Chapter 6: Love and Being

The Spirit and the Forms of Love
by Daniel Day Williams

Chapter 6: Love and Being

Being and loving are united in human life. Persons come into the world through an act which may be an expression of love. The child grows under the nurture of love which is first experienced through physical contact which is as necessary to life as food. We are told that ‘lonely infants fed and cared for regularly and with sterile impersonal efficiency do not live into childhood’.1 Growth to maturity consists in discovering what and whom we love and how we respond to the love of others. We would not know how to tell what it means to be human without an account of love.

In this chapter we ask a very old question, as old as Empedocles and Plato’s Symposium, ‘What light does our understanding of love throw upon what it means to be?’ We saw that for St. Augustine love and being are ultimately one, but we also saw that he has difficulty making freedom and, therefore, human love intelligible. We are in search of an alternative understanding of love and being in which the freedom and creativity of human loves have their place and in which the love of God is understood in his involvement with a real history. We are in need of a metaphysical doctrine in which we understand reality in the light of the existence of loving beings within it.

Our thesis in this chapter is that it is possible to gain metaphysical insight through an analysis of love. We do not undertake a complete defence of the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. The issue as to whether we can have an intelligible account of ‘being’ is indeed vigorously discussed in philosophy today, and we cannot treat with indifference the serious questions raised by modern analytic philosophy about the meaning of statements about being. But I see no other way to a defence of metaphysical thought than to exhibit its power to illuminate human experience. What we undertake here is a very modest segment of the total enterprise. It is simply to ask what kinds of structures we find present in the human experience of love. We can then reflect upon what implications our account of these structures may have for a doctrine of God’s being and his relationship to the world.

The question of what we are doing when we reflect metaphysically about love is so important that a brief account of the relation of our method here to other metaphysical methods is in order. In the philosophical tradition the metaphysicians have usually taken one of two opposing routes to the knowledge of what it means to be. The platonists and idealists turned to reason and the human spirit to find a higher order of being which transcends space, time and matter. They tried to reach a realm of being which is the foundation of the world but which transcends all the limitations of finite existence. The naturalists on the other hand, with a powerful impetus from Aristotle, took the categories of physics and biology such as form and matter, time and space, cause and effect, and sought real being in that which man shares with all nature. Descartes’ attempt to put the two methods together with a doctrine of two modes of being, extended substance and thinking substance, is an uneasy and ultimately unworkable compromise.

A third way to metaphysical knowledge is being explored in contemporary philosophy. Here process philosophy finds something in common with the phenomenologists and the existentialists. The new method represents in one sense a much more modest approach to metaphysics. It does not seek a complete scheme and final knowledge. It proposes to describe significant aspects of human experience in order to gain some illuminating perspectives on the nature of the whole to which man belongs. Thus Martin Heidegger begins his search for ‘being’ with the analysis of Da-sein, man’s being there, his concrete existence in space and time with the attendant realities of care, anxiety, freedom, working, using, deciding and dying. Alfred North Whitehead has much more concern than Heidegger for the problems of the new scientific world-views but he is not so different in his metaphysical method as he takes his departure from immediate human experience, establishes the category of feeling as his major clue to being and then seeks to elaborate the structures of human experience such as perceiving, remembering, valuing, becoming, and dying as giving us the structural scheme for interpreting all experience.2

What we may thus attain is not absolute truth in a total vision of reality but illumination of those aspects of our being which are determinative of all experience but are so easily overlooked. Human existence is one form of being and our interpretation must be such as to make human experience intelligible. Whatever is present in the inescapable structures of human experience must be present in ‘being-itself’ to use that as a synonym for ultimate reality. Indeed, except as sheer mystery, ‘being-itself’ has no meaning apart from the forms of being we encounter. If there are other aspects of being we have no way of knowing them. Being includes more than the human, all experience tells us that, but being is that which creates, and shapes human existence. In proposing then a description of the essential structures present in human love we are doing something akin to What Plato did without being committed to projecting these forms of experience into some absolutely transcendent realm. It is characteristic of Plato to begin with some question out of human experience such as ‘what is justice?’ and to pursue the analysis dialectically until that structure of being appears which makes the human experience of justice intelligible. The Form of the Good in the Republic is the category which makes justice, temperance, courage and wisdom intelligible. In the Symposium Plato used this method of getting at the nature of being by analysing love, and he there laid down the lines of a metaphysical method for interpreting love and being in a way which will prove relevant for us. Later Platonism and Neo-platonism became preoccupied with the dialectical problems of the Parmenides, and tended to lose the concreteness of Plato’s humanistic method.3 We are to probe the meaning of being through considering the forms of human love. At the very least, such a method might open up certain possibilities for metaphysical understanding which have been overlooked. This I believe can be shown to be the case.

