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The Human Response to the Father's Love:
Urantia Book Perspectives on Spiritual Growth

by Peter Laurence

The Father's Love: The Pattern Relationship

The title of this talk is "The Human Response" and through it, I'd like to explore some of the ways in which we, as individuals, respond to God. I say "some of the ways" because this is by no means intended to be a complete survey of the topic, and if, at the end of this session, I leave you either challenged, perplexed, or inspired to think more about the subject, then I will have achieved my goal for the day.

Let me first establish the stimulus for the human response--the Father's love, the pattern relationship. It seems to me that one of our major problems is having to reconcile God's absolute reality with the reality which we perceive in human terms. In other words, the meaning we give to the reality that we perceive is strictly our interpretation of the absolute pattern, based on our personal experience and that which others share with us. A good example is the difficulty we face in attempting to deal with God's relationship to mortal creatures, the relationship which is symbolized by the term "love."

To help describe this absolute pattern The Urantia Book tells us that ". . Love is the greatest relationship in the world--in the universe--just as truth is the greatest pronouncement of the observation of these divine relationships." (*1615:5) "Love is the greatest of all spirit realities. Truth is a liberating revelation, but love is the supreme relationship." (*1608:1) "Love is the ancestor of all spiritual goodness, the essence of the true and the beautiful." (*2047:5) ". . .love is all-embracing of truth, beauty, and goodness." (*67:5) These concepts of ". . truth, beauty, and goodness--man's intellectual approach to the universe of mind, matter, and spirit- must be combined into one unified concept of a divine and supreme ideal. As mortal personality unifies the human experience with matter, mind, and spirit, so does this divine and supreme ideal become power-unified in Supremacy and then personalized as a God of fatherly love." (*647:7)

"Mortal man cannot possibly know the infinitude of the heavenly Father. Finite mind cannot think through such an absolute truth or fact. But this same finite being can actually feel--literally experience--the full and undiminished impact of such an infinite Father's LOVE. Such a love can be truly experienced, albeit while quality of experience is unlimited, quantity of such an experience is strictly limited by the human capacity for spiritual receptivity and by the associated capacity to love the Father in return." (*50 5)

"Finite appreciation of infinite qualities far transcends the logically limited capacities of the creature because of the fact that mortal man is made in the image of God-- there lives within him a fragment of infinity. Therefore man's nearest and dearest approach to God is by and through love, for God is love. And all of such a unique relationship is an actual experience in cosmic sociology, the Creator-creature relationship--the Father-child affection." (*50:6)

"God is the Father; man is his son. Love, the love of a father for his son, becomes the central truth in the universe relations of Creator and creature..." (2018:1) "The Father loves each of his sons, and that affection is not less than true, holy, divine, unlimited, eternal, and unique--a love bestowed upon this son and upon that son, individually, personally, and exclusively. And such a love utterly eclipses all other facts. Sonship is the supreme relationship of the creature to the Creator." (*454:3) "God loves each creature. . . throughout all time and eternity." (*1304:7) "The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature." ( *2017:3)

Thus, love is the pattern relationship, an absolute pattern emanating from the source of all reality. When the creature first feels the stirrings of this inspiration in his own emerging capacity to respond, the outcome is an inevitable blend of the human and the divine--the divine pattern of love constrained by the human response. This response has taken so many diverse forms through the course of its evolution that the term "love," as we have come to apply it, falls far short of adequately symbolizing the relationship of God to his creation. A Divine Counselor has expressed his frustration at the limitations of our symbolism by saying, "At times I am almost pained to be compelled to portray the divine affection of the heavenly Father for his universe children by the employment of the human word symbol love. This term, even though it does connote man's highest concept of the mortal relations of respect and devotion, is so frequently designative of so much of human relationship that is wholly ignoble and utterly unfit to be known by any word which is also used to indicate the matchless affection of the living God for his universe creatures!" (*40:4)

Let's take a look at the development of some of these aspects of the human capacity to love.

