Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. [1 John 4:8]
Among all the questions that man asks in this world, none is more important than the question of God – does God exist, and if so, then who is God. To these questions man must receive true answers, or his own existence in this world ultimately becomes itself a question unanswered. So, as our age becomes more agnostic and atheistic, that is, as men in our day answer that first question falsely and deny God’s existence, it is no surprise that we see suicide rates climbing everywhere, even among the young. Without God, man’s self becomes unintelligible, and unanswered question, for without God, the true God, man does not fully know who he is, or why he is, and this alienation from his true self can bring despair, and a desire not to exist anymore.
But even where man affirms the existence of God, and in our world this still includes a great part of humanity, it becomes equally important that man should have the true answer to the second question, who is God? On his own, by the light of reason alone, man can discover very little about who God is, not even that God is our creator in the strict sense. However, it was never God’s intention that man should be left to his own reason to discover who God is, and from the very beginning, according to Genesis, God was present to man, revealing himself to man, and through faith and reason man was able to come to the truth as God chose to reveal it. After all, only God knows Himself perfectly, and if man is given revelation by God about Himself, then it will be as God chooses and as much as God chooses to reveal about Himself.
The full revelation about God, who the true God really is, in so far as we can know God in this world, came in Jesus Christ. A partial revelation had been given to Abraham and his descendants, God’s first chosen people, through the prophets, and so they understood that God is perfectly one, that God is the Creator of all else that exists, and that God is a just, merciful and loving God, who has chosen to redeem man, starting with his people Israel.
Jesus also taught that that there is only one God and God is perfectly one, but He revealed that this One God is also three divine persons while remaining perfectly one, Father, Son (Himself) and Holy Spirit. The fact that there are three persons in no way means there are three gods, nor do the three persons in any way divide the one divine being. This is the ultimate truth about God, and this revelation of who God is has the greatest possible implications for what it means to be human, to be man, for as Scripture teaches, man is made in the image of God, which means in the image of the Triune God.
Thus to know and understand ourselves, who we are, why we are, what we are to become, we must possess this truth about the God who made us, this Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This truth about God, of course, is an infinite abyss for the human mind, and we shall be satisfied only in heaven. But the most important single implication for us, that follows from the truth that God is three Persons, is proclaimed by St. John when he says in his 1st Epistle, that God is Love. Now John does not make that statement in isolation from the doctrine we celebrate today, that God is three persons in one divine being. The truth that God is love is understood by John only from two other truths, That God became incarnate and died for our salvation and the truth that God is Three in One. The three divine persons are who they are because they are each identified completely with the divine being, which is Love. The Father is Father because the Father gives of himself totally and brings forth eternally the Son in love. The Son likewise gives of himself totally back to the Father in love, and from this double self-giving of Father and Son, there proceeds the Holy Spirit who is Love, the very Love who unites the Father and Son.
Thus in God we learn what love truly is. Love is self-giving that unites persons as one. Jesus, according to Paul, said that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” We see this in God, where love consists first of all in pure giving; God does not need to receive because God lacks no perfection and God is Love. Thus, since we are made in the image of this God, then we too were made for love, and not just any form of love, but the Love of God which is pure self-giving. In this divine Love we find our true happiness, what we were made for. We attain the blessedness which is God’s, and which is God, for God is Love.
You see the human person cannot help loving, for he was made in the image of Love; so love is intrinsic to human nature, and ultimately love is the fulfillment of the human person. But not all love is self-giving as we see it in God. There are other forms of love as well. We love food, but we do not give ourselves to food. All love originates in the act of the will, and in its higher forms love unites us with another person, for instance, in the love of friendship or the love of spouses. But most often even this exalted human love is not pure love, pure self-giving. For instance, there is the love called Eros, and it is very much a part of the attraction of man and woman for each other even in marriage. But this love is not a form of self-giving, but more a form of possessiveness, the desire to possess another, to make them mine. This love demands reciprocation, receiving, and yet it can persist without it; we call it unrequited love, and it causes tremendous suffering when that happens.
Perfect self-giving is found only in God, and thus it is possible only in God. Thus even married love only approaches pure self-giving and only does so when it is a mutual participation in God’s divine love, only when conjugal love becomes conjugal Charity. Therefore, man cannot be ultimately happy without a full participation in this highest form of love, because the human person is made in God’s image, and is made for that highest Love. And that perfection of love comes only in God, in Heaven.
In Heaven, at last, we fully participate in God’s own natural love, what we call Divine Charity, which is pure self-giving and thus perfectly fulfilling. Again note what Jesus says, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” He has taught us that the love that is pure selfgiving is more fulfilling, more blessed, makes us happier, than all other kinds of love. We naturally pursue these other forms of love in this world, because we, unlike God, are not fulfilled in ourselves, because we are wounded by sin, and so we feel the deep need for others to heal us by their love. That is natural for man, and even more pressing because of the fall.
But we have been called to a higher love yet, the highest Love, to love as God does, to share the love of the Blessed Trinity, to give of ourselves as God does, and be more blessed than we ever could by our natural forms of love which are so imperfect. Thus with married persons, conjugal Eros can be gradually perfected by conjugal Charity, which is participated pure self-giving. But this is possible only by the gift that Jesus makes to us of His Spirit, that is, of His Love. But even in a marriage where Eros fails, where this love is unreciprocated by the partner, conjugal Charity can ultimately bring the partner who loves to a greater perfection on earth and the highest perfection in Heaven.
This is ultimately what it means to lead a full Christian life. It is a life in the Trinity already here in this world. It is a life where imperfect human forms of love are perfected by God’s perfect Love, and where the human person can find happiness and fulfillment not so much in being loved as in the pure act of loving others, of giving of their selves, so they can find themselves by Love. If modern man finds often life meaningless and despairs, it is because the Trinity and Divine Love are simply not the focus of his self-understanding. When modern man rediscovers the true God, once again he will understand his true self. Once again he will discover Love.