We shall concentrate our attention on interpersonal love, and thus accept a certain restriction on the range of our method. We speak of love in many relations. Animals may love their masters and be loved by them. A man can love innumerable things, his tools, his play, his country, the landscape, food, music, silence. Our concentration on interpersonal love focuses attention on a particular form of experience. We can raise later the question of the relation of love of persons to other loves.

It is important to recognize that we do not restrict our inquiry to sexual love. It is arguable that all human loves have a sexual factor, but this certainly is not the definitive element in all. The categorial conditions for which we are searching may be the same for all human loves, whether sexual or not. Sexuality raises as many questions about the possibility of human love as it settles. It is noteworthy that Jean-Paul Sartre, a masterly phenomenologist, sees the structure of love as more fundamental than sexuality in man’s existence. But Sartre’s analysis leads to the conclusion that each individual is enclosed within himself and going out of oneself to the other, which is the meaning of love, is really impossible.4 If, against Sartre, we say that love is possible, what would be the conditions of being which it would require?


I propose five categories as necessary for love:

1. Individuality, and taking account of the other

Love requires real individuals, unique beings, each bringing to the relationship something which no other can bring. The individuals must be capable of taking account of one another in their unique individuality. In Leibnitzian language, there must be monads, but they must have ‘windows’. This ‘taking account of the other’ means that each brings to the relationship an originality which belongs to him alone and each finds in the other an originality which belongs to that other alone. The individual who takes account of the other cannot see him merely as the illustration of a type. There will be in every experience of love forms and qualities which are experienced by countless others; but unless these universal forms are known in what makes the beloved this individual and no other, that which gives authenticity to love is not present. This position helps to uncover one aspect of the confusion in much popular language about love which treats it as a universal experience which is merely illustrated in particular cases.

We can see the necessity of this categorical obligation to preserve individuality if we consider the standpoint of one who is the receiver of love from another. If I am loved merely as one who illustrates a general type, then I know I am really not loved at all. I dissolve into a universal who is ‘loved’ by another universal. But persons are not universals; they are unique and irreplaceable subjects who exemplify abstract universals, but whose being is never wholly contained by them.

It is a corollary of this analysis that if love be possible at all, then a non-defensive relationship to another is possible without destroying the individuality either of the lover or the beloved. Put positively, this means that relationship to the other can be a concern for the other which does not negate the selfhood of the lover or destroy the uniqueness of the one who is loved.

Experience in the psychological clinic shows the great importance of this doctrine. The fear of loving another or of being loved by another in anxiety for loss of self is a common neurotic symptom. All human love must overcome this fear, for in love two unique beings undergo a transformation through what each gives and receives, and this always involves a threat to the self as it is. Hence one of the categorical conditions of love is that there be a transforming relationship without destruction of individuality. To anticipate briefly, this gives us ground for criticism of many distortions of religious love, both love for God and love for man. The religious and ethical love which begins as response to God’s love can very easily become depersonalized. But it is persons who love, and they risk being changed if they really love.

2. Freedom

There is a familiar image of ‘falling in love’ which sees love as fate, not freedom. To find oneself ‘in love’ is a state from which no act of will can extricate us, and for which no decision of ours is an explanation.

There is surely something here which belongs in any description of the conditions of love. There is no absolute freedom in human experience, and elements of arbitrariness, accident, and determinism enter into any relationship. But when we consider not only the beginnings of love but its full course, we must affirm freedom as one of its categorical conditions. This point needs to be developed. There are three aspects of the matter.

First, love always has an historical context. The ‘not yet’ is always an element in the experience of love, the future which has certain ineluctable features and yet which in its concreteness is unknown. Take the example of death. If Heidegger is right we are always dimly aware that life runs toward death, yet only in special circumstances are we able to know precisely about our own death.5 This means that every commitment in the relationship of love is made in a history with risk and uncertainty. Our freedom in love consists in which we accept, face, and interpret that risk. It may be assumed and faced or denied and repressed, but we cannot give ourselves authentically to another in love without the will to assume the demands and risks which are present. How we accept and deal with these demands is never purely impersonal and automatic, no matter how ‘fated’ or compelling the initial emotion or circumstances may be. We learn what it means to love not from initial attraction, but from the decisions which have to be made in the new life history into which love bids us enter.

