Chapter 3: Man’s Real Good

God’s Grace and Man’s Hope
by Daniel Day Williams

Chapter 3: Man’s Real Good

What makes the Christian Gospel good news is its proclamation of the reality of God’s redeeming grace. A new life can come into being within the present wrong and failure, the bitter injustice and despair. There is a divine strategy for achievement of new good in the midst of stubborn evil. Such is the conviction which we have set forth in the last chapter.

It is one thing to state a conviction, and quite another to show that it will stand when brought up against the facts of human experience. It is, literally, an infinite task to show that a theological perspective can solve the knotty problems of nature and law, ethics and politics, life and death, and bring them all within an interpretation which possesses an intelligible unity. Yet however difficult this task, and however far from realization it must be in our time and perhaps in every time, to try to fulfill this demand is the obligation which Christian thought must accept for itself. Christian truth is not a separate truth within the whole meaning of life. Christian teaching cannot be put into an intellectual hot house and there kept safe from the chilling blasts which blow in our human journey. If belief in the creative and the redemptive God makes sense at all, it must enable us to see more deeply and dearly into the whole of our experience, and to find what in the end of the day all honest thought must find there.

In this and the following two chapters we must deal with three of the fundamental problems which are involved in any assertion of the Christian faith in redemption. The first of these is the question of how we can adequately define that love which Christianity holds to be the clue to the nature of God and therefore define the content of that real good in relation to which all particular goods are finally judged. The second question concerns the relation of love as the ultimate ideal to the actual structures of nature and human social institutions. In particular we shall examine the problem of the Christian ideal of love when it is confronted by the realities of the political orders. Thirdly, we must show the implications of the doctrine that love is the real good for the Christian interpretation of the progress of the Kingdom of God in history. We shall state, at the close of Chapter Five, the clue to the Christian view of history to which our analysis leads. We shall then be ready to consider the positive implications of this theological perspective in which the creative and the redemptive work of God are affirmed together, for Christian ethics, for Christian politics, and for the life of the spirit when the Christian commitment becomes a way of meeting both life and death.

At the start of our analysis of the Christian "idea of the good," we may notice that this problem is directly related to one which will already have occurred to the reader. How is God one? How do we know that the various processes of creativity and redemption are all manifestations of one single reality? If we cannot show the unity of God, then we have no saving truth; for the problem of life is to find that unity and wholeness in the nature of things to which we can give ourselves with single-minded devotion. I believe it can be shown that the only convincing answer to the problem of unity in our world view lies in the discovery of one intelligible structure which is the pattern of the real good of all things. This real good is not our creation. It is that growing good which we find partly realized, partly stretching beyond existence as an unrealized ideal. We discover its claim upon us whenever we think the problem of the value of life through to the end. The thesis I defend in this chapter can be put in three brief sentences: God’s unity is His goodness. God’s goodness is His love. God’s love is that creative and redemptive power which works unceasingly in all times and places to bring to fulfillment a universal community of free and loving beings.

Let us begin with an exploratory definition of the "good."


To define the good is one of the perennial problems of human life. Plain men and philosophers have sought for a valid concept of the good, have been perplexed by the search, and have arrived at many different conclusions. It would be simple if we could say from the Christian standpoint that there is a fixed definition of the good, but we have to recognize that here Christianity has always revealed an inner tension. That tension arises from the fact that Christianity has always conceived this created world as essentially good, and yet it has always looked beyond this world to a consummation of life in a new order as man’s true end. Professor Amos Wilder justly observes that this tension has never been resolved. "The Christian has not made clear for himself the paradox of world denial and abundance of life. He has lodged in an otherworldliness that has seemed, whether to a Nietzsche or a Lawrence, a blasphemy against the natural creation, or in a compromise with life that has lost any creative appeal, and so deserved the apostasy of those thirsty for reality."1

If we look at the principal symbols with which Christianity has expressed the meaning of human fulfillment, we see how this perplexity about man’s true good pervades Christian experience. The primary symbol is the Kingdom of God. But in the New Testament the Kingdom appears as a reality experienced in the present, "The kingdom of heaven is among you and at the same time as other than this present order, "My kingdom is not of this world."2 Again,

