Von Balthasar on “God is Love”

John famously wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). What a beautiful and sweet truth this is. But we would not know that God is love unless he had given us his Son. John goes on to write, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (4:9-10).

For von Balthasar, this love explains the “care” that is evident in the creation. He writes, “Only love can explain this care; only love can explain the pledge he gives, guaranteeing the integrity of creation” (Theo-Drama, vol. 3, 518). And so, in the sending of his Son Jesus, the love that is revealed there is nothing other–though how infinitely more!–than what was already shown with the creation: “Thus the acceptance of his [Jesus’] mission, its implementation in obedience right up to its bloody end, cannot be anything other than the revelation of the Father’s primal, absolute love for his creatures” (ibid.).

This does not, however, mean that we are simply able to read the height of this divine love off the page of creation. The Son’s self-sacrifice at the behest of the Father is ingrained into the very fabric of creation. It was taken into account, so to speak, when God undertook to freely create the world. So von Balthasar: “[I]n view of God’s foreknowledge of what is to become of it, the world cannot be created without account being taken of this sending of the ‘beloved Son’. . . [Jesus’] readiness to accept the mission cannot have been elicited from him by persuasion, as it were; rather, it must be in him a priori, he must spontaneously have declared his readiness ‘before the foundation of the world’ [Rev. 13:8]” (516).

So in Jesus we see the love of the vineyard owner, who “had one left to send, a son, whom he loved” (Mark 12). His Father “takes the risk of sending him … to the murderers who killed all his previous messengers. . . By ‘not sparing’ his Son (Rom 8:32), by letting him be taken, by actually surrendering him…–because he foresees what they will do to him–the divine Sender manifests a disposition that, both in sublimity and in lowliness, is expressed in the serenity and surrender of his Ambassador” (515-516). Jesus, thus, on this earthly side of the mission of salvation, manifests the “serenity and surrender” that corresponds to the care of the Father, the vineyard’s caretaker.

And on this, everything depends: “What is at stake here is salvation (a total salvation that embraces the whole of existence and the world) or the forfeiting of it. . . What is at stake is his care for his vineyard … his care for the entire world created by God” (516). And in this care, the care that leads to the head of the hill called Golgotha, the meaning of all being is shown to be love.

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