The second aspect of the categorical demand of freedom is that to love is to affirm and accept the freedom of the other. It is not only the future course of life which holds the risk and promise of the unknown. The ‘Other’ makes his decisions about that future and in that history. To love is to accept another who makes his own decisions, including that of the love relationship itself. In loving I make the history of another’s freedom my history. The refusal to accept the other’s freedom to be and to decide is a failure in love, for we deny that in the other which is essential to love itself.

The decisive point concerning freedom is that if in love we will to be loved by another, then we must will the other’s freedom to love or not to love. Nothing is more pathetic than the attempt to compel or coerce the love of another, for it carries self-defeat within it. That which is coerced cannot be love, hence in love we will that the other give his love freely. At the heart of every human love there is a dependence upon freedom which cannot be either bought or compelled.

The ability to love implies, thirdly, that we risk our existence in a relationship where predestination, in the sense of determination by something less than person will, would destroy the meaning of love. Certainly the desire, the longing and concern for the love of the other is present, but this is subject to the absolute categorial condition that the other be free.

If freedom is never absent from love, neither is it ever unconditional freedom. It is qualified by the physical, emotional, and historical circumstances in which love exists. Further, all love has a history in the self, a beginning, a growth, a confrontation with crisis and decision, and such freedom as we have must be found within this history. We are free to make a commitment, but once it is made we are not free with respect to its having been made. We inherit emotional patterns and physical qualities, as well as cultural conditioning. One of the marks of authentic love is growth in freedom to acknowledge the realities, and to keep the integrity of the self within those realities.

3. Action and Suffering

To love is to act. Loving involves feelings, emotions, cravings, valuations and sharing, and all these require a movement toward the other, whether it be overt physical movement or the movement of the spirit. The power to act is a condition of love; but it follows that the capacity to be acted upon, to be moved by another, is also required; for to act in love is to respond, and to have one’s action shaped by the other. It is this latter side of love which is often overlooked or misinterpreted, and it is of especial importance. It is the other side of the category of individuality. In love we give of our personal being and uniqueness. But we do not love unless our personal being is transformed through the relation to the other.

This means that there can be no love without suffering. Suffering in its widest sense means the capacity to be acted upon, to be changed, moved, transformed by the action of or in relation to another. The active side of love requires that we allow the field of our action and its meaning to be defined by what the other requires. To be completed in and by another is to be acted upon by that other. To be fulfilled in human love is to have one’s freedom circumscribed (not destroyed) by the other’s freedom. This meaning of suffering as being acted upon is essential here entirely apart from suffering as the undergoing of pain, although of course pain is one form of suffering.

It is one of the conditions of love that suffering enters into the texture and meaning of the relationship. It is by what is suffered as well as by what is given that love is recognized and its quality affirmed. Any experience of love includes the discovery of the other through what the other suffers for, with, and because of me. The evidence of love is nowhere deeper than this. ‘Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friend.’

Suffering therefore is not something incidental or external to love; but it enters into the new life which love creates between persons. It is not only that in committing oneself to another we take the risks of certain kinds of suffering. It is that we accept the inevitability of being conformed to the other. When we love, we enter a history in which suffering is one condition of the relationship. We are to be conformed to the need of another. The sacraments of love, the giving and receiving, the shattering of self-centredness in authentic love, the refusal to possess without the free acceptance of the other, all disclose the significance of suffering as a constituent aspect of love.

Suffering has the power of communication. An examination of this power leads us further into the nature of love.

The forms of suffering are innumerable. There is destructive suffering, accidental suffering, apparently meaningless suffering. There is suffering which leads to growth, which becomes a source of creativity, and which challenges response. Suffering can lead to ugliness or to beauty. It can unite and divide. Any form of suffering can be a means of expression; a communication from spirit to spirit. It becomes a language of feeling and of caring and that is its importance for love. It can also be used as a weapon against the spirit. It can be used to create status and to tyrannize over others. But its great service to love is as the means by which one spirit reveals itself to another. This is why art or drama which describes love without suffering is trivial. The great literature of love is filled with suffering. Without suffering we are not spoken to in the depths. There is something more profound than catharsis in the aesthetic experience. It is the reconstituting of our being through the truth communicated through suffering.

