The heart of the New Testament
 

Love referred

“For all of eternity in its entirety is not as worthy as the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” (Rabbi Akiva, 1-2 c. AD)

As it is often stated by both Jewish and Christian authors ‘Song of Songs’ is unlike any other book in the Old Testament. It does not relate the convoluted history of humanity like Genesis. It does not proclaim the rules which God wishes His people to follow if they want to remain His chosen ones, like Exodus. It does not vent the enormous hurt and anger of God Who is betrayed by His people again and again like the books of the Prophets. It is true that several prophets described the relationship of God with Israel in spousal terms. While those terms were not a mere metaphor but hinted the metaphysical reality, the nature of the love of God for humanity (which can be most adequately described in terms of the spousal love), the focus of the prophets was the unfolding of events in a particular time in the history of Israel and in future time (the coming of the Messiah). The references to the jealous divine Spouse and the unfaithful bride, even whore, where serving as an apt description of Israel’s conduct towards God. Speaking about times, the prophet’s books are obviously relevant to our time and till the end of times because they convey the human attitude to God that, like a downward spiral, repeats in different times and will repeat itself until time will be no more. ‘Song of Songs’, it seems to me, belongs to that “no-more-time” category. It is now and it will always be, out of time = timeless, as any encounter of a soul with God, in love; or of two humans in love; or, to include both, it is two persons in love.

‘Song of Songs’ is the epitome of simplicity. There is absolutely nothing there but love between the two irresistibly drawn towards each other. The nature of the love of God for Israel (Judaic interpretation)/love of God for a human soul and of this soul– for God (Christian interpretation) is described in the language of two lovers intoxicated by each other’s response. Meaning, God reveals himself in the simplest possible way here i.e. his self-revelation is about his own essence (God is Love) acting in love towards a human soul which is, being an image of God (Who is Love) capable of answering Him with that love which He gave her in advance. What I am trying to say here is that the very essence of God i.e. something truly unthinkable, something the thought of which makes a believer tremble and shrink in the realisation of her own smallness, can be conveyed by the very human erotic love known to everyone. And not just conveyed but experienced as well.

The word “experienced” is the key here. God refers to the way he loves via the human experience of mutual love. God loves His bride, a human soul, like a human bridegroom loves his bride. A soul loves her God like she loves her bridegroom. What I am saying here is that God reveals the nature of His love via the reference to the desire of the reciprocal relationship and to the bliss of the experience of reciprocal erotic love. He does not describe His love but he says, via a human bridegroom: “Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. 'My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.”

Reading those words one, whether he wants it or not, to some extent already experiences the love of God, via his or her memories or premonitions of being in love. This is why I think Rabbi Akiva calls ‘Song of Song’ the holiest of holies i.e. a sacred chamber where God dwells in this world and where the encounter with Him can take place. ‘Song of Songs’ makes love of God felt or incarnate so to speak, via a corporal human being(s).

‘Song of Songs’ to me then appears to be the sudden breaking through of the sweat and blood of the Old Testament of God’s dream about relationship with us as He desired it to be when He created us in His own image. Paradoxically, a stubborn insistence of the divine Lover Who is unable to give up his dream seems to draw a hope from an ideal of the reciprocal human love. It is also His eternal promise to the humanity who, in the rest of the Old Testament, appears to be hopelessly incapable of understanding it.


Love incarnated 

Strangely enough, I have never noticed the matching sudden break into or, better to say, “sudden dip into the mystery of the inner life of God” in the New Testament until recently when I heard the lines from chapter 15 of the Gospel of John read in church, on the fifth week after Easter. I have countless times heard them being read during Passion Week but only then did  I notice how much they stand out, even in the Gospel of John which, to me, is the most humanely intimate and fragile and yet conveys the most sublime mysteries of God.  The two always go together clarifying each other:

“I have loved you just as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love.
This is My commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.”

This time those words struck me not because of what was pronounced but because of my sudden realization that their meaning and implications were entirely dependent on the One who said them. There is absolutely nothing descriptive here like “selfless love” etc. The argument that the future Crucifixion sets the theme of the selfless love does not work here because the disciples at that point are clearly unable to comprehend it so it is pointless to appeal to it; Christ speaks to them here as (in His own words) “little children” who are scared of the coming separation and possible abandonment. He reassures them that they are to be with Him again; the promise is made on the basis of His unfailing love for them as they have known it until this very minute “I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you.” Then He, drawing oh His love for His disciples, opens to them the mystery of His relationship with His Father and, as a conclusion, brings the apostles into that relationship in His priestly prayer “May they all be one, just as, Father, You are in Me and I am in You, so that they also may be in us”. I went ahead too soon here; what I am trying to say is that he revelation of God about Himself and His idea of His creation, just like in ‘Song of Songs’, is revealed here in the simplest notions of the reciprocal love known by experience. Unlike ‘Song of Songs’ though the mystery of God’s love is not revealed via a reference to the human lovers but is incarnated in the Person of Christ and experienced as such. But, if the disciples indeed experienced the love of Christ in flesh and blood and hence had that direct experience how can we do this now, what is our reference then?