Christianity says it is the abundant life which Christ offers. While it is never said that the abundant life means a denial of the goads of this world, yet it really consists in the laying up of the soul’s treasure in heaven; hence, the central paradox. "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it."3 The term "eternal life" seems to point rather more unambiguously to the fulfillment of the good in life beyond death, yet in the fourth gospel, for which this is the central symbol, eternal life means a relationship to God in which man participates in this world. Here and now he may pass from death unto life.4

The New Testament term "love," agape. is that on which the whole Christian faith finally rests, for "God is love."5 Love is the content of the Kingdom, and it is the power of God’s love which brings the world into the Kingdom. Eternal life means life in the eternal love of God. Now this love by which and for which man is created, this love which constitutes the final good for which the creative and redemptive power of God is poured out, is revealed in Christ. For the answer to the question, "What is good?" the Christian looks at God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Christ is the restoration of the true image of man, because he is the incarnation of the love which is the meaning of our existence.

The problem of defining the ultimate good in Christian theology thus becomes that of interpreting as explicitly as possible the meaning of the agape disclosed in Christ. Thus the issues which are being debated anew in the theological turmoil today center in the meaning of Christian love as it points on the one side to the possibilities of human existence, and as it points on the other side to a fulfillment of this life in an ultimate good which transcends the possibilities of this world.

The problem we are attacking can be formulated in the following way: Can it be shown that the interests of man, the creature, and the earthly efforts of man to increase values in this life, bear a positive relation to the work of God’s love looking toward His Kingdom? It might seem that the answer is simple. We have said that God’s love is not a denial of this world. If He seeks the good for His creatures, surely every human achievement is a contribution to God’s goal. But the matter is not so simple. Beginning with the experience of Paul, the Christian view of this world which came to theological expression in the Reformers and which has now been revived with great power in the contemporary Protestant theology, has always shown a certain distrust of identifying human efforts toward the good with the divine work of redemption on the ground that the good as man knows it and seeks it is really of a different order from the good revealed in Christ. No human love, it is held, even the most idealistic, can be said to embody agape, the love of God, for human love is always limited and ambiguous in its object, and is corrupted by human selfishness in its essential spirit. "Man’s altruism and idealism are not only unreliable but also in the nature of the human case bound to the chariot of self-interest."6 If this be the truth of man’s situation, then we must make a sharp distinction between God’s work of redemption and all the manifold workings of human culture. The achievement of the artist, the philosopher. the artisan, the politician are not disparaged in themselves, but we must not confuse them with the divine working which is of another order. But if our thesis that the work of redemption includes a work of creation in which human creative effort shares is valid, then this radical separation between the divine love and man’s works of love must be shown to be a distortion of the fact. I wish to show that when Christian faith points to the Kingdom of God’s love as the ultimate good, it is pointing to a reality which cannot be absolutely separated from the imperfect goods for which men strive.

It is the possibility of holding to this unitary structure of the good wherever we find it in all the realms of human interest and value that makes it possible to integrate our conception of God with an ultimate standard of judgment for all particular values. To achieve this interpretation is, I suggest, the only true and saving answer to the quest of the Christian mind for unity in thought and life. The order of value which is defined by love is the unifying fact, partly realized, partly stretching beyond realization as a possibility, to which we can give our allegiance completely. It is the nature of God Himself.

The neo-orthodox school in theology today stands against this position. It insists that the love of God is of a radically different order from all human love and human values, and however these two orders are to be related they cannot be brought into a single structure. If we are to maintain our position it must be against this contrary view. Let us examine then two of the most powerful statements of it, those of Bishop Anders Nygren and of Reinhold Niebuhr, for I believe them to be in error and that error underlies much of the distortion in the Christian interpretation of man’s predicament into which we are being led. If the views of these theologians are correct, then the good accomplished in redemption lies in a different dimension from the goad realized by human effort, and we cannot sustain the thesis that the work of redemption involves as an integral aspect a process in this world, and the actualization of love in this life.


