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Love restores the world to order

Apr 23, 2023

Walter Kasper on kingdom of God:

But when the ultimate source of all reality, God’s love, re-establishes itself and comes to power, the world is restored to order and salvation. Because each individual can feel himself accepted and approved without reserve, he becomes free to live with others. The coming of the Kingdom of God’s love therefore means the salvation of the world as a whole and the salvation of every individual. Everyone can now know that love is the ultimate, that it is stronger than death, stronger than hatred and injustice.

The people in whom Jesus realized the kingdom of God—in his preaching & in his miracles—experienced the kingdom of God as a forgiveness of sins, that is to say, as an encounter with God’s abundant, indeed unlimited, mercy. To be forgiven of one’s sins is to know oneself to be loved. God’s love, in other words, knows no limits and is available even to those considered religiously undesirable: sinners & taxcollectors, lepers & gentiles.

This experience of an unconditioned love is an experience of freedom. To know that you are loved beyond measure & apart from any merit frees you to love of others—if you are loved by a love made available through the life & death of Jesus to even the worst among sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), then there is no reason not to love your neighbors. There is no need for egoism or worldly striving, for self-interest or status; there is no need to convince yourself that you are loved for your accomplishments or achievements. You are loved, even apart from all that. Resting in the assurance of God’s love, then, one can stop trying to convince others (& yourself) that you are lovable. To know oneself to be loved is to be freed from worrying about oneself so that one can turn one’s attention to others.

But this individual experience of love has effects not only on the individual or an individual’s interpersonal relationships. It brings about a new order to society: rather than the status quo of getting ahead, of making money, of winning status & privilege (& consequently reducing the status & privilege of others), a society that is built upon love for all can be a society that seeks the good of all. You can make a new start at your life, focused not on self-aggrandizement but on the flourishing of another (& yourself).

How does all this justify the claim that love is stronger even than death? Elsewhere Kasper writes that “love, as it were, entraps evil and by doing so it overcomes it and creates the possibility of a new start.” I think that’s relevant here. To respond to evil with love, to cruelty with kindness, to violence with peace, forecloses the possibility of evil. The evil-doer—the enemy—can keep doing evil, of course. Often they do. But in refusing to respond in kind, the Christian puts a stop to evil. The enemy no longer is enemy; evil no longer saps the good of its goodness. When Jesus is unjustly put to death & refuses to respond in kind, the Father vindicates Jesus’s love even unto death by raising him on the third day. Love has the final say; love restores the world to order.

Every time I try to talk about this—Jesus’s message of love as the answer to evil & death—with my students, I can’t help but feel that this message of love is so cringe or corny or cliché (like the little speech John Mayer spliced into the middle of his otherwise impeccable performance of “Bold as Love”). Really? Love? It just seems so obviously inadequate. But that reaction is because we—& here I mean my students as well as myself—don’t fully grasp how radical this message of love really is. It cuts so deeply against the foundations of society that we have a hard time making sense of it; we have to attenuate it beyond recognition so that it stands as only faint shadow of what Jesus meant when he spoke of the love of his abba. After all, Jesus’s love led him to Golgotha, just as the love of the martyrs since Jesus—Perpetua & Felicity, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King Jr., Óscar Romero, & countless others whose names we don’t know—have likewise lead to their deaths. Yet it is in their dying that the ultimate meaning of love & its victory is revealed.