential attitude of love is that constant deference, this ‘dying’ of one self, this submission to the other. Ultimately loving other humans results in us being molded into another sinful shape. Ultimately loving objects results in us losing our personality.

In relation to our love relationship with God, this describes the mechanics of sanctification; we are not so much to achieve our own righteousness than to fall deeper in love with Christ. Ultimately loving the Ultimate Love results in sanctification. We also see this love mirrored in God’s relationship with us; He loves us so much that He takes on the human form.

But this quote casts a strange paradoxical light on the mechanics of justification. If we indeed love God, because He loved us first, how is it that His love changes our hearts so? His love explains in part the purpose of the incarnation. How does it explain the fact we are transformed by this? How are our hearts transformed to love Him when we do not yet love Him?

The answer is found in the very economy of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit ‘arises’ out of the love between the Father and the Son. Love, at its heart, at the ultimate level, is mutual. If God loves someone, He loves it completely; His love propels mutuality upon unloving beings. His love is like His words spoken at creation, creating everything necessary to fulfill his divine fiat. The very air molecules that were absent prior to creation were created out of thinnest non-existence to carry the sound of his divine voice. Likewise, God’s love creates a heart that can love Him back; out of stones He can make sons of Abraham. God will not love completely a being that cannot bear His image; to do so would be idolatry, and He cannot sin.

The doctrinal implication is that God’s grace must therefore be irresistible. God’s love is too real to be like that of a child playing with an imaginary friend or a doll. That’s a suitable picture of our loves; we often love unsuitable, imaginary, life-less, sin-filled things or beings. It is to the glory of God that he turns our affections towards Himself. If this were not so, His love would be defective and not truly the ultimate love. If this were not so, then His love for us would not really be Trinitarian but only the type of love He extends to lesser beings and things.

The practical implication is that in relations to prayer, we do not approach it as though we could change God’s mind. Another quote attributed to Kierkegaard goes something like “we do not pray to change God, but rather prayer changes us.” That would make prayer the heart’s expression of its love for God. One may object that we are then left without hope. But we shouldn’t pray to get what we want; rather prayer changes what we want. There is greatest hope here than ever before. Because if we pray that God alleviate our temporary sufferings or reward us with earthly health and wealth, our answered prayers are only ephemeral. However, if we are changed, we are left the eternal transformations of our souls!

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