Bishop Nygren, in his great work, Agape and Eros, aims to set forth what he calls the fundamental motif of Christianity which distinguishes it from the nomos motif of Judaism and the eros motif of Hellenism.7 The motif, in the view of Professor Nygren’s school of historical study, means the answer which a religion gives to the most fundamental questions which can be asked concerning the way of salvation. In Judaism man becomes acceptable to God through conformity to God’s law, for God loves the righteous man. In Hellenistic religion, taking its inspiration from Plato, it is love as eros which leads man to God. Eros here is not carnal love, but rather the ascent of the soul out of the realm of the flesh toward God, who is true and absolute being. God draws man as the object of desire draws the one who desires. Man finds salvation and immortality by rising on the wings of eros into the being of God. The Christian motif is that of salvation through love, but this is the love which is named agape in the New Testament. It must be distinguished absolutely, according to Professor Nygren, from eros. Agape is the love of God coming down to sinful man. It is spontaneous, unmotivated, poured out for man without regard to merit. Man has no worth which gives him a claim upon the love of God, either before it is given or afterward.8 Man is brought into fellowship with God, but this is not the fellowship as in the eros way of holy men with a God to whom their holiness makes them acceptable, but it is fellowship of a forgiving God with forgiven sinners. Agape is completely self-giving love. God has given himself in Christ and thus makes possible salvation which man cannot in any way attain for himself.

Professor Nygren believes the motif of agape cannot be mixed with that of eros any more than can fire and water. The attempt to make a synthesis of them can only result in the damaging or the titter elimination of the truth of agape. Actually the two have been brought together in the history of Christian thought which Professor Nygren traces so superbly in his study, but all attempts at synthesis, including that of St. Augustine with his doctrine of love as caritas, and that of the medieval theologians and mystics who saw the problem and tried to make a place for unselfish love within the Christian doctrine, really obscured and corrupted the fundamental Christian truth which was recovered by Luther in the Protestant Reformation.

Our question concerning Professor Nygren’s work does not involve any rejection of the idea that in agape Christianity has a conception of God’s love which does transcend other religious motifs. Today when so much of man’s life lies in the shambles of physical and moral destruction, the word of a divine mercy which goes out creatively to man in love becomes the veritable rock of salvation. The question is whether the meaning of agape is adequately represented in Nygren’s formulation. I suggest that he has overstated certain tendencies in the agape motif in such a way that its positive relation to human striving and ideals is obscured.

One way of dealing with a theological doctrine is to ask what the consequences are to which it leads. If these cannot be accepted, then there is at least a strong suspicion that something is wrong with it. Professor Nygren’s interpretation of agape leads to some very curious consequences. The first is that since agape is given to an object not worthy of it, the Christian cannot really say that he has agape toward God. The whole conception of man’s love to God becomes a puzzle in Nygren’s view.9 Because of certain New Testament expressions, notably the first commandment emphasized by Jesus, he must allow it, but only in a "secondary" sense, the meaning of which remains unclear. If salvation means fellowship with God, it is hard to see what this could be except mutual love in some sense between man and God.

But more than this, man cannot even want to be found by God or saved, in Professor Nygren’s view, because desire for fellowship with God would be an egocentric desire and therefore man would really be cut off from God by the very fact of his desiring to find Him. It is difficult to see what Nygren would do with the beatitude, "Blessed are those which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. for they shall be filled," because according to him all hungering and thirsting is egocentric. Again in emphasizing that God’s love is poured out on the just and the unjust, Nygren apparently sets aside that aspect of the New Testament message which emphasizes God’s justice. He asks, "Why should God’s love necessarily direct itself to that which is better?"10 But if God’s love makes no distinction as to that which is better, then it is impossible to see what the moral life is at all. Nygren’s doctrine leads to a radical antinomianism. For example. with regard to the ethical ideal of altruism, he says:

. . . the so-called love of one’s neighbor. the "universal benevolence" or altruism, which, it is said, is to be retained, is in fact so far different from Christian love that it is its most fatal perversion; for even if such "humane" ideals present on the surface certain similarities with Christian love, they are built up on a wholly different foundation, and have really no connection with it at all.11

In cutting off agape from all human norms, Nygren overlooks the fact that from its beginning as disclosed in the New Testament, Christian faith has always kept a tension between God’s love and justice. There is a final separation of the good from the evil, however complex and mysterious the relation between mercy and justice may be. Nygren, like Kierkegaard, apparently allows no place for growth in grace. He says explicitly there is no ascent of the Christian toward God.12

The final consequence of this doctrine of agape is that it becomes unintelligible. Agape. Nygren holds, is irrational,13 Of course an irrational doctrine cannot be refuted, but then it cannot be brought into any significant relation to human experience. All of these consequences lead to the conclusion that this doctrine of agape is an unacceptable interpretation of the New Testament message. It sets forth the evangelical truth, but in such an extreme form as to constitute a reductio ad absurdum of this truth.

