This post is part of a series. Click the link for Parts 1 & 2.
Last time I introduced you to Herbert’s poem “Love (III),” and invited you into it—to meet the loving Jesus Christ who Herbert would like to introduce you to.
Here I want to draw a few principles from it about God and God’s love. These four principles don’t exhaust the treasure to be found in the poem, but they do help distill its essence.
Hopefully, in doing so, you can carry these principles into your entire life—certainly your worship and prayer life, but not only there! God wants your entire life, from waking to sleeping, to be permeated by his love.
This post is part of a series. To see Part 1, click here.
“Love (III)” is one of my favorite poems because it speaks to the heart of the matter: what does it look like to be loved by God? Composed by George Herbert in the 17th century, it is his most celebrated poem. It also concludes the main section of The Temple, the collection of Herbert’s English poems.
Here is the poem in full (it belongs to the public domain), with the spelling modernized:
This blog post started as a reflection on a poem, but it started to get pretty long.I realized I didn’t want to test everyone’s attention span, so I decided to split it up into a series that will attempt to unfold what love means for those who follow Christ.
Christians talk a lot about love. They claim that God loves them.
One early writer says that God has given Christians a new life because God’s love for them was so strong. Elsewhere, he writes that God’s love is so powerful and large that nothing can overcome or overpower it. Nothing is bigger or stronger than it (Eph 2:4-5; Rom 8:38-39).
I just finished reading Money and Power by Jacques Ellul, the late French sociologist and Christian theologian. Although you can see Ellul’s sociological prowess in the background of his work, I appreciate that throughout the work he thinks primarily from Scripture, with copious quotation of and reflection on biblical texts.
I find Ellul to have a very refreshing and challenging perspective on money. Even though I didn’t always find myself in agreement with his conclusions and argumentation, I consider many of his opinions at least loosely in line with Scripture as a whole, the early church as seen in the New Testament, and the Church Fathers and Mothers.
In the first chapter, Ellul discusses the contemporary monetary and economic paradigms and considers how to approach them from a Christian perspective.
Ellul (writing in the 1950s) sees all the economic systems, the -isms, as problematic. The main issue is that they abstract the money problem. For him, the problem is a matter of the human heart in relation to money. When we abstract money into a global economic system, we lost sight of personal relationship and responsibility.
For a while the idea of money has been bouncing around in my head—and for a number of reasons: I’ve been trying to come to terms with teachings of the Early Church Fathers and Mothers, which is more likely than not to put those of us in the wealthy modern West on edge; I’ve recently watched through the Netflix docu-series Dirty Money, which brings to the fore the abject evil perpetrated by large companies in the U.S. and abroad, all in the name of fulfilling the interests of investors; I recently read the article by the Christian theologian David Bentley Hart, “Three Cheers for Socialism,” and found it incredible provocative and thought-provoking (wherever you put your fealty in terms of economics, I think this article is a must-read, especially for Americans, who are all too often ignorant of political and economic history); I’m disturbed by the flippancy with which many Christians (including myself) pass over Jesus’s hard sayings about wealth and money, and I’m also continuously perturbed by the multiple, often contradictory voices with which Scripture speaks about wealth and money.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?The Lord is the everlasting God, The Creator of the ends of the earth.He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah says to wait for the Lord. Frankly, I don’t know if I like the advice. Do you? I want to prepare, strike out on my path, excel, succeed. Don’t you? When I face a challenge, I want to overcome it. I want to be smart enough, fast enough, strong enough. When I fall down, I want to pick myself up by my own bootstraps. Don’t you?
In studying a subject or procuring a skill there is generally a movement from mystery to familiarity, from the unknown to the known. For example, I remember when I first began learning Greek, when all shapes of the alphabet were strange to me and each page of text an unknowable riddle. As I painstakingly studied, the sound of each letter would soon come as second nature and each word would become a system of recognizable parts. As I ran enough text through my fingers, I began to get a feel for the language; it became familiar and known to me. Whereas before I could only discern shadows on the ground, now I could look up and see the cathedral that cast it—in all its architectural grandeur and geometric complexity. Yet, at the point at which one has memorized every nook and cranny, the degree of every angle, the length of every line, the point at which one has run one’s hands over every square inch a thousand times over, at this point the mystery and the enchantment begin to fade into familiarity and mundanity. It seems that in the process of knowing there is inevitably the risk of disenchantment. (Is it mere coincidence that the West’s struggle with the disenchantment of the world came concomitantly with modernity, the rise of the scientific and rational mind?)
However, the more I delve into the incarnation, the cross and resurrection, the more it eludes familiarity, the stranger it becomes. It resists demystification and disenchantment. It brings one to the beginning of the cosmos, to its end—at the cross one climbs into the dark recesses of the depths of the earth and ascends to the azure heights of the daylight sky.