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In covenant union, other-love is self-love but self-love is not other-love

A re-post

I've just been at a wedding and was reminded again of one of my favourite marriage verses: "He who loves his wife loves himself." (Eph 5:28).

It's a striking verse isn't it?  Imagine starting a wedding sermon with it.  "Jim, on this your wedding day, I charge you before God and this congregation to love yourself.  Extravagantly and without holding back."

That would grab people's attention right?

But then of course course you'd go on to unpack what that meant.  It means that Jim must sacrifice himself extravagantly for his bride.  In this way - and only in this way - will Jim love "himself".  He'll love "himself" because now, in covenant union, he is one with his bride.  There's no solo-Jim anymore.  The only way to find himself is to lose himself for her.  Other-love is the only proper form of self-love that's left to him.

But it occurs to me that Paul could not have written his verse the other way around.  In covenant union it's true that loving the other turns out to be self-love because the other belongs to me completely.  But it is not true that loving myself turns out to be loving my wife.  In fact turning my love on myself works against the covenant of self-giving love.

In the marriage covenant, you can (provocatively) call other-love "self-love".  But only because you lose yourself in service of the other and find yourself blessed by that love.

But - here's the point - the reverse is not true: self-love is not other-love.  "He who loves himself does not love his wife."  It doesn't work both ways.  Next time Emma complains that I haven't served her, I would be a brave, brave man to respond "Honey, I've been loving you by surfing aimlessly and watching Peep Show repeats."  Self-love just isn't other-love.

Now think of God.  If you really wanted to, you might want to talk about "God loving Himself."  But you'd only do so in that provocative sense in which you'd preach a husband's self-love.  i.e. It should only and immediately lead to a discussion of other-centredness.  For how does a husband love himself?  He lays down his life for his wife.   How does God love Himself?  The Father commits all things into His Son's hands.

Any talk of self-love in God must be explicitly talk about triune relations - the Father loving the Son in the Spirit.  You simply can't talk about God loving Himself without emphatically underlining the multi-personal, other-centred nature of this God and this love.  Otherwise you make Him like the selfish husband.

In trinitarian theology there's an old argument about your method of doing theology.  Should you "begin with the One" and then show how there are actually three Persons in this One God?  Or  should you "begin with the Three" and show how those Three are the One God?

Well I think considerations like this push us firmly in the direction of the latter.  I'd say, from the outset, we must proclaim the tri-personality of this God.  Why?  Well if you don't, everything you say under the category of "The One God" will start to sound like the selfish husband who, from the overflow of His self-centredness, manages to love another!   Does that even make sense?

So wherever we 'begin', three-ness must be on the table.  (More on this here).

There is a way from Trinity to aseity.  But there is no way from aseity to Trinity.

3 thoughts on “In covenant union, other-love is self-love but self-love is not other-love

  1. Anthony Smith

    Thanks for this - loving the trinitarian material on this blog. I'm struggling a bit with the last bit though - would you mind expanding on it briefly?

    "There is a way from Trinity to aseity. But there is no way from aseity to Trinity."

    I'm thinking aseity = God doesn't depend on anything else for his existence, and everything else depends on God for its existence. But I don't know how to reach that point from the doctrine of the Trinity.

  2. Glen

    Hi Anthony, welcome to the blog. Yes that last line kinda comes out of nowhere.

    It's related in that a theology which "begins with the One" might ascribe aseity to God as a divine attribute and yet, when we then study the Persons we'll come across a Father who is Father only because He eternally begets the Son. And we come across a Son who depends for His life and being on the Father. And a Spirit who is expressly *of* the Father and Son. We'll wonder whether "aseity" can really be ascribed to these divine Persons (and since "aseity" has become for us a foundational attribute of divinity we'll find ourselves in all sorts of trouble). It's a bit like considering "The Family" to be self-sufficient and then being shocked that each member is actually completely dependent upon and given over to the other.

    If on the other hand we begin with the Trinity as a family of Persons, then their mutual relations can be seen in all their fruitfulness and we can conclude that *this* God really has no source of life or being from beyond, because the *Persons* give to and receive from each other all they need.

    God the Trinity is "a se" because the Persons of the Trinity are fully and fruitfully dependent upon each Other. But the Persons are emphatically *not* "a se" and to say that "God" in the abstract is "a se" would be to misrepresent the Family relations which undergird that truth.

    Is that a little less muddled?

  3. Anthony Smith

    Thanks for the comment, Glen. Yes, that makes much more sense now. If you start with the One, you will probably will probably want each of the divine Persons to be "a se" (reflecting the aseity of the One God), which doesn't leave much room for a deep dependence of each Person on the other Persons. That's not a problem if you start from the Three.

    I like the analogy of a family being self-sufficient.

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