If we can show where Nygren’s analysis has gone astray, we shall be on the way toward finding a more adequate interpretation of agape. His fundamental error lies in two closely related assumptions: one having to do with theological method and the other with the conception of the structure of love. As to method Nygren assumes that the basic motif of any faith must be exclusive of the motifs of other faiths. This assumption that what is significant in Christianity must be the exclusive possession of Christianity runs all through the contemporary revival of reformation theology, and it has worked much mischief. That the Christian Gospel can be unique and yet remain positively related to what is known of God in other gospels seems to be everywhere denied by contemporary theologians. But why? This self-consciousness of Christianity about its distinctive truth is understandable when the Church finds itself opposed by a demonic religion such as Nazism. But a just appreciation of God’s general revelation of Himself should preserve the truth that Christianity has meaning for man precisely because it represents a fulfillment of the knowledge of God which is made possible through all the things which He has made, Nygren claims, of course, simply to be setting forth scientifically the fundamental Christian motif without arguing its truth or value against any other motif. But actually to set forth a doctrine of salvation with the assertion that this alone is Christianity and everything else a corruption of Christianity. makes a work polemical throughout. He does admit that quite possibly it was only through the conjoining of agape with elements of nomos and eros that agape could have made its way into the experience of man. But this admission in itself would certainly tend to suggest that there is a more organic bond between agape, nomos, and eros than he strictly allows.

The error Nygren makes with respect to the structure of love is related to this arbitrary exclusiveness of his method, for he assumes that love must be either purely egocentric or completely spontaneous and unmotivated, when actually all love does combine the desire of the self with the good of the other. The argument that if man desires God, his desire cannot be unselfish since it is really his own desire that he wants satisfied, is simply the old sophisticated argument against altruism. If I enjoy my neighbor’s good fortune I am really selfish in this since it is I who enjoy his good fortune. The real question is, therefore, whether if I derive satisfaction from my neighbor’s good, the source of my satisfaction is wholly in myself. This would be true only in one case, that is, if I and my neighbor are absolutely isolated beings. But love is possible precisely because man is a social creature. I can feel my neighbor’s feelings, identify myself with his good. Nygren overlooks the fact that the relationship between man and his neighbor and between man and God is fundamentally a social relationship in which the good of one actually does become the good of the other. Nygren regards the medieval doctrine of love as friendship (amor amicitiae) as a curious and invalid attempt to allow for the unselfish element in love. But if man is a social creature there is nothing curious or invalid about the doctrine that I can unselfishly enjoy my neighbor’s good.14 The logic of this problem and the solution I am urging has been set forth with a clarity equal to Nygren’s in Charles Hartshorne’s Man’s Vision of God.

A similar analysis must be made of Nygren’s view of God’s action as opposed to man’s action. That the initiative remains in some way with God in all responsible human action has been maintained fairly consistently in Christian theology. But Nygren does not seem to consider that God’s power can be primary and yet man can have a measure of creative freedom in himself. Interpreting Luther, Nygren says, The Christian is not an independent center of power alongside of God. . . . He has nothing of his own to give. He is merely the tube, the channel, through which God’s love flows."15 This conclusion which utterly negates human responsibility is not necessary. It is the very mark of love to allow power to the objects of love. The tendency in modern philosophical theology to interpret God’s power and man’s derived power as dynamically related in the ongoing of life is fundamentally sound, however it may have been oversimplified in the liberal period.

Just how this relationship is to be expressed is a part of the problem we are attacking. But it should be pointed out that we are not bound to the errors which have been made in some of the traditional formulations. Professor Nygren gives the impression; in a few places he says quite explicitly, that all attempts to mingle eros with agape lead directly to the self-deification, the metaphysical dualism between body and spirit, the self-righteousness of Platonism and mysticism, and we might add, of much modern liberal theology. But the real problem is so to formulate the relationship of God and man as to keep clear the distinction between them and yet not fall into a disparagement of man.

