God Surrenders to Us in Love

Apr 15, 2022 | 4 comments

From the Centre for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Franciscan teacher Ilia Delio sees the Incarnation as God surrendering to us in humble, human form:

Surrender [to God] expresses one’s belief that God is love and love never fails. We would be remiss to think, however, that surrender is a movement in trust and love only on our part, as if God might be waiting for us to hand over the reins of control. Such an idea misses out on the tremendous mystery of God as love, for our surrender to God is based on God’s surrender to us. . . .

The surrender of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the great mystery of God. God does not hold back and wait until we get things right; rather, God loves us where we are and as we are. In the Incarnation, divine love has found us and has surrendered to us. It has handed itself over to us to do as we please.

What do we do with this tremendous gift of divine love so freely given to us? Some of us are blind to this love, so we ignore it. Others do not believe that God surrenders—completely in love with us—and therefore reject it. Still others fear that a God of self-giving love could be weak, and so they question the divine love. But for those who breathe in the Spirit of God, the surrender of God in love is the greatest act of humility, and one can only receive this love in poverty and humility. Receptivity marks the person of surrender. [1]

For Father Richard, Saints Francis (1182–1226) and Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) are powerful examples of people who surrendered their lives to God, and discovered who they really were in God:

God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves. It’s a paradox. I can’t prove it to you, and it sure doesn’t always feel like that, but I promise it’s true. Francis and Clare lost and let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige, and possessions; and all need for their small self to be important—and they came out on the other side knowing something essential: who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24). Such an ability to really change is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (my definition), then we can understand why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God.

Francis and Clare voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong.

[1] Ilia Delio, Ten Evenings with God (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 2008), 79–80.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 20–21.

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4 Comments

  1. Neil Bray

    Submission to someone equates with submission to that person’s will. Equating such submission with love is a bit far-fetched. God did not submit to the willed action of Adam and Eve. Quite the contrary. He allowed their willed action to deliver its consequences.

    But this failure to submit to them and their willed action did not mean that His love for them ceased to exist.

    Similarly in John 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Jesus’s submission in this case was to the will of the Father (“Not my will etc.”). But The Blessed Trinity considered the action of Pilate and the Chief Priests as sinful, an action God could not submit to. Again, Christ again pleaded “forgive them etc.”

    Christ’s, – God’s – love for the “them” did not abate. But He did not submit to the sins of the “them” in the sense of condoning their sinful activities.

    The Incarnation, Calvary, the Institution of the Eucharist and so on constitute the submission of Christ to the Father and the love of both – The Holy Spirit – for humankind. The self-giving of God through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Blessed Trinity is the expression of this love. It is difficult to conclude how any Catholic can view this love as a basis for expecting God to submit to an individual will, for God to submit himself to the will of any individual.

    This raises the question of the efficacy of prayer of petition. Some time back Michael Nugent, chairperson of the advocacy group Atheist Ireland, commented on a plea from the Pope for prayers for peace in Ukraine. He cited an extensive research costing a few million dollars conducted some years back on the extent to which people believed their prayers had been answered. According to Nugent only a small minority felt they had received what they prayed for and some suffered mental distress on being disappointed. God had not submitted to their requests.

    The question of submission is core to the issue of prayers of petition. Who submits to whom? Catholicism teaches that God’s love is not a mere “Jim will fix it” process. Perhaps Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane to the Father seeking relief from what was to ensue for him is the model for prayer of petition. In short, it perhaps amounts to an interaction between father and child with the latter in effect expressing extreme confidence in the father’s love and will, and seeking the grace to follow the “Way, the Truth and the Life”, ultimately, in the context of the human being, by keeping the Commandments.

    God in his wisdom submits solely to His love in the Blessed Trinity, and by virtue of this love, to people, pilgrims humble and contrite of heart, who fulfil His desire that they seek the opportunity to share in the life of the Trinity. Perhaps this Divine Love can be viewed as an absolute concern without limit for the wellbeing of every part of every person’s life. Perhaps the human response is to seek awareness of this absolute concern and to try to respond in terms of maximising one’s concern for God’s wishes, outlined in the first three petitions of the Pater Noster by Christ. Was this not the path followed by Saints Francis and Clare?