The theme of humour in love belongs here at least in part. Humour is communicative and one reason is that it is very close to suffering. We are not speaking of the bitter and destructive humour that accompanies much conventional description of sexual love, romantic attachment, and marriage. We are speaking of humour which is enjoyed in love. Some is the humour of sheer play and delight. Some rises from what makes really profound humour, the sense of limitations, the ironies of fate, the recognition of our common humanity in this strange and incomprehensible existence. To say that without humour there can be no love may be to forget the element of temperament; but there is no doubt that there is a communication in love which involves the play and laughter which come from suffering together the human condition.

Our thesis that in the relationship of love suffering becomes a means of communication from spirit to spirit will enter into our consideration of how the divine love is expressed when we discuss the atonement.

4. Causality

Something must be said at this point about the way in which the categories involve one another. Each needs the other for its full explication. What we have said about action, suffering and communication implies causality. Since Buber and Nygren want to speak about love in ‘non-causal’ terms our alternative analysis of this category is especially necessary.6 I argue against Buber and Nygren that love is meaningless without causality. Unless the actions and suffering of one move the other to action and suffering, the relationship is futile. But we must see the nature of this ‘moving’. There are complexities in the relation of love to causality.

Love implies that there is a causal relationship which is compatible with freedom and with concern for the other’s freedom. Mechanical causality is present in nature and in all human action, but mechanical causality must be superseded by another type where love is actualized. By mechanical causality I mean that which operates without any purpose of valuation except immediate and habitual response to a particular stimulus.

In love the kind of causality must be operative in which intentions are alterable in the very process of their exercise. We have stressed the role of the future in the commitment of love to the other. To love is to enter relationship in which the growth of love transforms the initial motivation. Dante’s pilgrimage toward the vision of God which begins with the love of Beatrice is an archetypal account of this pilgrimage. Preoccupation with origins is fatal to love. This means that the causation which occurs in love must be of such sort that the growth and alteration of the persons and of the meaning of their love must be possible within the structure of causality which love exemplifies. That is to say, any absolute determinism is excluded.

Causality in love involves not only the prehension of the past but response to possibilities in the future.7 Human freedom depends on real openness to the future. It follows that some future possibility can function as a cause, and in such a way that our decisions regarding the future have an element of freedom. Of course this does not require absolute freedom, whatever that would be. It is the requirement that for the reality of love human decisions must enter into the determination of the future.

We see that the causality operative in love does notexclude coercion. The issue here is ethical as well as metaphysical. In love we impose conditions upon one another both intentionally and unintentionally. We restrain one another, oppose our wills to the other’s use of his freedom. We set conditions, pass judgments, and make demands. All these are aspects of human relationships which are intensified where there is love. But so long as love is present all such demands and conditions are intended for the sake of the other and for the growth of love. Certainly the condition ‘so long as love is present’ is supremely difficult. Much of sin gets into the human spirit under the guise of love; but the sin is not always the coercion of the other, it is the perversion of goals, the misuse of power, and the self-justification which grows not from love but from its absence.

One corollary of this view is that creativity in human relationship can never be the sheer imposition of one will upon another, It must be the kind of action, with whatever coercion is involved, which so far as possible leaves the other more free to respond. The goals of teaching, nurture, persuasion, punishment, when pursued in love mean the search in freedom for more freedom.

Love is often spoken of as being itself a cause, an effective power. The problems here involve many metaphysical questions about cause and power. One aspect of the power of human love can be singled out here. The discovery that we are loved does have a causally efficacious power which creates through that experience the transformation of the self. This is one of the most important themes in the psychoanalytic doctrine of love, not only in the Freudian school but also in all depth psychology. The attitudes and responses which the self finds in others are powerful factors in moving the self. Being loved creates a new person. We can make the general statement that inter-personal relations constitute a field of force in which action in any part of the field alters the structure of the field and all the elements within it. Psychology and other inquiries must fill in the empirical details here, complex and mysterious as they are. The decisive point is that there are several types of causality in interpersonal relations, and that there are unique aspects of causality between persons which reveal both the efficacy of love and its distortions. it is to be observed that Aristotle’s doctrine of final causation, whatever its place in the order of love, is a relevant if inadequate way to describe the dynamics of personal relationship. We are drawn toward what is yet to be. And it is not only being drawn to an object of desire which is at work in love, but also the transforming experience of coming within the orbit of the love of another.