We must say, then, that there is nothing in the idea of agape which excludes the element of human desire for the good. But just here we have to admit the problem of the Christian life appears, for is it not so that our human love is actually egocentric, that under the guise of love to God or neighbor we insinuate our inordinate self-love into our most spiritual efforts? Man’s problem is not that agape stands entirely outside his desire, but practically it is that when sinful man desires he corrupts the spirit of love. That this is an aspect of the truth about man with which Christian theology must forever struggle, is becoming clear again in our time. To unmask the secret disguises of selfishness through the light of the love of God which seeketh not its own, is the heart of the evangelical message which Nygren’s work is enabling us to recover. How can this message be recovered in a way that does not disregard the positive worth of human effort in the sight of God? That this can be done is my thesis.


It is particularly instructive to turn from Nygren’s work to that of Reinhold Niebuhr, for the latter is a theologian who sees the truth for which Nygren is contending and yet who insists that there is a way of bringing agape into a positive relation to the human struggle for the ideals of justice and brotherhood. Niebuhr is also instructive in this connection because it is out of his own practical acquaintance with political and social struggles that he rediscovers the transcendent element in Christian love. Nothing can be wider of the mark than to interpret Niebuhr as intending a complete pessimism. His aim is so to bring the Christian perspective into the concrete political and social experience of modern life that the possibility of achieving justice and brotherhood in human affairs will be increased because men are in some measure freed from the sentimental and romantic notions which can only lead to bitter disillusionment. Christian love must be seen in its positive significance for human efforts in history, and at the same time its transcendent position of judgment upon all human effort must be preserved. How is this to be done?

Niebuhr’s solution consists in making a distinction between sacrificial and mutual love. Sacrificial love is agape. It is the self-giving love of God. It is man’s final norm, his true good. Sacrificial love is forgiving. It is poured out to the other without calculating the merit of the other or reward to the self. Only such love as this, given to man by God, can redeem the inevitable failures of man’s own spirit. Mutual love is good will which is reciprocated. It is the will to the good of the other, but a good in which the self participates.16 Mutual love is not, therefore, the love which we know in God. The limit of mutual love is the inclusion of the good of the self in the good intended. Now Niebuhr holds that mutual love is possible for man. No limits to which it may be realized in wider and wider areas of brotherhood can be set.

Is sacrificial love possible for man? Here the answer seems to be: in an absolute sense it is not possible for man. The well-known phrase "impossible possibility" stands here in Niebuhr’s thought for the warning that the pure love of God transcends human possibility.17 At the same time an element of uncalculating sacrificial giving of the self to the good of the other is possible for man. Indeed Niebuhr believes that unless there is a degree of sacrificial love in human mutuality, mutuality will break down. "The self cannot achieve relations of mutual and reciprocal affection with others if its actions are dominated by the fear that they may not be reciprocated."18 When the pure love of God appears in history in Christ, the limits of history for realizing agape are seen, for Christ must refuse "to participate in the claims and counterclaims of historical existence."19 He can symbolize disinterested love only by refusing to become involved in historical rivalries. His life ends on the cross which stands at the edge of history showing man what his spirit ought to be, at the same time that it discloses what man as man cannot be. Niebuhr thus seems to have brought together the perfect love of God which transcends all selfishness with the human yearning for mutuality and the struggle of man for justice. By asserting the paradoxical relationship of sacrificial and mutual love he holds them together without identifying them. The Christian Gospel becomes a support of the human struggle for the good, a prophetic criticism of the spirit of that struggle, and a final assertion that man receives from God the forgiveness which enables him both to know and to accept his limitations.