It is the rhetoric of course. Christianity continues not because of enduring doctrine but because the love of Christ can and is experienced by all who genuinely wish to do so. Yet Christ said “love one another as I have loved you”. So, is it possible to experience the love of Christ while His disciples hate each other? I think the answer is yes (although it is inhumanely difficult) as long as there is a clear understanding that this is not a normal state of affairs and that this hatred is not the love Christ spoke about. But what if this hatred or mockery of love is an acceptable norm?

This is no longer the rhetoric. For some reason, it was exactly what came to my mind when I heard “This is My commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.”  The line was read by a priest from my paper ‘The Antipriest’ which explored the phenomenon of reducing, obliterating, and eventual complete “doing away” with Christ by a covert narcissistic priest, not by his conscious deliberate action but by virtue of him simply being himself. Indeed, narcissism is the exact opposite of selflessness; Jesus Christ being the epitome of selfless love is the most extreme opposite of a narcissist. They are mutually exclusive; a narcissist cannot reduce himself even slightly to allow Christ to step in so there is no place for Him in his world even if this world happens to be set in a frame of the Christian Church. And, since the narcissist priest in question was covert i.e. he used the borrowed Christian goodness to mask himself/to merge with the environment and, in the liturgical setting, he is indeed an icon of Christ, it appeared that he, in the absence of Christ, naturally assumed His role. That, in turn, initiated the process of a slow formation of a pseudo-Christ, a human in the priestly dress of Christ so to speak.

That forming of a pseudo-Christ out of himself, by the covert narcissist priest, was essentially the replacing of Christ with a construct made by a fallen human being. Instead of Our Lord – kind, cutting through to the soul, angry, sorrowful, tender – everything that is human but never cold or inhumane, always fully human and fully divine – the church is presented with the fragments of humanistic sayings, some new age wordings, some pieces of the Scripture which miraculously lost all its potency, some DIY self-help stuff etc. – in one word, with some formation of mismatching parts, put together and threatening to fall apart if the heart beats a little bit louder, the word “love” written with the lipstick, holding it all together. Holding – but not well enough to prevent the appearance of the occasional cracks, revealing something dark beneath it, quite disturbing.  

What I am trying to convey by those words is that, even if the Antipriest succeeded in banishing Christ from the church, he failed to produce the matching in stature imposter, the one whose person is fit to correspond (albeit mockingly) to the Person of Christ, in both His humanity and His divinity – i.e. one who can fully animate the idea of a pseudo-Christ. 

It seems to me that the act of animation was exactly what happened when I heard the words:

“I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in My love.
This is My commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.”

For a moment I perceived those words as they were said not by Christ but by the Antipriest. I can only speculate why something quite unthinkable happened i.e. those two figures merged – probably because I could detect the emotion of hatred in the voice of the Antipriest. But even if there was no hatred, there was definitely zero human warmth – the striking absence of the normal emotional human response that those words of Christ normally cause in Christians who hear them, including the priest who reads them. Perhaps it is even easier for a priest to respond emotionally to those words because he, being ordained by the bishop i.e. being a link in a chain of apostolic succession, can easily imagine himself being one of the apostles or their successor who must continue passing that love of Christ on to that very congregation to which he is reading the words of the Lord now.  Needless to say, those words themselves radiate a love which is very palpable unless someone destroys it by conveying the emotion opposite to love.

That was something I suddenly understood: the apostles first experienced the love (including the emotion) of Christ and only then could they grasp the meaning of His words. It is the same with other Christians, with us, who did not encounter the Saviour in flesh and blood; we are first grasped by the personality of Christ, by His Love and Him Who is Love and only then, being turned to Him as a particle of metal turns to the magnet, can we truly begin to comprehend the meaning of His words. Remove that Love and all will fall apart.

This is what happened to me I believe; the only difference is that I was grasped by the emotion totally contrary to love, devoid of love, and by someone who appeared at that time to be entirely inhumane. The contrary-to-the-love-of-Christ emotion turned the words of Christ into their opposite without changing a single letter. And this change occurred when Christ was relating the most intimate things about Himself and God to his closest circle of disciples, in the Gospel of St John.

