What to Believe, How to Live, and What to Pray
Thomas Aquinas said that there are only three things we absolutely need to know, and they correspond nicely with Kant's three questions: what to believe, how to live, and what to pray for. Aquinas then says that the Creed answers the first question, the Commandments answer the second, and the Lord's Prayer answers the third. Therefore if we fully understand just these three things, the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, we will know everything needful, What do these three things have to do with love?
On close inspection, each article of the Creed, each of the Commandments, and each petition of the Lord's Prayer is a form of love. They can be rightly understood only relative to that center. Let us sample each of them to see how this is so.
"I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." The point of each word of this first article of the Creed is unlocked by the key of love if we really think about it. "I"what is the I? What is the center of the self? What most fundamentally determines who I shall be? Answer: How and what I love. Lovers of God or of self, of good or of evil, of persons or of things-these are different Is.
"Believe"what does it mean to believe? What determines belief? Is it logic and evidence? If so, why don't all believe the same things? The evidence and the logic is public and universally available. No, the key to faith is love. We believe only if we love. Trust is the middle term; only if we love, do we trust; and only if we trust, do we believe.
"In"what is the difference between just believing that and believing in? To believe in God is to trust Him and to love Him. I believe that the sun will appear tomorrow, but I do not believe in the sun as I believe in the Son. Belief that something is so is just an opinion. I would not die for an opinion. But belief in someone is a personal relationship of faith and trust and love. That is worth dying for.
"God"who is this God we believe in? "God is love."
"The Father"God is our Father. What does a father do? He loves his children into existence and into maturity.
"Almighty "why is God almighty? What is the secret of His power? What was the secret of Christ's power? He did not march on Rome with arms. He did not compel anyone's will with miracles. He did not even save Himself from death on a cross. Yet no man ever had more power over the human race. The secret of power is love. Amor vincit omnia: "Love conquers all." It may take time, and it may work invisibly, but it works infallibly.
"Creator"why did God create? He needed nothing, being perfect and eternal. There is only one possible motive: altruistic love, sheer generosity, the desire to share His goodness and glory with others.
"Heaven and earth"it follows that Heaven and earth, the whole creation, is a song of love because Love is the singer.
Do you see the pattern? Each article in the Creed, each word of the Creed, is about God's love. Rather than going through every other word in the Creed, I will assume that the pump has been primed and let you the reader finish the meditation. That would have more educational value than leaving someone else do it for you. All you have to do is to think deeply about the meaning of the words, and you will find God's love. You don't have to stretch the point. You don't even have to connect each article with love, as if love were something extraneous. You just have to look, and you will see love lurking there at the center each time.
The same is true, of course, for the Commandments. They are ways of loving. Everyone knows that Jesus made it perfectly clear that "on these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets"to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is not just that the Commandment to love is the most important one. It is really the only one. "Love, and do what you will", wrote Augustine dangerously but accurately. It is dangerous because the saying seems to invite the misinterpretation that "doing what you will" could be anything at all. But it is accurate nonetheless because if we do love God, then we will love His will and His law. We will keep His Commandments, but out of love and not just fear or even duty.
Each Commandment makes sense only when you see it in the light of love. Take the first, for example: "You shall have no other gods before me." Why? Because God is an egotist? No, because God is a lover. What lover wants half the heart of his beloved? Also God is a realist. He knows that false gods simply cannot make us happy, however many times we are deceived into believing and acting as if they could. Love, of course, seeks the beloved's happiness. It is God's love of us, not self-love, that is behind His jealousy.
The one Commandment that may seem not to conform to the patternlove does not murder, love does not steal, love does not bear false witness against neighboris: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." It seems that it is precisely love that does commit adultery. But it is not true love, not unadulterated love. True love respects marriages and will not lay them waste.
Each of the Commandments is specific and clear. They show us how to act out of love in different situations. We must love only the beloved and not graven images. Love honors the name of the beloved and does not take it in vain. Love takes time, a sabbath, a sabbatical, or a honeymoon with the beloved. Love honors the authors of its being, the father and mother whose love gave birth. Love does not defraud, deceive, debunk, debar, devour, or dehumanize. Love is the fulfillment of the law.
Finally, everything we are commanded to pray for in the world's most perfect prayerthe only one straight from the lips of God Incarnate in direct answer to the request, "Teach us to pray" (Lk 11:1)-is also love.
We call God "our Father" because we believe in His fatherly love and care.
We want His name hallowed and loved and praised, because we love Him and want others to do the same.
We want His kingdom to come because His kingdom is the kingdom of love.
We want His will to be done, even in preference to our ownwe will the abolition of our own will when it is out of alignment with Hisbecause we know His will is pure love. Ours is not.
If this is done on earth as it is in Heaven, then we will approach heaven on earth, the annihilation of lovelessness.
We ask for our daily bread because we know His love wants to give it. Love longs to fulfill the needs of the beloved.
We ask to be forgiven as we forgive because love forgives. "It is not irritable or resentful" (1 Cor 13:5).
We ask to be delivered from temptations against love and fromthe evil that comes when love leaves, because we know "the one thing necessary".
Finally, we praise His kingdom, His power, and His glory because they are nothing but the reign of love.
"Why do you speak of nothing else?" "Because there is nothing else." John the Beloved Disciple knew the point of it all.
(This excerpt is taken from chapter two, "The Point Of It All," of The God Who Loves You.)
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Interview with Peter Kreeft | August 2004
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Socrates Meets Sartre: In Hell? | Peter Kreeft
How To Read the Bible | Peter Kreeft
The Presence of Christ in "The Lord of the Rings" | Peter Kreeft
Introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion | Peter Kreeft
God's love is the subject of Peter Kreeft's imaginative and thoughtful book
God Who Loves You (a revised and updated version of his book Knowing
the Truth of God's Love).
With unusual clarity, Kreeft points out that the
man or woman who begins to glimpse the God who is Creator, Redeemer, and
Lover of our souls, will never be the same. He describes Scripture as
God's love story and then tells why divine love is the answer to our deepest
problems and the fulfillment of our deepest desires.
Posing the hard questions about love that rankle the heart, Peter Kreeft never settles for easy answers. He exposes today's superficial attitudes about love to lead people to a deeper understanding of what it means to be loved by God, addressing these issues and many more:
How can I really know God's love for me?
What does it mean to say that "God is love"?
If God is love, why do bad things happen to good people?
What is the point of life?
What is real love? How can I know it?