Is this really a solution? Can Christian love be divided into two kinds of love held together only in the tenuous bonds of paradox? The great danger of this solution is that it leaves agape and therefore the very foundation of the Christian life fragmented and unintelligible. I do not wish to criticize the direction of Niebuhr’s solution, for that is precisely in line with the attempt to bring the doctrine of redemption into organic relation with the realization of human good in history. But Niebuhr’s formulation of the doctrine of love is not beyond criticism. The alternative to it can be plainly seen if we ask the simple question, "What is the good which the spirit of agape seeks -- what does Christian love intend?" The answer to this must be in any Christian view that agape both in God and in man intends the Kingdom of God, that is, the bringing of all things to creative dynamic harmony under the sovereign rule of God. Professor Niebuhr really accepts this: "The highest unity is a harmony of love in which the self relates itself in its freedom to other selves in their freedom under the will of God."20 But if this be true where is the "ultimate contradiction" between the self-assertion of the human life and the divine agape?21

The Kingdom of God, let us say, is not the negation of any self, but rather the fulfillment of it. Therefore, agape intends a good which does include the ultimate good of the self. In intention universal mutual love and sacrificial love are one, for what is intended is the mutual good of all, and where this is really intended the self is ready to sacrifice anything for that good except the good itself. A formulation such as this is the only defense against a doctrine of love which involves the annihilation of the self. The difficulty which it involves in the Christian life must be faced in a moment. But here I want to point out that Niebuhr has not succeeded in bringing together his doctrine that sacrificial love is complete self-giving on the one hand, and his admission that the ultimate good involves the good of the self on the other.

This becomes quite clear in the case of a most interesting illustration which Niebuhr gives of the problem of the moral life. On the basis of his definition of agape he is forced to the conclusion:

. . . It is not even right to insist that every action of the Christian must conform to agape, rather than to the norms of relative justice and mutual love by which life is maintained and conflicting interests are arbitrated in history. For as soon as the life and interest of others than the agent are involved in an action or policy, the sacrifice of those interests ceases to be "self-sacrifice." It may actually become an unjust betrayal of their interests.22

This example reveals what is mistaken in Niebuhr’s doctrine. He assumes that when I defend the interests of others my act can conform to agape in a sense which is impossible if I defend myself. But if the real good includes justice, then what difference in principle between defending justice for myself and justice for others? There is none. I say "in principle" because what Niebuhr is really pointing out is that when my own interests are involved the tendency to a corrupt assertion of those interests is very great, perhaps unavoidable in human life. It is not by any means clear, however, that even this must be admitted without qualification.

Suppose a man belongs to an exploited group of workers. If he organizes a union with the intent of creating the power which can secure justice is he deficient in love because he recognizes himself as a worker and intends that the justice which is won shall benefit all workers including himself? On Niebuhr’s view it would always be impossible for the Christian to identify himself with the cause for which he links his life with others, a curious conclusion. In this connection Niebuhr’s statement that Christ did not participate in the claims and counterclaims of historical existence should be challenged. What of the defiance of the institution of the Sabbath? What of the attack on the Pharisees? What of the blessing pronounced upon the poor? These were assertions in history of what love intends which had enormous practical consequences for historical institutions and powers. Even the saying. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s," which has indeed meant all things to all men, does assert that there are claims which God makes in history. Since that statement was uttered the political order has always found itself confronted by religious orders which point to these claims and their consequences.

We said that in principle the good which agape seeks must include the good of the self, for the Kingdom of God does not exclude any good, even my own. But the phrase "in principle" is important because the question arises whether it is possible for this very human flesh to include its own good in intention without corrupting it. It is because Niebuhr sees the difficulty here and is able to point out with such profound insight all the ways in which we deceive ourselves about our unselfishness that his work is of such inestimable value. But the problem of sacrificial love is a practical problem of the Christian life. What Niebuhr has done is to take the useful, practical distinction between intending my own good and intending the good of another without regard for self, and then to raise this distinction to the level of a metaphysical dualism between sacrificial and mutual love. St. Augustine is on sounder ground when he asserts that what we find in God is just our own true good for which we were created.23


These analyses point the way to a formulation of the idea of the Kingdom of God which can be held without self-contradiction, and which does offer a basis upon which the infinite variety and complexity of moral and spiritual judgments can be made. In stating in summary fashion the Christian conception of the Kingdom of God we are not pretending that we can see perfectly what this means, nor are we saying that we can arrive at a formal principle which can act as a rule by which all Christian value judgments can be simply made. Love is a spirit which overflows in a sense all static rules and formal principles. What we can partially grasp in our Christian experience is love’s essential pattern, not its blueprint.24

The clue to our answer as to the nature of the good has already been suggested. The love which is revealed in Christ is a love which seeks the fulfillment of all things in such a relationship to one another that what flows from the life of each enriches the life of all, and each participant in the whole life finds his own good realized through the giving of self to the life of the whole. What may seem abstract in formal statement is practical and clear in our common experience. The fuller good resides where this life and that life, this natural fact and that spiritual aspiration go together in such a way that each person becomes more a whole person in serving the total order of life actual and possible of which he is a part. Let us emphasize that this is an organic as over against a mechanical conception of the good. The rule of the greatest good for the greatest number, for example, has a certain practical validity, but it implies that the greater good can be arrived at by addition whereas our principle points to the fact that the real good involves qualitative transformation of the order of life into a more subtle and complete mutual participation.

