Infinite Love

Love is infinite.

By infinite I mean:

1 : extending indefinitely : endless <infinite space>
2 : immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive: inexhaustible <infinite patience>
3 : subject to no limitation or external determination
4a: extending beyond, lying beyond, or being greater than any preassigned finite value however large <infinite number of positive numbers>

This truth sets fire. This truth, if indeed truth, can stop suicide, heal hearts, and sharpen our lives like swords — that is to say, it can give them a point, and make of them weapons against boredom and badness. We are skeptical of infinite love, not because the concept is too strange to be true, but because we experience love so innately that we have ceased to recognize it as truly strange, as the child cannot recognize the striking, unique human being that is his mother, so close is he to her heart. But if love is infinite, then we are living with an experience that transcends the finite universe, and with constant evidence of eternity. Perhaps we are too close to see it.

Allow me to muddle through an explanation:

All finite desires are fulfilled by finitudes. My desire for water is fulfilled by so much water. My desire for companionship is fulfilled by so much companionship. My desire for physical touch is fulfilled by so much touch.

It seems self-evident that, given too much of any finitude, we will no longer want it. Too much water and I’ll die. Too much companionship and I’ll go insane. Too much touch and I’ll start to feel awkward.

Now, few people will contest the claim that we have a desire to be loved. If this love we desire is not infinite, it must be finite, for there is no middle ground between the ending and the endless. If we have a finite desire for a finite love, it follows that same conditions that apply to water, companionship, and all other finitudes will apply to love.

But the opposite is true. Our desire to love and to be loved is not fulfilled by finitude. If I claim to love my daughter, and set a limit to my love, I do not love at all. If my love for a friend is dependent on my continually being pleased by him, that is, if my love for him is finite, then it is not love. If I love a woman with a strict end-point in mind, if I say “I love her, but I certainly won’t suffer for her,” then my love is no love, and would be universally recognized as such. In fact, any expression of love as dependent, finite, conditioned, or ending negates itself, and the following statements are absurd for that very reason: “I’ll love you for 30 years”, “I’ll love you if you sleep with me” or “I love when you are happy”.

Any experience of love as finite would be disappointment. We clench our teeth when told “I’ll love who you become”, “I can’t love you after that“, because we experience a lack of love. The language of love is not the language of finitude.

And, somewhat fascinatingly, that idea that “given too much of any finitude, we will no longer want it” is rendered ridiculous by the fact of love.

As a basic rule, we desire the amount owed to us, or the amount appropriate to us. We desire as much respect as we deserve. We desire as much wealth as we believe we deserve. We desire the amount of food and water appropriate to us as human beings.

But we can only experience love as more than we deserve. To think of it otherwise is offensive: No husband lays down next to his wife and thinks, “I deserve her”. No wife looks to her husband with the thought, “Here is a man I am owed”. What friends could stay friends if one told the other, “do not be too much of a friend to me, or else I will no longer want you”, and other replied, “be my friend, for your friendship is precisely the amount of friendship I deserve”?

No, it as Jean Luc Marion says: Barring its excess, love is not. Every experience of love is an experience of gift. There is no such thing as a deserved gift, a just gift, or even an appropriate gift. Gifts are just that — given. Any gift that is dependent on something else — I’ll give you this if you give me that, I’ll make you this gift if it influences you to do that — is no gift. Again, love cuts out the tongue of finitude: We do not grow sick of too much love, we happily experience love as too much.

(OBJECTION: Now it could be argued that we can grow sick of too much love, as when a mother smothers her child, or when a man is obsessive over a woman. I would argue that such incidences are not examples of too much love, but of love’s lack. For love is desiring the good of the other, and the good of the child is not to be smothered, nor is the good of any woman to be “held back” by the constant, doting obsession of a man.)

If love is infinite, this all makes sense. All a finite world could say of the infinite is that it is “too much”. We want love, and we want it as love, and thus we want too much love, for love is infinite, and thus always and ever too much for the finite. Thus lovers express — rightly or wrongly — two major things: Eternity and unworthiness. Love as infinite and love as too much:

“I’ll love you forever.”
“My love knows no bounds.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“I’m not worthy to kiss your feet.
“You are a gift, an angel dropped from heaven, etc., etc.”

Every finite human exchange is a transaction and a function of economy. I’ll respect you if you respect me, I’ll communicate to you if you communicate back, I’ll pay you if you do me this service, I’ll open my heart to you if you’ll help me, I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell, etc. In any of these situations, were one human to cease fulfilling his finite obligation, the other would cease to fulfill his. If I ceased respecting others, others would cease to respect me. If a man shared my secrets, I would cease to give them to him.

But love, certainly a human exchange, by its nature transcends exchange, transaction and economy. We suffer this reality. Love — though it often receives love in return — does not require love in return in order to exist. I can love the girl who scorns me and gives her love to that lacrosse player with the hair and the car. A mother can love her newborn even if the newborn “loves” her only insofar as she is warm and has breasts. The father can love the son who hates him. Indeed it is possible — improbable perhaps, and immensely difficult — to love your enemies.

(OBJECTION: One might argue that finitudes can transcend human exchange. But I would argue that this is only possible insofar as our finite acts become acts of love. Take paying a man for a service. I may rip this exchange from the world of transaction and simply pay a man in order that he might have pay. But what is this? Charity. And what is the definition of charity? Love. I may respect a man despite his total lack of respect for me, but I can only do this in so far as I recognize that that he is worthy of respect regardless of his actions, itself an act of love.)

