O Terrible Love

“Your tide is bitter, O terrible Love,
In which I think and drown.”

John Cowper Powys, “Many Waters” (1916)

“ . . . meddlers, cloaked in piety’s broad garb,
To hide the point of foul dissention’s barb,
And under pretense of philanthropy
Plant hatred, violence, and anarchy.”

Millie Mayfield, Progression, or, The South Defended (1860)

Many Orthosphere readers are no doubt familiar with The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, and therefore with the fact that the English word love denotes four distinct sentiments, that this multivalence causes considerable confusion among those who are ignorant of this fact, and that this confusion can be especially troublesome for Christians who have been taught to honor love as a cardinal virtue.

Indeed, I daresay many Orthosphere readers also know, perhaps for reasons they wince to recall, that St. John’s declaration that “God is love” is all too easily misconstrued as an excuse for folly and vice.  As Lewis explained, the truth that God is love “may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God,” and this deified love is a jealous god that makes his zealots do things they may wince to recall.*

This is what the poet Powys meant by “terrible Love” with its “bitter tide” in which men “think and drown.”

Many are today drowning, if not exactly thinking, in the bitter tide of a “terrible Love” that bids them to “smash Hate” as a service to Love.  The men and women for whom this terrible Love is god are not exemplars of one of Lewis’s four loves.  Many are, indeed, conspicuously deficient in affection, friendship, eros, or charity, being rather notable for their alienation, enmity, perversion, and narcissism.

It seems to me that this “terrible Love” is not something that these zealots feel, but is rather something they wish to feel, and look forward to feeling in a millennium that will come when Hate is smashed and chained, like Satan, in a pit.

It is the old dream of revolutionary action to hasten the millennium.

These thoughts occurred to me as I read an autobiographical statement by one zealot of this terrible Love, and that statement prompted me to essay the following travesty.  Perhaps it will become the standard text at the rare weddings of zealots of terrible Love.

(1) If you speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but are not Love, you are a noisy gong and will be silenced.  (2) If you know all mysteries and all knowledge so as to remove mountains, but are not Love, you are worth nothing and will be reduced to nothing. (3) And if you give away all your possessions to charity, and give your life for others, but are not Love, your memory will be infamous and no good.

(4) Love is not patient, Love is not kind, but rather boasts that it smashes Hate. (5) It does whatever it must, it keeps its eye on the goal; it will not be appeased and will embellish its account of wrongs suffered. (6) Love does not rejoice in un-self-righteousness, but rejoices in its own lived truth; (7) it destroys what it finds unbearable, debunks what it finds unbelievable, derides all dreams it does not dream, and denounces all doctrines it does not teach.

(8) Love must prevail; so if there are prophecies, they must be cancelled; if there are tongues, they must silenced; if there is knowledge, it must be problematized. (9) For knowledge and prophesy are the weapons of Hate; (10) but when Love prevails, Hate will be destroyed. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put the ways of manhood behind me and held fast to all childish things. (12) I once saw in a mirror darkly, but then woke to see Love’s face; I once knew in part, but now I know without doubt.

(13) Beyond faith, beyond hope, there is Love—and Love is a jealous god.

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