At this point, it will be helpful to summarise our argument in five steps.
Step one: God’s beauty is his love for his own being.
Step two: God’s beauty is perceived and apprehended by love for God.
Step three: This love must be a correspondent love: one which corresponds with God’s love in degree and nature.
Step four: Love is a desire and cannot be willed directly. Correspondent love must be cultivated.
Step five: There are four ways that correspondent love can be cultivated: imagination (the pattern), nature (the position), exposure (the process), and nurture (the practices).
a) The pattern for correspondent love: the dominant but background Christian imagination of ultimate reality, the telos towards which holy desire moves for union.
b) The position for correspondent love: ontological union with Christ through the triune work of God in salvation, which reveals God and his presence and gives the answering holy desires.
c) The process of correspondent love: the cycle of experiential union, seeking to love God ordinately, and to confess and forsake failures to do so. A disposition of consent or humility-faith-love, must be present, where through which experiential union with God is sought.
d) The practices for correspondent love: deliberate habits that illustrate and cultivate these three. Holy desire is taught, shaped, and expressed through these practices. The order of these four is not strictly hierarchical. One could argue that positional union comes first, making the other three possible. One could likewise begin with the practices, since they shape and affirm the other three. The process could also be foregrounded, as nearest to the actual performance of the three forms of ordinate love. The point is that they are more cyclical and interdependent than sequential and distinct.
The Pattern for Correspondent Love
The pattern for correspondent love refers to what Richard Weaver termed one’s “metaphysical dream”. The word dream reminds one that it is not always a conscious vision, as much as a vision that stands as the background of all conscious choice. The word metaphysical suggests that it deals with reality: the understanding of things as they truly are. This is the synoptic vision of the whole of life, that which gives meaning to the parts. This is the great interpretive index, giving moral significance through meaning to all that is encountered. This is the imagination, that aspect of mankind perhaps best described as being “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27). Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, insists that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most
important thing about us”.
What then should inform the Christian imagination that inclines the heart towards union with God and ordinate love? If God’s beauty is the ultimate motivator of love, then the Christian life should have the idea of God’s beauty at its very core. We’ve defined beauty as “the Most Lovely loving the Most Lovely”. This came from Edwards’ definition of beauty: “being’s cordial consent to being in general” . Unpacking Edwards’ definition of beauty leads to at least three observations about a Christian imagination based upon God’s beauty.
1) The Christian imagination should be trinitarian. God’s beauty as God’s love is impossible if God is a solitary being. Love within God is only possible if there is a plurality of persons within the one being of God. Edwards wrote, “Again, we have shown that one alone cannot be excellent, inasmuch as, in such case, there can be no consent. Therefore, if God is excellent, there must be a plurality in God; otherwise, there can be no consent in him”
2) The Christian imagination should be personal. “Being’s consent to being” implies that personal relationship is at the heart of existence. Here the term personal refers to viewing reality as fundamentally composed of volitional persons. Reality is not primarily material, composed of the inert thing called “matter” by moderns. Reality is firstly will, intention, meaning, morality. All things exist by the word of a Person who made them and sustains them with His will.
3) The Christian imagination should be doxological. “Being’s cordial consent to being in general” also suggests that at the heart of this relational universe is the idea of gift. Trinitarian reality necessarily implies personal and relational perichoretic reality. But when three infinite persons relate, the relationship must be one of gratuitous love. Reality is a place of gift and grace: three Persons overflowing in joyful giving. Evil is only the temporary interruption and distortion of the happy reality of the Trinity’s eternal glad giving.