|I wrote this on the weekend for Christianity 201, but it’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to and I want its words to echo here as well, though this isn’t the first time he’s been mentioned here. The late A. W. Tozer is a very deep author — the kind I was talking about two weeks ago when I redefined ‘rich text‘ — who should be on your must-read list. (A few other posts at C201 on or about him can be located here.) I hope you find the analogy here as worthy of your thoughts as I did.
In three different contexts this week, I was confronted by the writings of A. W. Tozer. One of these, earlier this week, concerned a piece he wrote that was titled, “Three Kinds of Love.” At first, I thought this would be an explanation of the difference between phileos, eros and agape love. But it turned out to be something quite different; he writes about the love we have for God.
Rather than just run the excerpt today, I’m going to try to paraphrase what Tozer wrote…
He begins by saying that traditionally, religious writers talk about two kinds of love for God:
- The love that springs out of gratitude for God: “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications,” and “We love him, because he first loved us.” Ps. 116:1 and I John 4:19, italics added. This is a very basic, elementary kind of love that actually has selfish overtones: It’s a love that is driven by benefits we receive
- The love of the admiration of excellence: A higher level of love where the selfishness factor is reduced, and is replaced by a consideration of God’s glorious being; his power, knowledge and might become the driving factor; we love him because of all that he is.
But then, Tozer takes it to another level and introduces the analogy of a mother of what we would today call a special-needs child, in this case one who is considerably developmentally challenged. This was a rather progressive example in Tozer’s day — we would approach this metaphor differently now — and I use it with apology to those of you whose nuclear or extended families are touched by the reality of a special needs child or several.
He says that, “The child excites no gratitude in her breast, for all the benefits have flowed the other way; the helpless infant has been nothing but a burden from the time it was born.” This is a child that won’t be helping set the table, won’t be taking out the garbage.
At the second level, “Neither can the mother find in such a child any excellence to admire, for there is none.” This is a child whose artwork won’t be adorning the refrigerator door; whose report cards won’t be shown off to the aunts and uncles.
Yet she loves the child with a great intensity. Her life and the life of her child are more intertwined than they were before she gave birth. They are bonded emotionally. It is what he calls “the union achieved by hearts; more beautiful than anything that can be experienced by flesh and blood.”
There is no element of because.
It’s not, “I love because;” because there is no because. It’s simply, “I love.”
This is the third kind of love, what he calls a supranatural love.
For the last 48 hours, I’ve been trying to process how the story of the mother relates to our love for God. Tozer notes that we all have things to be thankful to God for; just as we all have moments where we are overcome by the excellence of magnificence, the great majesty of God.
But I’m trying to find in my own heart the parallel to the third type of love, something that is not the product of logic, or enumeration of God’s attributes, or any other because.
If this all seems to mystical, too unreal, we offer no proof and make no effort to defend our position. This can be understood only by those who have experienced it. In the rank and file of today’s Christians it will be rejected or shrugged off as preposterous. So be it. Some however, will read and will recognize an accurate description of the sunlit peaks where they have been for at least brief periods and to which they long often to return.
And such will need no proof.
these thoughts based on Three Degrees of Love as it appears on pp. 147-150 of the 1955 Christian Publications edition of The Root of Righteousness.