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Willard’s Premises

7 June 2007

When Dallas Willard writes or speaks, it’s vital to understand his fundamental premise: one cannot love someone whom one does not respect. Willard finds it impossible to conceive of a form of love that is rooted in indifference or, worse, contempt for the object “loved.”

That is particularly true of Jesus, but it is also broadly true.

But it seems possible to love someone that one does not respect because of the general confusion about what constitutes love in the first place.  For Willard, the most concise view of love defines it as “willing the good of the object loved.”  For Willard, the kind of love that we’re interested in – agape, of course – is not primarily affectionate; it sees connections between another’s current state and what that state is likely to become, and then love sets out by acts of the will to modify those states on behalf of another.  Love, Willard says, is best seen as “the perfection of morality.”

But that definition leaves us short of understanding what it means to love Jesus.  Surely Jesus’ current state is not deficient, any more than his future state is deficient…so what role do we have in “willing the good” of Jesus?

The premise is wrong.  Jesus’ current state is deficient.  As long as there are those who do not know his freedom, his pervasive joy, his unflagging confidence, his current state is deficient.  And as the New Testament teaches us, we love Jesus by loving the apples of his eye, because in loving others we shine the light of Jesus into the darknesses of their lives.  So he teaches us, “if I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.”  A clever double entendre, that.

Returning, then, to where we started, we can say that Willard’s premises are at least twofold.  He will argue from these and other starting points:

1.  Love is the active will that seeks the benefit of the one loved.

2.  Love cannot be claimed if it is not accompanied by simple respect.  I cannot possibly love those whom I hold in contempt.  That is why it is vital for me to immerse myself in the image of God and to learn to recognize it in all men.  As long as the other is not a human being (with all that implies), I am not impelled to love.

As Willard likes to say, “we say that we love chocolate cake.  But we don’t love it; we want to eat it.”


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