A universal community, then, in which each member is more free, more mature, more powerful through what he gives to and receives from every other member, is the best order we can think. It is the real good. It is the meaning of the Kingdom of God for human experience. The will to this community and the spirit in which we intend it and receive it is love.

We are speaking formally of the structure of the Kingdom of God. What this means concretely in all the uniqueness, variety, and infinite creativity of life, we can only faintly imagine and through experience patiently discover. It holds all the vast mystery of God within it and it stretches beyond our sight into the far reaches of time and eternity. But in the Christian experience of God’s love in Christ, we have learned the secret of the Kingdom. We know what it means in human terms. It presses upon our human existence and we enter into it as God transforms our wills. How far the realization of the will to the Kingdom of God is possible for us is the question to which we must turn in the next chapter. We are recognizing here that in human experience we are not without a glimpse of the meaning of the Kingdom, and that in Christian experience we have seen its truth.

It remains to underline certain consequences of this Christian definition of the good. First as to the relation between mutual and sacrificial love. The good which the love of God intends is an order of mutuality. In His Kingdom all selves, all real values have their place. While each gives itself to the whole, each has its own claim upon the whole, For the good is just the good of each in the good of all. It is therefore not a denial of Christian love to intend my own good in the service of the Kingdom. That is the foundation of human struggles for freedom, justice. adequate material goods, more universal brotherhood. The Christian can intend nothing less than these, for they have their place in the Kingdom of God. The movement of redemption means nothing without them. The skillful mind and fingers of the surgeon who relieves human suffering, the plodding work of the politician who wades through the mud of political compromise to hold a city or a world together, the honest workmanship of the manual laborer or the creative artist -- all of these are more indispensable to the Kingdom than the purest religious intention which will not stain itself with worldly action. According to St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus accepts in the final judgment those who have fed the hungry and clothed the naked. This is no defense of the secular spirit. It is the assertion of the religious meaning of the secular life. As Dean Willard Sperry has said, "Christianity, thus interpreted, becomes not an added entity outside the major tasks of daily life, . . . but the sum of all particulars of unselfish and sacrificial service in the day’s work, and an experience of actual community of sustaining spirit."25

The love which intends the mutuality of the Kingdom must become by that very intention sacrificial love, for the good is more than my good and the real good involves the giving of myself to the whole. Only a transformation of the human spirit into the willing. ness to give the self to the whole can suffice for the Kingdom. Here the pity and mystery of human sin shows itself. For I want to possess my good in myself alone. What is demanded of me is that nothing particular that I want for my own, even life, may be set against the claim of the Kingdom. The Christian sacrifice stands not on the basis of the simple altruistic formula of giving my life for others, but on the basis of so committing my life to the whole good of the Kingdom that nothing of my own shall stand in the way of this loyalty.

We can now see the sense in which the Christian view of the good involves the transvaluation of human values without negating them. Every judgment as to what is good must be made on the basis of what this particular concrete experience or action does for the movement of life toward the Kingdom. In the case of pleasure, for example, it is impossible to say whether pleasure is good or bad in itself. The question is what does this concrete particular pleasure do to the person who enjoys it, and to those whom his life touches. Kahlil Gibran says, "The lust for comfort murders the soul and then walks grinning in the funeral."26 The higher virtues such as courage, temperance, however noble in themselves, still stand under the judgment of how in a particular life they serve or block the growth of the one universal good. The most refined religiousness can become God’s most stubborn opposition as the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees makes clear. Furthermore, it is true that suffering, pain, and conflict cannot be judged evil in themselves from the Christian point of view. They may serve to increase the sensitivity of the human spirit and to work its transformation into the spirit of love. Nowhere in life is the power of faith more apparent than in its capacity to make man face any experience, no matter what, with the hope that out of it some real good can come. This does not mean that no moral distinctions are to be made in life and that no experience should be avoided. There is evil -- positive, destructive, violent. But any situation, no matter how riddled with evil, is subject to the creative transformation through which the human spirit is turned toward its true good.