In the synoptic Gospels Christ is always engaged with the others, feeding, exorcising, healing, teaching, pronouncing the divine judgement and so on. He is always going somewhere or being siezed by the crowds or confronted by those who are at enmity with him. He very sparsely speaks of Himself; when He does it He highlights His subordination to His Father (“I came not to do my will by my Father’s”). The Son of God, the preexistent, has come to serve and not to be served, to deny Oneself even to death, He insists.  His discourse and actions leave no point of entry for a narcissistic spirit anywhere in the Gospels save one. Strangely enough, it appears that only when Christ speaks of Himself and His relationships with the others in the simplest terms of mutual love – when the Son of God surrenders Himself to the others in the act of love – that the evil can enter.

Let us consider His words from the Gospel of John, chapter 15 (New Jerusalem Bible) and their natural reading by a narcissist [in brown]:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
The vine = me is primary, the vinedresser is my servant.

Remain in Me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me.
Stay with me. If you abandon me you will not be able to do anything here. 

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me, with Me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from Me you can do nothing.
You are no equal to me. Approve me and stick to me and you can do anything here; work for me and you will do much; if you contradict me I will make your life here impossible.

Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a branch -- and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
Those who do not obey me are thrown away like rubbish; you will be likewise destroyed if you contradict me.

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it.
Submit to me in all and you will have all.

I have loved you just as the Father has loved Me. Remain in my love.
I have “loved” you just as the father has “loved” me. Remain in my “love”.

If you keep my commandments you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in His love.
If you obey my orders you will remain in my “love” just like I have obeyed my father’s orders and remained in his “love”.

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.
This is my commandment: “love” one another, as I have “loved” you.

No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
You must sacrifice yourselves for me.

You are my friends, if you do what I command you.
You are my friends, if you do it.

You did not choose Me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.
Feel privileged that I chose you. Bring me the profit; by doing so buy the right to ask the father all you wish in my name.

Anyone who hates Me hates my Father.
Anyone who hates me hates my father.

I must say this exercise made me quite sick because those “interpretations” are nothing else but the blasphemy against the Love of God via the denial of love in Christ. Indeed, what makes the difference is the presence or the absence of selfless love in those lines. Noteworthy, the closer to the most intimate statement of Christ about love: His Father’s love for Him, His love for His disciples, that very Love His disciples must love each other, the easier it is to swap the meaning to the opposite without changing a single word:

I have loved you just as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love.
I have “loved” you just as the father has “loved” me. Remain in my “love”.

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.
This is my commandment: “love” one another, as I have “loved” you.

Anyone who hates me hates my Father.
Anyone who hates me hates my father.

The lines change their meaning in accordance with the meaning of the word “love”, as one understands it. Christ defines love by Himself, by how His disciples experienced Him = His love and he makes their experience of His love the way of knowing His Father. There are no definitions but Christ alone.

This experience of the love of Christ [together with the fact of the Resurrection] is precisely what enables the apostles to go on. This love of God literally moves them, especially after the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit = Love goes into them, and then from them to the others; this is how the Church began and is still going on. It is the kernel of Christianity; all the rest has its source in each one’s experience of the love of Christ. So, if we swap that kernel, the experience of the love of Christ, with anything else, the whole faith (and Church) collapses, and this is precisely what happens when those lines are read by the narcissist priests whose “love” is the exact opposite of love – hatred:

I have hated you just as the father has hated me. Remain in my hatred.
This is my commandment: hate one another, as I have hated you.

Those lines are actually a precise description of how a narcissist relates to his child and how then the narcissist child will relate to the others. It does not matter that a narcissist calls it “love” or that he thinks it is “love”; a normal individual experiences a narcissist’s “love” as something quite repugnant, strangling – if not hatred than something deathly = the opposite of the love that is the source of life.

And, because a narcissist is god and to love him means to love “God” = “father”, the word “hate” in the third pivotal line may as well be changed into its opposite, “love” – just as the word “love” in the first two lines changes into “hate” –  thus making the mirror image complete:

Anyone who loves me loves god.

That is:

Anyone who loves me loves my father.

God the Father and the human father merge here so as Christ and the Antipriest. And, just like Christ makes His Father known to His disciples via their experience of His love for them, the Antipriest makes his own father known via the congregation’s experience of his “love” = hatred for them. I am not speaking here about the human father of the Antipriest but about the father of the antipode of Christ whom the Antipriest makes known to the congregation, the one who is defined by his hatred for humanity including the Antipriest himself. 

 

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