Is Love an Irrational Mystery?
The typical Christian seeks to honor God with his or her mind. Unfortunately, some consider love and reason hostile or at least incompatible. Such Christians think love is a mystery.
Christians rightly accentuate the role of the mind, reason, and rational consistency. To be unreasonable is to commit serious offense — although sometimes theologians feel obliged to do so. Most seek to avoid irrationality, however, if possible. Theologies based on folly pay a high price: eventual if not immediate confusion.
Unfortunately, some Christians think love is utter mystery. They interpret Blaise Pascal’s famous words, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” to mean love and reason are enemies. Some Christians will not subject love to the rule of reason.
At its best, however, love is reasonable. And it is logical to place love at the center of theology and work out the implications of such placement.
A coherent and illuminating theology of love need not choose between the intuitions of the heart and the life of the mind. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, (Is. 1:18 NASB 95), for reason need not contradict the Lord of love.
Admittedly, following through with the logic of love can be unsettling. This logic may demand change in the theological status quo. Love is transformative. Some theologians unfortunately suffer a loss of nerve when the logic of love leads to ideas opposing conventional theology.
When Christians lose their nerve, they often appeal to mystery. Mystery, in this case, functions like a blank check on which a Christian writes whatever dogma she or he desires.
Mystery can also become an escape hatch allowing the Christian to wiggle out of the uncomfortable choices a theology of love requires. Appeal to mystery in these ways seems at worst disingenuous. At best, the appeal to mystery represents an implicit recognition more work has to be done.
The logic of love should prompt us to acknowledge that truth looms larger than we may imagine. Truth is not limited to what our five senses can verify. Love pushes us to affirm the presence of values, relationships, narrative, and beauty in the universe.
An adequate theology of love reminds us that accounting for the life we encounter compels us beyond the boundaries of what we typically deem suitable evidence. To love God with our heart and mind is to love that which sensory perception cannot grasp, even though nonsensory perception of God is fundamental to expressing love. To experience the love of God is also to experience that for which we cannot entirely account.
Of course, limited minds cannot grasp entirely a limitless God. The full truth about everything is bigger than our minds can fathom. Localized brains cannot account for the facts and forms of a wide, wild, and wonderful universe.
Mystery will always have a place in theology. While the logic of love does not appeal to the illogical, it cannot overcome all mystery whatsoever.
The mystery we rightfully embrace, therefore, accepts the work necessary to formulate a reasonable theology to account for the gospel of love that Jesus Christ reveals.
We must not invoke mystery when the theological row grows hard to hoe. Instead, mystery plays its proper role when we humbly admit we know in part but propose the supremacy and rationality of love nonetheless.
In humility, I encourage Christians to offer hypotheses, theories, ideas, stories, and insights. In doing so, Christians should believe that some of our words and ideas do a better job proclaiming God’s love revealed in Christ, the Church, and the world.
In all this, we should seek to fulfill the Apostle Paul’s goal: “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19).