Measuring Love

November 5th, 2010 / 14 Comments

For the past decade or so, I’ve been thinking about the love, science, and theology interface. The questions about how these three relate are complex. These questions require complex but understandable answers.

At the very heart of theological and scientific love research are two largely unanswered questions. The first – and more typically scientific question – has to do with measuring…

How should we measure love?

To some, the idea of measuring love is sheer foolishness. Love escapes any measuring mechanisms, in their opinion. Pressing them to identify how they know which action is loving and which is not, however, reveals quickly that they do adopt some measurement methods. The measurements they adopt are tacit or largely unconscious.

Part of the scientist’s task is to make explicit and conceptually coherent love assumptions that may currently remain implicit and incoherent. In future blog essays, I answer this first question by offering my definition of love. In addition, I will offer general measuring domains scientists might use to pursue research on creaturely love.

My definition of love involves three domains as essential to love:

1) intent/motives

2) embodiment/environment

3) consequences/outcomes

The second question is theological in nature…

If God’s love makes a difference in the world, can we measure it?

In coming blogs, I propose a method for measuring the effectiveness of God’s love. I build on my theory of Essential Kenosis for this task.

Essential Kenosis says God acts as a loving causal agent in every agent and/or event. But God never entirely determines anything. To put it another way, God never totally controls others.

God’s love varies, however. God’s persuasive influence oscillates as creatures respond appropriately or inappropriately. And God expresses diverse forms of love.

I will argue that scientific researchers (and the rest of us) can justifiably make inferences with regard to the degree of divine love’s effectiveness. We infer God’s effectiveness by observing creaturely action.

While we presuppose for various reasons the fact THAT God loves everyone all the time, we can measure how effective God’s love is by looking at creaturely responses.

I’m thinking of developing these blogs into a scholarly book. So I welcome your evaluation of these essays!

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Comments

herbhalstead

I am thrilled to have been directed to your blog. I love your work.

“causal agent” <~~ that is an interesting phrase that causes within me an impulsive intellectual recoil. With an ever-creative God, “casual” seems to conflict, offering a connotation of aloofness.

I’m interested in learning more of your intent with that phrase.


John W. Dally

Tom

Love is a tough issue. I remember when the courts tried to define pornography. The best response was “I may not be able to define it but I know when I see it.”  In my view, I may not be able to define love, but I know when I see it.” 

My first view is that it is a mistake to catagorize love into types. I believe that the “types” of love overlap. It is a continum from self-love to alturistic love. That is what makes it difficult to define. I think you came to a workable defination in “The Nature of Love.”  “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to prompte overall well being.” I believe this applies to believers and non-believers alike. Even if a person rejects the concept of God, prevenient grace enables him/her to know love and to act accordingly.

My difficulty comes from life experiences. As a hospice chaplain I see suffering all the time. I cannot explain how love inters into these experiences except God enabling us to cope and have hope for the next life. In my knowledge of astronomy and geology, I can only reframe events to see how they are for the wider good. (Example: Earthquakes occur because of plate techtonics. Plate techtonics exist because we have a molten core in the center of the earth. Because we have a molten core we have a magnetic field that protects life from cosmic rays. Stop earthquakes and the world become dead and life ceases to exist.)

I look forward to seeing how you can apply measurements to love. It will make for an interesting read.


John Grant

Dr. Oord,
Don’t you think part of the problem when talking about measuring has to do with the idea that most of our language about measurement seems to imply putting limits on what we measure?  When we can measure something it is somehow contained within that measurement; we’ve limited it.  But it also seems that that doesn’t have to be the case.  I look forward to reading what you have to say about this.

John


Todd

By your own evaluation, God’s love can be measured by looking at creaturely responses.  One could argue that if God’s creatures are not effectively ‘loving’ the world – then God does not effectively love the world.  This is not without its own set of challenges.  Can God circumvent this by setting ‘divine appointments’ or miracles?


Shirley

In reading this as well as a few of your other writings (on Creatio ex nihilo and the Theory of Divine Power) there seems to be quite a few directives of “I propose”, “my theory”, and several “me, myself and I” statements.  This seems rather presumptious (and dangerous territory).  Why not just go the Word and see how God defines love?  In Ephesians it is defined as surpassing all knowledge.


