Introductory Note:

This week at Renovaré, our Institute faculty and staff are blessed to be gathered with the Dallas cohort. This is the third residency of four for this group, and at each meeting their friendships deepen as love is lived out. From the group of strangers at the cohort’s first residency to the bonded family with whom we are fellowshipping this week, there is something special that happens when God’s people find each other in a space that is open, “safe and enriching.”

In this piece, Chris Webb writes about that sort of love and how it may be the “fulfillment of holiness.” Not only are we created to love, he says, but “love, rightly ordered, will be the foundation of the kingdom of God.” We here at the Renovaré Institute are certainly seeing the Kingdom breaking in this week in one thousand holy moments.

Renovaré Team

The open­ing chap­ter of the Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God” (Gen 1:27). Schol­ars and the­olo­gians have reflect­ed for over two mil­len­nia about exact­ly what that might mean, but the apos­tle John, in his first let­ter, gives us an impor­tant insight into at least one sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tion. God is love,” he writes, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16). To bear the char­ac­ter of God is to have love hard­wired into our essen­tial nature. The more we are con­formed to the char­ac­ter of God, the more per­fect­ly lov­ing we will become. We are cre­at­ed to love.

When God calls us to holi­ness, he roots that call in his own char­ac­ter: Be holy,” he says to the Israelites, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). Holi­ness, then, can­not sim­ply be an abstract puri­ty of our inte­ri­or nature – an unsul­lied con­science, free from guilt. Rather it is a sum­mons to pure love, to be the kind of peo­ple who can devel­op good, deep, lov­ing rela­tion­ships, both with God and with oth­er peo­ple, rela­tion­ships which are safe and enrich­ing for all con­cerned. Jesus cer­tain­ly seems to under­stand the call in this way. In the first half of the Ser­mon on the Mount he address­es a series of issues which threat­en to under­mine the qual­i­ty of lov­ing rela­tion­ships: anger, adul­tery, divorce, decep­tion, and revenge. He then push­es the bound­aries of love fur­ther than any rea­son­able moral­i­ty would seem to demand: Love your ene­mies,” he says, and pray for those who per­se­cute you” (Mt 5:44). In this way, he says, you will be per­fect, as your heav­en­ly Father is per­fect” (Mt 5:48). Love, it seems, is the ful­fill­ment of holiness.

Many years lat­er, the great twelfth cen­tu­ry Domini­can writer Thomas Aquinas picked up on this strand of bib­li­cal teach­ing and made the star­tling asser­tion that love was more than the goal of Chris­t­ian per­fec­tion: it is the fun­da­men­tal pow­er behind the cre­at­ed order. Just as physi­cists probe sub-atom­ic struc­ture to iden­ti­fy the basic forces and par­ti­cles that make up this phys­i­cal uni­verse, so Aquinas probed to the depths of Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy to iden­ti­fy the dri­ving ener­gy behind cre­ation itself. In the end, Aquinas argued, every­thing is ground­ed in love, since all cre­ation reflects the char­ac­ter of the one who made it. He sug­gest­ed that we are not only made to love, we are made of love. Every­thing we do is dri­ven by this divine qual­i­ty: all we can do is love.

But Aquinas had no illu­sions about the ter­ri­fy­ing human capac­i­ty for sin. He wrote about the lethal pow­er of sin, that turn­ing away from our last end which is God.” He came to see love as hav­ing the kind of awe­some pow­er we see in nuclear fusion. Well-ordered and direct­ed to the right ends, love can trans­form lives, insep­a­ra­bly unite peo­ple with one anoth­er and God, and act as the har­mo­nious and cre­ative pow­er which holds all cre­ation in being. But mis­di­rect­ed – allowed to turn in on itself, allowed to run wild­ly on the heels of any and every desire of our mis­guid­ed hearts – love can become a hor­ri­fy­ing­ly destruc­tive force, tear­ing apart the world from under our feet. Love, right­ly ordered, will be the foun­da­tion of the king­dom of God. But grotesque­ly dis­or­dered love, inor­di­nate self-love which swirls in on itself like a fierce tor­na­do, has the capac­i­ty to shape tragedies like Auschwitz or the Rwan­dan geno­cide. Sin – love dis­or­dered – is hor­rif­ic. But holi­ness – love right­ly ordered – is life in all its abundance.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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