Broken Love

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) offered some unique and helpful insights about the Holy Spirit in his “Treatise on Grace.” Right now I’m reading Robert W. Caldwell’s study, Communion in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards, where he probes the “Treatise” in his second chapter.

As Edwards properly noticed—and Caldwell agrees—at many points in the Bible the Holy Spirit seems like the forgotten member of the Trinity. The bond of the Father and the Son is often featured while the Spirit is nowhere to be seen. The Father is said to love the Son, and the Son loves the Father, but nowhere in the Bible do we read of the Father or the Son loving the Spirit.

Let me offer an extended citation from Caldwell’s study and then I’ll comment.

“Edwards’s presentation of the Holy Spirit as the immanent love of the Godhead underscores the ‘hiddenness’ of the Spirit in the immanent Trinity. Love by nature highlights the object of its gaze, and does not call attention to itself. In the Trinity, the Spirit ‘highlights’ God the Father’s beloved, the divine Son, as well as the Son’s beloved, the Father. He is the mediator of their communion, the bond of their love, and the sacred energy of their union. Consequently while he is equal in dignity with the other two, he remains hidden in the sense that he does not call attention to himself as divine love” [p.47].

The Spirit, in other words, is the bonding presence of the Godhead who communicates the Father’s love for the Son to the Son; and the Son’s response of reciprocal love to the Father. And in the process he’s happy to remain all but out of sight. At the heart of the Spirit’s unique role in the Godhead is his work in communicating love, so that the Spirit “is” the love between the Father and the Son.

Any number of thoughts may come to mind for readers who haven’t explored this portrayal of the Triune communion. The question always has to be, is this aligned with Scriptures? With that question in mind it’s useful to read 1 Corinthians 2 where we read that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit” who then offers them to those who love God. Edwards catches the implicit reality that this role is eternal and intrinsic to the Triune communion in the sharing between the Father and the Son.

In John 16 we catch another glimpse of the Spirit’s selfless work, “whatever he hears [within the Godhead] he will speak … [and] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” In the course of this sharing the Spirit refuses to draw any attention to himself.

Edwards is following in the tradition here of Augustine of Hippo in labeling the Spirit as God’s love—so that in the Trinity the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Spirit is the love between them. This fits with John’s statement that “God is love”—1 John 4:8&16—with God’s communion characterized by the Spirit’s bonding work. He is no less personal than the Father and the Son, but his divine activity is located elsewhere, as in his pouring out God’s love in hearts (Romans 5:5) as he draws all who receive that love into saving faith.

My reason for raising this subject again—it’s not at all new here—is to pick up on Caldwell’s statement, “Love by nature highlights the object of its gaze, and does not call attention to itself.”

It’s a true and convicting claim. If we ask the question today, what do people love? And then ask, with that, what are the images or objects that are most widely viewed today? The answer is that we won’t find God’s Spirit at work in bringing the Son to the forefront. “Selfies” are just one clue.

He—the Spirit who is “the love of God”—is still offering us God’s love in his eternally selfless role of disclosing true love, but fewer and fewer are responding. So “true” love—God’s own love—is now broken. Without a focus on Christ—whose sacrifice is the ultimate expression of selfless love, conceived by the Father and fulfilled by the Son—we lose our orientation to the way God made us.

We were, after all, created in God’s image and likeness, as those made to love and be loved—with our delighted gaze on the “other” defining that love. The first couple was created to enjoy the same mutual love of the Triune communion. It came by way of the Spirit’s bonding presence in them. But that bond was broken by the Fall. And with the Spirit’s departure from Adam’s soul came his recrimination—“it’s the woman you gave me!”—in place of the mutual and reciprocal love Adam and Eve once shared.

So now a survey of both marital and societal expectations today will find themes of self-concern as the new measure of relationships. Self-concerns have replaced selfless-devotion as thematic measures of life. Men and women are increasingly conflicted in knowing how to negotiate “fair”—that is, self-protective—relationships; and suspicion is central to this broken version of love.

The one benefit of broken love is that the appearance of God’s love in human relationships and in marriages, especially, will offer a dramatic contrast to the world. Jesus promised this in John 13:35—“ By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Real love—God’s love—is a reality that won’t exist without the Spirit’s bonding presence.

So may all of us who love Jesus – with the Spirit’s selflessness guiding our new gaze – come to share Paul’s testimony of love: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Gal. 5:20].

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About R N Frost

R N (Ron) Frost is a student of history, especially the history of Christian spirituality. Ron served for more than 20 years at a Portland, OR, college and seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was a professor of historical theology and ethics. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. This involves a number of trips to worldwide destinations each year, each by invitation. All his services are gratis, so ministry partners are needed and welcomed. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.