Does love need law?
“The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete. The paradox of final revelation, overcoming the conflict between absolutism and relativism, is love. The love of Jesus as the Christ, which is the manifestation of the divine love—and only this—embraces everything concrete in self and world. Love is always love; that is its static and absolute side. But love is always dependent on that which is loved, and therefore it is unable to force finite elements on finite existence in the name of an assumed absolute.”
Tillich Sys. Theo. V.I p. 152
I once had it put to me that love needs law to give it structure. I rejected that notion then, and I reject it now. Tillich says it well. To accept that love needs law is to risk a situation where love and law conflict. Such a conflict is embraced by some who declare that “yes God is love… but God is also _______ (holy, just, righteous, etc.).
This is problematic. If the love of God is one attribute among others, we do not have a God on our hands, but a demon. For only the demonic is essentially disintegrated and in conflict with itself.
Yet, it is true that in the existential situation our attempts at love go wrong. Often badly. It is here we feel the temptation to appeal to some “divine law” other than love to help condition our attempts at loving well. In evangelical circles this is usually in the form of an appeal to certain bits of Scripture. “Wives are to submit to their husbands;” it might be said, or perhaps “homosexuality is a sin;” or even “men ought not have long hair and tattoos are sinful.” It is thought that following these prescriptions/prohibitions will help us avoid the problem of botching our attempts at loving well.
The trouble is, it doesn’t work. Such lazy (or perhaps, nervous) uses of Scripture tend to create situations where exclusion rather than embrace occur. Rather than the self-negating love of Christ, we arrive at self-righteous, or at least fearful, distance. What happens when the long haired gay man next door offers to rake the fearful Christian’s yard? Where is the love of Christ being fulfilled?
Jesus did not bring a new law (neither did Paul for that matter). Jesus revealed God, and that revelation was displayed in a love which poured out all for all. It is thus in the paradox of the “law of love” where we see what ought to be the Christian’s ultimate concern—the center of our faith—the inclusive stance of a love that surrenders all for the other, the despised, the enemy, the “least of these,” your brother, your boss, political opponents, liberals, fundamentalists, atheists, Muslims, extremists. To follow Christ is as easy—and as hard—as that.
It’s impossible. It’s beautiful. It’s the Kingdom of God. And it is, and may be, in our midst.