    Reply
    • soconaill

      You are quite right to emphasise that the Trinity cannot and do not submit to evil, Neil – but for me the piece you are criticising is suggesting something else: a ‘surrender’ or ‘self-disarming’ aimed at overcoming evil by causing us to lose our will-to-evil.

      Take the famous incident of the arm-through-the-door in St Patrick’s, Dublin, in 1492, when Garret Mor Fitzgerald risked his arm being hacked off to make peace with the Butlers, described here:

      https://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blogs/chancing-ones-arm

      What could have led Garret Mor to this step? Isn’t there first of all, a guess at what is making the Butlers so belligerent – a fear that the Fitzgeralds are bent on domination and on humiliating the Butlers? How is a stronger party to convince a weaker that peace and friendship is on offer if the weaker ‘gives up’? What if the stronger disarms first, and puts himself under the power of the other? This is a ‘tactical surrender’, based on a guess that the other party is also, essentially, ‘good’ – tempted by evil certainly, but not himself evil.

      St Augustine of Hippo and other early theologians believed in the ‘mousetrap’ explanation of the Crucifixion: God the Father had allowed Satan to kill Jesus in order to reveal Satan’s own malevolence, his hatred of goodness. That revelation was accomplished by the Resurrection, in itself a divine overthrow of the proposition that Evil can be stronger than Good – because Satan’s power is, in the end, limited to ‘this world’. Sustained by that belief, St Paul insisted that the world that had crucified Jesus was ‘passing away’ – and so it was.

      You see the same dramatic scenario frequently in TV dramas, where a police officer in pursuit of someone – who has committed a minor offence but is now armed in fear of arrest – puts down his own weapon to reassure this fugitive that if he does the same a resolution can be found without even greater evil happening.

      Doesn’t Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ – the extraordinary sculpture of Our Lady holding the lifeless body of Jesus – have the same dramatic impact – to cause us to love rather than to fear the God whose love for us is greater than his desire for us to ‘submit’.

      Not far from that sculpture in St Peter’s there is Michelangelo’s depiction of Jesus as a wrestler, throwing his enemies into Hell – in the Sistine chapel. That idea too is valid, but the Pieta moves and changes me as I think of it, in a way the idea of Jesus as victorious wrestler cannot.

      Only love begets love, in the end. In the Gospel of John, Jesus insists that ‘the father and I are one’ and ‘he who sees me sees the father’. A theology that subtly makes the Father into someone different from Jesus – someone calling in a debt that only Jesus can repay – the theology of St Anselm in the high middle ages (1090s)- is, for me, a mistaken emphasis.

      Instead the Father is, through Jesus, showing infinite compassion for our abiding unease at our own weakness, our pursuit of victory and happiness through military strength, accumulation and dominance. Jesus is the Father’s arm, offered through the door. We can only come to the Father through thinking of Jesus, and loving him – not by thinking of the Father as different from him.

      St Francis and St Clare – were they not also ‘warriors’ for Christ by imitating Jesus’s poverty and vulnerability, rather than by dressing up in armour and taking to the sword? St Francis too went off to Africa to convert Islam – and he went unarmed.

      Reply
  2. Neil Bray

    Sean,
    Human beings can never lose their will to will.

    Reply
    • soconaill

      No, Neil, but humans can definitely change their minds on WHAT to will.

      Otherwise there could be no such thing as repentance.

      What could the prophesy in Jeremiah 31:31-34 mean other than that God intended to do something to help us to obey out of love rather than out of fear of the consequences of disobedience? What could Paul have meant by saying that where the Lord was (i.e. in the heart of the believer) the Holy Spirit would also be, and the gift of freedom? (2 Cor 3:17)

      Again I recommend Aidan Hart’s article ‘First Comes the Experience of God’s Unconditional Love’. Liberation from Pharaoh preceded the gift of and learning of the Laws given to Moses. Only love begets love, and an experience of love where previously there was only fear can change the human will’s choice of what to will.

      Reply

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