5. Impartial Judgment in Loving Concern for the Other

Love is often described in terms which contradict impartiality and exclude any kind of evaluation. This is the case not only in descriptions of romantic love as unhinging the reason, but even the highest love is sometimes so interpreted. For example, Martin Buber and Anders Nygren put the highest love in tension with and even in opposition to rational calculation and objective evaluation. I propose a counter thesis, that there can be no real love without the rational function which aims to transcend personal bias, and which assesses objectively the human situation, including that of the lover, the beloved, and their relationship.

Consider that if love is concern for the other as he really is, then objective knowledge must enter the experience of what it means to commit oneself to the other. It is the sheerest sentimentality to suppose that love can dispense with objective knowledge. To be is to be involved in particular structures of existence, and to be a person is to respect the precise relationships of body, culture, and spirit in which we stand to others. For example, to love another person in the commitment of marriage is to deal with all that person’s relationships, ancestry, family, vocation and life history, ‘for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’. To love is to accept responsibility for assessing the real situation in which we love, and that means self-discovery and discovery of the other. This does indeed require more than reason. Love contributes to knowledge and loving is in a sense a way of knowing; yet love does not yield knowledge by itself, but only in relation to the objective analysis of experience. The demand for impartiality in judgment then is not a contradiction of love; but the high tribute which love pays to the other, the tribute of seeking the truth in the other and the other in the truth.

This same point may be put in relation to the discovery of the ‘needs’ of the other. Even the most radical assertions that the divine love is ‘uncalculating’ usually come with the concession that love is concern for the need of the neighbour. But how shall we discover needs except by realistic appraisal and understanding? It is the precise trick of emotional bias to make us believe we are exercising love because we are giving the other what we think he needs. We may be ignorant of the real need and actually be satisfying ourselves instead of the other. It is not loving concern alone which tells us what needs are; the structures of human existence, and their discernment require impartial, loving judgment, united with critical reflection.

The settlement of claims in the light of an objective standard available to all is the meaning of equity, and equity is not the contradiction of love but one of the principles by which love respects the actualities of life. Without love we do fall below the standard of equity, and without forgiveness we miss that element in love which transcends purely rational justice. But love without equity becomes depersonalized. Charles Hartshorne says: ‘Love is the effort to act upon adequate awareness of others, awareness at least as adequate ideally as one has of oneself.’8

One of the real dilemmas of human love appears here since love always seems to require concentration of concern upon some and not upon others. This produces a tension in every judgment of human need. Parents protect their children at the expense of other children. Sin enters here quite readily and easily amidst genuine moral dilemmas. But if the claim of justice is one of the structures of existence, then the being of the other is violated if this claim is not honoured, even in love. We see why in the strongest human loves concern for the other will be tempered with concern for the larger causes of justice which both must respect. This is in part, at least, what St. Augustine means by loving the other ‘in God’. Only as we love the fullness of God’s purpose more than any other by himself can we really love at all.


We come to the question of what use we can make of this analysis of human love when we speak of the love of God. Is not the heart of faith the recognition that God is utterly different from man? God is creator and not creature; Lord and sovereign, not dependent and limited by the conditions of our existence. Our knowledge of the love of God must come from his self-disclosure. It is not a projection from our human loves.

We have seen in our study of the biblical view of love that if we say human experience throws no light on the meaning of the divine love, we are departing from the biblical mode of speaking about God. The Bible uses many human images and analogies: master and servant, husband and bride, father and son. It is not only philosophers who have tried to think of God through human analogies, it is the way of the biblical witness.

Let us put the point in another way. It may be that all human analogies fail in describing the love of God. But the question of what God’s love means requires us still to interpret the scriptural language. We have seen that the interpretation of love in the biblical faith has taken several directions in history. We have also seen that the traditional Christian interpretations of love have been largely influenced by one kind of philosophical thought about being. It is surely conceivable that another analysis of love in human experience might open up possibilities of understanding the meaning of the love of God testified to in the Bible in a way which breaks through traditional concepts. The spirit of love is greater than any of its forms of expression or comprehension.

