Monday, January 17, 2011


St Thomas Aquinas defined love as willing the good of the other as other. So if I help a poor person. That might be an act of love. It depends why I did it. Did I do it because because I wanted to feel good about helping the poor? That is not a bad thing but it is not love because it is self-centered. I will their good but not for their sake but for mine. It would be the virtue of generosity or justice. I would be fighting the injustice of poverty. There might even be love for Christ and His church in there. I might want to help the church with her mission of helping the poor. That would be willing the church's good and not mine. So that would be love.

What strikes me most about St Thomas' definition is that he cannot understand the concept of loving yourself. That is so common in today's society. When you talk about love in any group. It does not matter whether they are Christian or not. One of the first points that is brought up is that the most important thing is to love yourself. That you can't love other people unless you love yourself first. St Thomas would not understand this kind of thinking. For him, the very center of love was that it is selfless. The ultimate symbol of love is the crucifix. For us, the ultimate symbol of love is a mirror.

What people see is that humans need to be loved. But loving yourself is never going to be enough. You can't give yourself value. This is like trying to push a bus when you are on the bus. You have to push against something or it does not work. Some try and push themselves up by pushing others down. Ultimately what you need is not to love yourself but to understand that God loves you. That is just a place where modern psychology is not willing to go. Christians embrace modern psychology but they don't realize that it is making a very sad second choice in this area precisely because it wants to keep God talk out of their business.

The one thing that happens when we leave God out of our self esteem conversations is we find ways to love our strengths and don't really learn to love our weaknesses. When you understand God has created you and loves you with all your brokenness and all your idiosyncrasies then nothing can shake your self image. But if your self esteem is based on a rosy view of your talents and basically a denial of your short comings that is going to fall apart when you need it most.

When you realize God loves your brokenness then you can love another person who is also broken. Not weighing their strengths against their weaknesses and deciding the strengths win out. But really loving the weakness as a gift from God just as much as the strength.

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