Whatever is good, whatever is borne out of love, is loved by God. Even if that good is limited, even if that good is contained in and surrounded by the filth of sin, the good remains and it is loved by God. A diamond found in a trash heap or a gold bar found in a latrine would still be valuable despite where it was found; likewise, the good in us, despite all our sin, is valuable and cherished by God. How much of that good remains is another question. Sin, to be sure, corrupts and destroys what it touches, but so long as there is something left, so long as there is something which exists, there remains some element of goodness which sin has not destroyed.
Pseudo-Dionysius understood this, which is how and why those he mentioned as being God loved, were shown to be loved for the good which they had done, and not for all that they had done in their lives, because it is clear, they did not live absolutely holy lives. Scripture provides us many examples of men and women who were loved by God despite whatever evil they had done while they lived. David is a prime example. He was said to be a man after God’s own heart. But what made David like this? What made other saints similarly loved by God? According to Pseudo-Dionysius, it was because they, at times, imitated God by showing care and concern for those who wished them ill:
Why was David, the father of God, loved by God? Because he was good, even to his enemies. “I have found a man after my own heart.” So said the lover of good, who transcends good. Indeed, there was handed down the ordinances to provide even for the yoked animals of one’s enemy. Job was justified because he remained aloof from all wrongdoing. Joseph took no revenge on the brothers who had betrayed him. Abel humbly and unsuspiciously followed the brother who was to kill him. The word of God calls “good” all these men who neither planned nor did evil things, whose goodness stood up against the evil of others, men who lived in conformity with God. They did good to those wronging them and extended to them their own abundant goodness so as to bring them gently around to behaving like them.
When David, Job, Joseph and Abel showed kindness, love, and forgiveness to those who wronged them, they followed after the example of God That, as God loves those who sin, that is, those who pit themselves against the wishes and desires of the divine nature, so those who had a heart like unto God loved and cared for those who acted against them. David’s greatest enemy, Saul, was also one whom David cared for and protected; when others sought Saul’s demise, David made sure he survived. David, of course, was far from perfect, and some of his worst deeds are recorded in Scripture, so as to make sure we do not assume he was someone he was not. David could be loved by God despite all that sin, despite all the evil Scripture relates about him. He could be seen as having a heart like unto God’s, not because he put into practice the kindness and love of God all the time, but because in some remarkable instances he did. This does not excuse his sin, his times in which he acted contrary to the love God expected of him, but it does show us how God can love us and see the good in us even when it is no longer so obvious. This is why we must not confuse God’s love for David as affirming all that David did. The judgment which was imposed upon David, and the penance which David undertook for his sins, demonstrates this. But what, deep inside him, what David allowed out in the midst of all his sins, came from the image and likeness of God within him, and it is something which is in all of us. If we want to be loved like David, that is, if we want to be loved for having a heart like unto God, we should truly follow after David and find a way to act upon the image and likeness of God within us by showing kindness and love for our enemies. This is what Jesus told us to do if we were to be perfect:
“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48 RSV).
The perfection of God is revealed to us through God’s love. Thus, for us to be perfect, to be like God, we must let love guide and direct us in our actions. God loves us, even when we sin, even when we go against God’s wishes and act as God’s enemies. This is because God does not see us as enemies, despite what we do, but rather God sees and knows the image and likeness of God within us and loves us for that image. It is who we are in realty. It is this core which God wants to cleanse off and free from the taint of sin.
David is our example. Reading about all that he did, all the evil which can be attributed to him, we might wonder why God loves him, why God had deemed David as a man with God’s heart. Pseudo-Dionysius understood and showed us that at his core, David truly was a man with God’s heart, that he did good by loving his enemies; it was in and through that good, God loved David. We cannot dismiss all the evil David did, but we must not confuse it as being who and what he was at the deep recesses of his being.
What we say about David can be said about everyone else, including ourselves. The reason why God loves all of us, the reason why God loves the world and all that is in it, is not for the evil which has come about, but for the inner core, the good which remains deep within everyone, a good which will never be annihilated by evil. This is what God loves. Since such goodness is within all of us, though we do evil, though we fall away from the perfection of love, there remains the hope that the good will come forth and reveal itself, allowing God’s love to take effect in our lives. This is also why we can hope, not only for our salvation, but for the salvation of all, because there will always be some good for God to love and save.
 Pseudo-Dionysius, “Letter Eight” in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Trans. Colm Luibehid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987): 270.
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