I am arguing then for a revolution in ontological thinking, if we are to speak more clearly about love. On the strictest biblical terms there must be something in common between the words we use to speak about God’s being and about our being, otherwise it is impossible to see how language about God the Father, and God the Son can be meaningful at all. What language could be more humanly relevant? The doctrine that there is a ‘community of attributes’ between God and the creatures is found in St. Augustine in his doctrine of the analogy of being.’9 The central point St. Thomas makes is that any rational justification for such statements about God as that he is one, good, intelligent, wise, and so on, is that the being of the creator is reflected in the being of the creatures.10 Even Karl Barth, who once called the doctrine of the analogia entis the invention of the anti-Christ, has more recently acknowledged that there can be speech about God’s being which is analogical but which is not bound up with all the classic metaphysical doctrines.11 Barth has developed his own doctrine of analogy which, to be sure, he claims is based solely on the biblical revelation.

A full defence of the analogical mode of thinking about God would require an elaborate discussion. What I shall do here is to consider the consequences of applying to the doctrine of God the results of the analysis of the categorical conditions of human love. I shall try to show that this mode of thinking illuminates our experience of all love, and leads to a relevant interpretation of the biblical assertions about God and his revelation in Jesus Christ. In the end, the only justification for metaphysical thinking is that it throws light on human experience in its widest and deepest ranges.12 Proof is out of place in speech about God, but we can seek insight where the tradition has left us in confusions and obscurity.


If individuality, freedom, action and suffering, causality, and impartiality are categorical conditions of human love, then there is an initial presumption for Christian thought that the being of God, who is love, is in some way reflected in these structures of our existence. There is no good reason for taking away from love all that constitutes its distinctively human aspects and using the remainder to construct a doctrine of love in God.

It is often argued, to be sure, that many of the structures we have designated, such as suffering, the limitation of power by another’s freedom, the involvement in risk, constitute deprivations of being, and hence are not appropriate tokens of the divine nature. But this is precisely the issue to be discussed. Are they merely deprivations, or are they positive and constituent elements of love? Suppose love is the capacity to will the freedom of the other, whatever that freedom may mean for the one who loves? Is this any less a positive element in the being and value of love than its other attributes, such as power or goodness? Charles Hartshorne says that the notion that God is more perfect the more completely he is removed from change, time, and risk, is a prejudice which simply contradicts our experience of human love.13 What we have to look for is some explanation of why the tradition that perfect love is beyond suffering has such a powerful hold.

If the categorial analysis of love explodes the notion that the conception of God must require absolute simplicity, unchangingness, and impassibility then the analogy of being may be understood so as to affirm a creative, temporal, and relational aspect in God’s being. In this metaphysical outlook we can really carry through the analogy between human love and the love which is in God. It will still be analogy. We acknowledge our situation and our limitations when we use human categories in our speech about God. if we seek a doctrine of being, it is clear that God as the reality which is necessary to all being cannot sustain exactly the same relationship to time, space and change, which the creatures exhibit. God’s being is that on which all being depends. All times are embraced in his everlastingness but the future is really future for him also. The power of being in the creature is not the power of being itself, but a derived and limited power. God does not come to be or pass away, but he can be involved in the changes in a world where there is coming into being and passing away.

The problem of a metaphysical theology is to carry through the analogy of being with full justice both to the structures of experience and to the transmutation of structures as they apply to the being of God.14 Whitehead, for example, who declares that in rational metaphysics God must exemplify the first principles of being, still has to allow for categorial differences between God’s way of being and that of the finite actual occasions. God is necessary to every finite being, but no particular finite being is necessary to God, Love in God must involve what is required for love among the creatures and between God and the creatures, yet God remains God, involved in the history of the creatures as the being upon whom they all depend.

Let us put what this means for the relation of love and being in the metaphysical aspect of theology in a summary statement.

If God is love and the ground of the structure of love, then he remains in the absolute integrity of his being what he is throughout all time and all circumstance. His love is what ours never is, steadfast, adequate to his purpose, complete in concern for all others. Yet God constitutes with his creatures the metaphysical situation in which their love can be real, and in which love between himself and the creatures can be actualized. This means that our categories of individuality and communion with the other, freedom, action and suffering, causality which leaves the other free to be moved by the other, and impartiality of judgment have their analogues in the being of God. This means that God is not non-temporal in all respects, beyond causality, beyond any of the structural requirements which make love between beings possible. Rather he exemplifies these categories as positive structures of his love.

This constitutes such a considerable revision of the traditional doctrine of God that its very radicalness may argue there must be something wrong with it. I think this reaction is mitigated if we remember that in spite of much of the formal ontological language about God in traditional theology, the language of devotion has been modelled very largely on the acceptance of God’s hearing, responding, sharing, and suffering with his creatures:

I waited patiently for the Lord;

He inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit,

out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure (Psalms 40:1-2).