Josh

In response to this blog I am left wondering what happens if no one responds properly to God and there fore no one loves. Would that mean While God still loves us his love is not shown? You state in the blog that, “God’s love varies, however. God’s persuasive influence oscillates as creatures respond appropriately or inappropriately. And God expresses diverse forms of love.” If we stop responding, does his love stop oscillating?


Rachel Benedick

I thought your idea of God’s love varying.One of the things I’ve learned through this class is that love is not always the mushy, intimate type, but can also be seen in tough love. You quoted, “God’s love varies, however. God’s persuasive influence oscillates as creatures respond appropriately or inappropriately. And God expresses diverse forms of love.”
Another things I find interesting that, because of our free-will, we are given the choice to choose God and that through persuasion rather than coercion, God draws us nearer to Him. I’m looking forward to reading your future blogs on creaturely responses to this love.


Tom Foisy

Dr. Oord you made a statement towards the end of your blog entry that stuck out to me,

“While we presuppose for various reasons the fact THAT God loves everyone all the time, we can measure how effective God’s love is by looking at creaturely responses.”

I would love to hear more thoughts on this. How do we know that God loves everyone? Can we measure/see God’s love for everyone? Or is that simply a matter of faith and belief?

Tom


Jan Wilton

Tom,
I initially disagreed with your statement: “But God never entirely determines anything. To put it another way, God never totally controls others.” God does always control the universe, gravity, and etcetera.  I then began to see a correlation to Missio Dei and prevenient grace. If God took complete control of people, we would be forced to do what we were told to do. We would live with a controlling God and conditional love based on what we were told to do. Serving out of duty and not love for God would take away the beauty of the gift of grace.


Justin Walker

I find your view point on love refreshing and confusing at the same time. 

Intially I would agree that love cannot be measured.  But, when I really think about the nature of measurement I am thinking about putting a limit on love. This I agree is impossible to do for love in human relationships let alone with God.  I am not sure if I agree that God’s love can be measured by effectiveness of creature responses because of free will.  Some people chose not to know God and His love.  Does this mean God’s love is measured extremely low in Muslim countries?  I agree that the majority of people in Egypt, for example, chose not to know His love, but does that mean that God does not love them enough?  Life experiences and culture influence our free will decisions and because of this I do not understand how we can measure God’s love effectively on human responses to Him.

Regardless, I find this blog entry to be interesting and good food for thought on God’s love.


Sharelle Seward

These blogs will be very interesting and I look forward to reading them.  There is one concept that bothers me here though.  To say that God’s acts in loving ways in all events and that God has different forms of expressing this love makes sense when talking about situations with positive outcomes.  However, if it is a situation like a natural disaster or a murder, how can you say that this is in some form a loving act of God?


Joice Huett

While we presuppose for various reasons the fact THAT God loves everyone all the time, we can measure how effective God’s love is by looking at creaturely responses.

How we respond to the Lord is by showing love. Our actions is key, if we walk with the Lord then we will act/imitate God. When we do not show compassion towards others then we are lacking in our relationship with the Lord. God loves us no matter what we do but we have to put effort in to our actions and have an everlasting relationship. We are able to show love only by having God in our hearts.


Danny Davis

Tom,

Through the years I have learned that my motives typically have two opposite poles of purity. One pole finds my motives purely selfless and directed toward the well-being of the Kingdom and others. The other pole is purely selfish and is shaped by the “sin that so easily besets me” (Heb 12:1). Growth in the knowledge, wisdom and relationship with Jesus Christ helps me to lean toward the first pole, yet, the war that is within me that pushes me to do what I do not want to do is still very real.

To measure ones intentions may be as hard as measuring love because we, as humans,do not know the reality of the human heart and spirit. Sometimes the right motives make for terrible consequences and vice-versa.


Erika Schaub

Oord,
I thought this blog post was intriguing.  I think it is hard to measure love and it can be even harder to measure God’s love.  I agree with your statement of “we can measure how effective God’s love is by looking at creaturely responses.”  We cannot see God and we cannot talk face-to-face with God (at least not yet) about the way he loves and how he loves.  I think that God’s love is consistent in nature but can be seen in many different forms; and that the way of showing love changes per person.  Also people’s response(s) to God’s grace and love say a lot as well.


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