We say man can be turned toward his true good, but is not that good always beyond? The transcendence of the Kingdom of God over the possibilities of this world consists partly in the obvious fact that the full realization of the whole order of mutuality is far from complete. But there is a deeper problem. In life as it is given to us to live, there seem to be permanent conditions which stand against the order of mutuality so that this world yearns for a good which in its very nature it cannot embody. Nature sets life against life. Human values split into a thousand varieties of incompatible ideals. We find ourselves divided by our very efforts to realize the wholeness of life. Berdyaev says that the creative life cannot aim at redemption. "Creative genius is not concerned with salvation or perdition. . . . If Pushkin went in for asceticism and sought the salvation of his soul, he would probably have ceased to be a great poet."27 Professor Calhoun warns all sentimental humanitarians not to forget the "cruel puzzle" that truth-seeking and generosity can get man into trouble.28 The human mind frequently seems to break down at the attempt to make valid practical judgments among the goods and evils of experience.

What we have tried to achieve so far is a statement of the meaning of the Kingdom. There is a goal of redemption which however vast and beyond our power to comprehend, still has an intelligible meaning in relation to our human values.

The attempt to define the good leads therefore to the question whether in any sense the order of complete mutuality is possible in this world. Is it possible for our very human flesh even to intend it? Can the love of God become the substance and the spirit of our life? To this question we now turn in an analysis of human society as it stands in relation to the Kingdom of God.

By arriving at this positive conclusion concerning the relation of self-realization in human life to the Kingdom of God we have not solved the problem of how far self-realization in the Kingdom of God is possible within human existence as we know it. Let us be clear about that. But by avoiding some of the errors in statements of this relationship which do violence to the nature of love we may prepare the way for a more reasoned judgment as to the possibility of this world’s redemption. Love is to the Christian a term which points to an infinite holiness which always stands in judgment upon man, but the judgment is against man’s sin, not against his existence as a man.


1) Amos N. Wilder, The Spiritual Aspects of the New Poetry (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940), p. 164.

2) Luke 17:21; John 18:36.

3) Mark 8:35.

4) John 5:24.

5) I John 4:8.

6) Richard Niebuhr’s characterization of the Christian view of man in The Kingdom of God in America, p. 102.

7) Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (London: S.P.C.K., English trans., Pt. I, 1932, Pt. II, 1938).

8) Ibid., Part I, p. 174.

9) Ibid., p. 95.

10) Ibid., p. 51.

11) Ibid., p. 68.

12) Ibid., Pt. II, p. 406.

13) Ibid., Pt. II, p. 128.

14) Ibid., Pt. II, pp. 426 ff.

15) Ibid., Pt. II, pp. 516-17.

16) Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. II, p. 68-9.

17) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 76.

18) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 69.

19) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 72.

20) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 95.

21) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 90.

22) Ibid., Vol. II, p. 88. Niebuhr has recently written that the term "self-love" should be dropped from the discussion because "it is too inexact." He continues, "The Christian criticism of self-love is primarily directed against the self’s preoccupation with itself by which preoccupation it narrows and impoverishes its life." Christianity and Society, Spring, 1948, p. 27.

But this statement would seem to come all the way to a definition of love as the will to complete mutuality.

23) St. Augustine, On the Freedom of the Will, chap. xvii, paragraphs 45, 46.

24) My indebtedness here is to H. N. Wieman and Charles Hartshorne, and to Dr. Harold Bosley’s analysis in The Quest for Religious Certainty (New York:Harper & Brothers, 1939).

25) Willard L. Sperry, The Disciplines of Liberty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921), p. 175.

26) Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), p. 39.

27) N. Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1937), pp. 167-68.

28) Robert L. Calhoun, "The Dilemma of Humanitarian Modernism," in the Oxford Conference volume, The Christian Understanding of Man, ed. J. H. Oldham (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938), p. 81.