Love cannot be described as a finitude with contradicting human experience. And love’s infinite nature cannot be brushed aside by the claim that we merely experience love as infinite, but in reality, it isn’t, for a) this is a faith-based statement and b) what do we know outside of experience? If our experience of reality does not coincide with what reality actually is, how can we we experience the statement “Love is finite” as being true, and have it mean anything? It’s a hop and a skip into absurdism. We must, in order to reason at all, believe in our experience of reality, and our experience of reality tells us that love is infinite.

This means that humans have available to them something which transcends the material (which, according to the law of entropy, is finite), something which can rightly be described as spiritual (which is only to say “not material”), and something which fulfills our deepest desire, (evidenced by the fact that we will die for love). It does not seem, at the final count, that we are merely material beings. We traffic in the divine.

  • Michelle Datiles

    This was awesome!

    Brings to mind these lines by Coventry Patmore:
    “Love is something less than human if it were not something more.”

  • AMoniqueOcampo

    Summa-Tastic as always Marc!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=678162576 Ce Gzz

    Haven’t read it completely yet…but just reading the head and end…begs for more sharing :)

  • Obliged_Cornball

    “As a basic rule, we desire the amount owed to us, or the amount appropriate to us. We desire as much respect as we deserve. We desire as much wealth as we believe we deserve. We desire the amount of food and water appropriate to us as human beings.”

    I can think of a few people who desire more respect, wealth, food, and water than they deserve. =p

    But in reality, I would argue that we desire the amount that is best for us. The finity of our desire for food and water is less based in the fact that food and water are finite, but in the fact that these things become detrimental after a certain amount of time. Other things (such as wealth, sex, and respect) don’t ever become “bad” for us, but in a sense become useless once acquired in certain quantities. Yet here we see a difference in our desire to be loved – it doesn’t appear to me that any amount of love can ever be harmful in the same way as too much to eat at Thanksgiving, or otherwise be useless in the manner that $4,397,543,592,357 inevitably is.

    So if love never becomes “bad” (like too much food/water/etc.) or useless (like money/wealth/respect) in certain quantities, doesn’t it stand to reason that we’d always be seeking more of it *regardless* of whether or not more could be had?

    “If our experience of reality does not coincide with what reality actually is, how can we [say] we experience the statement “Love is finite” as being true, and have it mean anything? It’s a hop and a skip into absurdism. We must, in order to reason at all, believe in our experience of reality, and our experience of reality tells us that love is
    infinite.”

    I don’t think we “experience” things as true so much as we *judge* them to be true. It may seem like a silly distinction, but it’s one that I’ve never seen you make before. An experience, strictly speaking, cannot err – for experience simply is. If I slipped into a lucid dream right now and conjured up an entire lifetime, only to wake up and find myself to be 21 again, my experience would only be inaccurate insofar that I judged it to correspond with reality. The dream couldn’t be “false” unless I assumed it to have actually occurred outside of my mind. Otherwise, it simply was, and the only problem was my initial interpretation of the event.

    Similarly, if love were finite, it would be our judgments about love, and not our experience of it, that erred. And we already know that our judgments about our experiences certainly *can* err, as evidenced by the entire history of philosophy containing many contradictory propositions. So to be skeptical of the infinite nature of love does not introduce any level of doubt and solipsism that was not already warranted.

  • Joy

    AWESOME POST!!!
    that is all.

  • Maggie

    You gotta love love! This was a great read. It made me think about how “God is Love,” and you can pretty much interchange the word love with God throughout the article, giving it a whole new effect. I recently learned about Venerable Mother Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche and the mission entrusted to her for priests having to do with this concept of God being Infinite Love. It’s pretty cool, you should check it out ( http://www.infinitelove.ie/chronology.htm ).

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.pacifism.3 Christian Pacifism

    The first thing that came to mind regarding the infinite character of love was that God is love. And we love, not of our own power but “because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5).

  • Korou

    Some beautiful words about the human experience, many of which I’d be happy to agree with; but with regards to theology this seems to be nothing more than yet another attempt to wish God into existence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.pacifism.3 Christian Pacifism

    To quote another: “good message; horrible illustration”
    I was dismayed when I saw your opening illustration and just ignored it. But it really is a shame to post pagan art which goes against what you have written.

    • Jane

      I completely disagree! Although the source for the image of Cupid and Psyche is from a pagan myth, the beauty of the statue and the intimate love that it portrays is anything from pagan. That is akin to saying that Marc should never quote the Iliad or the Aeneid.

    • ATT

      Remember St. Paul quoting a hymn to Zeus when preaching to the Athenians? He changed “In Zeus we live and move and have our being,” to a Christian reference. Everything good, beautiful, or true from a non-Christian source says something about God – and thus we can use it ourselves. Truth is truth, no matter where it comes from.

  • kalimsaki

    Prepare yourselves; you will go to another
    and permanent realm, a realm such that
    this one will appear as a dungeon by comparison. You will go to the seat of
    rule of our king, and there receive his compassion and his bounty, if you
    heed this edict well and obey it. But if you rebel and disobey it, you will be
    cast into awesome dungeons.” Such is the message that he conveys. If you
    look at the decree, you will see that it bears such a miraculous seal that it
    cannot in any way be imitated. Everyone apart from idiots such as yourself
    knows of a certainty that the decree is from the king. Moreover, the noble
    commander bears such bright decorations that everyone except those blind like
    yourself understands full well that he is the veracious conveyer of the king’s
    orders.

    Is it at all possible that the teaching of
    transfer from one realm to another, challengingly conveyed by that noble
    commander in the supreme edict he has received, should at all be open to
    objection? No, it is not possible, unless we deny all that we have seen.

    From Risalei Nur collection by
    Said Nursi.

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=456&BolumId=8486&KitapAd=The+Words&Page=69


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