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (I Peter 5:10)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. (I John 4:10)

To review all the categories with a full discussion of their analogical application and transmutation is a very large task. Let us indicate the main lines which this inquiry will follow.

1. The Individual

God who loves has the integrity of individuality. He relates himself to others in a communality of being. So far this assertion is in harmony with the traditional theological standpoint. God is one, and other than any creatures. All things are brought into being through his will. He loves, he can be addressed, and he can be loved.

The doctrine of the trinity raises the problem of individuality as well as other ontological issues. It has been often observed that the doctrine provides for a community of being in God himself within which love as action and response can be meaningful. This may be one way in which the tradition has recognized that an absolutely solitary individual can neither love nor be loved. But let us leave the logic of the divine individuality in relation to the doctrine of the trinity and pass to another issue.

The necessity for ‘individuality in relation’ in all love does make it difficult to see how God as ‘being itself’ can love at all. ‘Being-itself’ is either the absolutely alone ONE, utterly beyond all categories, or it is the synthesis of all structures and beings. But can a synthesis of all structures be a loving being, or a source of love? This ontological problem of God’s being in relation to love seems to me the critical point for the Augustinian-Tillichian tradition. For while God cannot be simply one being among many, his individuality as one in relation to others is implied by the assertion that he loves. ‘Being-itself’ is an inadequate expression for God. ‘Being which is the source of the community of beings’ is better.15

2. Freedom

If love means willing the freedom of the other, then the possibility of combining love with predestination or absolute determinism is swept away. If God wills to love, and, above all, if he wills to be loved he cannot determine the love of the other, even though it be the determination of the creature by the creator. This doctrine of radical freedom does not mean that every possible meaning of the doctrine of predestination is negated. If destiny is the shape of a possible future which must be actualized in freedom, then God is the supreme predestinator. Every destiny is shaped by him. But destiny without freedom is meaningless. That is, even God cannot absolutely predetermine a future which has a loving community within it.

Again, we have seen that coercion is one instrument of love, but it must be coercion for the sake of winning freedom for the other, and freedom is personal decision, not automatic response. Therefore this approach to the doctrine of God means a revision of the traditional view of the exercise of the divine sovereignty, it rejects the doctrine that since God is love he must in the end win every creature’s response. If he loves, he risks the refusal of love.

It should be added that the assertion of limited freedom for the creatures also involves the assertion of all the freedom in God compatible with the freedom of the creatures. God is the supreme instance of freedom to love. He never refuses to love, but the specific action of his love lies within the mystery of his being which no ontologieal analysis can fully penetrate or exhaust.

3. Action and Suffering

A third consequence of our analysis is the rejection of impassibility in God. To love is to be in a relationship where the action of the other alters one’s own experience. Impassibility makes love meaningless. In asserting this thesis, familiar in process philosophy, I wish to stress the analogical situation when we speak of God’s suffering.

Suffering in human experience always suggests and may well include some destruction of our being. It always threatens our poise if not our integrity. It can deaden sensitivity. We may say that these things result when our love is not strong enough, but that is not the whole story. Our finitude has its price. There may be more than we can stand. Life takes us beyond the limits of our strength. To love is to recognize that there will be destruction in time of what is humanly precious.

Suffering in God cannot be regarded in just the same way. It is not a pain or deprivation which threatens his integrity. It must be the acceptance in the divine of the tragic element in the creation, a patience and bearing with the loss and failure, and ever renewed acceptance of the need for redemptive action. Suffering always threatens our being. It never threatens the being of God, but is an element in the history of his accomplishment of his will. It may involve a threat to the completion of his purpose in a given occasion, but not a deflection of his purpose.

Again, suffering is what it is for us in part because we do not see its full consequences. In our doctrine of God, even God’s knowledge does not encompass all the specific aspects of future free decisions. But God’s being includes his knowledge of all possible outcomes. He knows the boundaries of all tragedy, just as he knows the infinite resources for dealing with every evil. Suffering is thus transmuted in God without being eliminated. God participates in the world’s suffering, but without all the limitations which beset finite sufferers.

We remain close, but not too close, to the tradition when we say that there is that in God which does not suffer at all. The invulnerability in God is the integrity of his being, his creative vision and function which is his sovereign majesty. This is not acted upon, it is not moved or altered. But God in his creativity works in and through creatures who do suffer and who become occasions of his suffering. The traditional doctrine that the Son suffers but not the Father seems a hopeless compromise. It makes the relation between the Father and the Son utterly different from love, and the non-suffering Father an unbelievable being remote from anything which makes being good.

