I was praying this all last week and it’s been running around in my head, so I thought I’d offer a brief comment on it. The Collect of the Sixth Sunday after Trinity:
O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As someone has remarked, there is no virtue in an intransitive verb. In other words, it matters what the object of a verb is. This is true not least in the case of the verb to love. There is nothing commendable about loving in the abstract: one can love good or one can love evil and still be said to love. The Bible contains a number of statements about the rivalry for our affections. Jesus said that one can either love God or mammon. St. John said that we can either love God or the world. As this Collect reflects, loving God ‘above all things’ is the heart of true religion. Yet since the Fall, this doesn’t come naturally to us. We love other things above God. This love must be the gift of God. So the Collect prays that God himself would pour that love into our hearts, an allusion perhaps to Romans v.5 (the genitive ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ could either be subjective – the love that God has – or objective – love for God; older commentators such as Augustine and Luther plump for the latter, while Daniel Wallace suggests it may in fact be both). When by grace our disordered love is reorientated to love God above all things, we find that we receive more than we had ever hoped to obtain from those things we once loved more than God: the things God has prepared for those who love him ‘pass man’s understanding’, this time alluding to I Corinthians ii.9. As C. S. Lewis remarked, God finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are satisfied making mud pies in a slum because we can’t imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea. As this Collect acknowledges, the things God has promised ‘exceed all that we can desire’.