4. Causality

What the analogy of causality excludes from the doctrine of God is his exercise of sheer power to create without becoming involved with the creature, and without being subject to the suffering which follows upon the creature’s freedom. Causality without involvement is incompatible with love. The traditional assertion that the will of God is the ultimate cause of every event cannot be preserved without qualification, because a will which allows no effective power to any other cannot be a loving will.

Here the ontological approach to love in relation to causality leads a little way toward the solution of a persistent theological problem. How does God act upon the world? How does his love move the sun and the other stars, and human hearts ?16

We have seen that the act of love toward the other may elicit the response and transformation of the other. Nygren thinks of all eros love in the pattern of the soul’s being drawn towards the object of desire. But the analysis of the human eros reveals that something more is involved. The power of love is evoked not only by the presentation of the desirable, but by experiencing the attitude and disposition of love toward the self from another. This is a human analogue of what the biblical faith testifies, that God’s self-communication through historical experience has power evoke and reconstruct a human response. The divine action need not be thought of as a matter of super-casuality behind the scenes through which everything happens; but as the continual divine self~communication, presenting to the creatures not only the good to which they may aspire, but also the support and recreative power of the sustaining and loving reality which is in the depths of all things.

All metaphysical analysis is abstract. It seeks only those aspects of being which constitute its structural necessities and forms. No metaphysics can give us the fullness of being, that of a blade of grass or the smallest unit of matter. Contemporary metaphysical thought recognizes these limitations. The analysis of structures, however, can enable us to see the concrete more clearly and this constitutes the sole justification of metaphysical thought. We are seeking an interpretation of the love of God and the loves of man in the light of the biblical faith and in relation to human experience. We have gained some ground in this alternative the classical way of speaking about God’s being, and we see that this suggests some fundamental clues concerning how God’s love communicated to us. We look now at three major themes of Christian theology using the instrument of this vision of God’s being. The three themes are: God and man, the history of freedom and sin; Jesus Christ, God’s action in the incarnation; and redemption, the meaning of atonement.



1. Quoted from Phyllis Greenacre in Karl Menninger, The Theory of Psychoanalytic Technique (New York: Basic Books, 1962, p. 78; London: Hogarth Press, 1958).

2. Cf. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, Pt. I, chap. 1. I am speaking of Heidegger’s method in Sein und Zeit which I find more convincing as an approach to metaphysics than his later phase where poetic mysticism seems to replace dialectical analysis.

3. For a penetrating survey of the philosophical discussion of love see Richard McKeon, ‘Love and Philosophical Analysis’ in his Thought, Action, and Passion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954).

4. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp. 408, 297, 615. Critical analysis of Sartre’s doctrine in Paul Ramsey, Nine Modern Moralists (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962).

5. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Eng. Tr. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson of Sein und Zeit (London: S.C.M. Press, 1962).

6. See Andcrs Nygren, Agape and Eros, Pt. I, and Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958, 2nd ed., pp. 51ff.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).

7. ‘Prehension’ is Whitehead’s word for ‘organic taking account of’.

8. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God, p. 165.

9. Augustine, Confessions, VII, xi, 17.

10. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Pt. 1, Qu. 13, Art. 1-5.

11. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. I/1, Preface, p. x; III/1; III/2, §29.

12. A. N. Whitehead, ‘The ultimate test is always widespread, recurrent experience’. Process and Reality, p. 25.

13. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God (pp. 114-120).

14. St. Thomas’s doctrine of analogy has been criticized because in the analogy of proportionality we are left with the assertion of some relationship between God’s being and finite being, but we do not know what this means for God’s being. See Dorothy Emmet, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (London: Macmillan, 1946). The agnostic note certainly creeps into St. Thomas’s doctrine and one reason is that he saw the paradoxes involved in combining the view of God as simple, immutable, and impassible with the biblical language about God as Father, Son, and Spirit, begetting the Son, and Creating and Redeeming the World. Process metaphysics proposes analogies in which the Creator-Redeemer God of the Bible is really conceived as creative being.

15. Daniel D. William;, ‘Tillich’s Doctrine of God’, The Philosophical Forum, Vol. XVIII, 1960-1.

16. I have elaborated this point in ‘How Does God Act’ in Reese and Freeman, eds., Process and Divinity (La Salle: Open Court, 1964).