Evolutionary Love: The Human Response

The device which stimulates the earliest creature response to our Creator's love is predictably biological in nature. While the urgings of food hunger lead us to survive in the flesh, that which impels the dawning of a will creature's capacity to love another human being is the instinctive desire to reproduce. The fifth epochal revelation tells us that "It is because of the sex urge that selfish man is lured into making something better than an animal out of himself. The self-regarding and self-gratifying sex relationship entails the certain consequences of self-denial and insures the assumption of altruistic duties and numerous race-benefiting home responsibilities. Herein has sex been the unrecognized and unsuspected civilizer of the savage; for this same sex impulse automatically and unerringly compels man to think and eventually leads him to love." (*922:3)

The social repercussions of this biological genesis of the capacity to love apparently run through an evolutionary process which, during the course of eternity, progresses toward the ideal and original pattern. According to the midwayers, "Love, unselfishness, must undergo a constant and living readaptative interpretation of relationships in accordance with the leading of the Spirit of Truth. Love must thereby grasp the ever-changing and enlarging concepts of the highest cosmic good of the individual who is loved. And then love goes on to strike this same attitude concerning all other individuals who could possibly be influenced by the growing and living relationship of one spirit-led mortal's love for other citizens of the universe. And this entire living adaptation of love must be effected in the light of both the environment of present evil and the eternal goal of the perfection of divine destiny." (*1950:6)

Such affection must be played out on the stage of finite reality before it can achieve the heights of perfection. As we come in contact with others, and as our relationship with God is gradually redefined, our expressions of love are continually influenced by Supreme values. The midwayers go on to say that "Love is the highest motivation which man may utilize in his universe ascent. But love, divested of truth, beauty, and goodness, is only a sentiment, a philosophic distortion, a psychic illusion, a spiritual deception. Love must always be redefined on successive levels of morontia and spirit progression." (*2096:6)

The human response to God, the evolutionary capacity to love, is initially stimulated by the biological sex urge and progresses, "automatically and unerringly," to the acquisition of social responsibility and eventually to the stirrings of affection for another human being. Before it can be redefined on morontia and spirit levels, love must transcend the mortal breeding ground within which it takes a variety of forms that are colored by our receptivity to Supreme values. It is my central purpose in this discussion to propose that we, as mortals participating in the development of our relationship with God, inevitably go through varying stages in that relationship which are reflective of our current capacity to love as the Father loves, and that the primary indicator of the quality of that love is both drawn from, and illustrated by, the nature of our relationships with fellow mortals. As Erich Fromm expresses it in his classic work The Art of Loving, " . . . the nature of (any individual's) love for God corresponds to the nature of his love for man. . ." (p. 69)

Human Affection: The Importance of Romance

Human awareness of the existence of God is prompted by the sixth adjutant mind spirit, who leads us to worship that which is greater than ourselves. When we cross the threshold of understanding the fact, and feeling the truth, of sonship, worship becomes a very personal matter, but the form that is takes is largely determined by the human condition. The midwayers, in summarizing Jesus' words, say that "Worship is the act of the son's personal communion with the divine Father, the assumption of refreshing, creative, fraternal, and romantic attitudes by the human soul-spirit." (*1616:10)

Let's focus for a moment on the word "romantic." Romance is defined by one dictionary as "the tendency of the mind toward the wonderful and mysterious." When human affection reaches the level where it imbues its object with qualities which are wonderful and mysterious, this condition may be described as romantic love. The condition itself forms the basis for an over-whelming proportion of contemporary literature, yet the characteristics of the romantic relationship have escaped serious study until fairly recently. Since romantic love may well be one manifestation of the human response to God's pattern relationship, and since this construct could possibly describe the form which worship takes for any individual at a particular stage of his or her development, it might be worth while to learn just what qualities this relationship appears to possess.

Now, don't get upset. I'm not suggesting that there is a sexual aspect to worship (although at certain periods in human history the blending of these two elements apparently took place), but I do feel that the romantic relationship is definitely one stage in the human interpretation of absolute love, and therefore deserves our attention.

The most comprehensive study of romantic love that I am aware of was done by Dorothy Tennov of the University of Bridgeport, and was published in 1979 under the title Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. As I read to you her short preface to the book, see if you identify at all with this state of mind. "You think:

"I want you. "I want you forever, now, yesterday, and always. Above all, I want you to want me.

"No matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not safe from your spell. At any moment, the image of your face smiling at me, of your voice telling me you care, or of your hand in mine, may suddenly fill my consciousness rudely pushing out all else.

"The expression 'thinking of you' fails to convey either the quality or quantity of this un-willed mental activity. 'Obsessed' comes closer but leaves out the aching. A child is obsessed on Christmas Eve. But it's a happy pre-possession full of excitement, curiosity, and expectation. This pre-possession is an emotional roller coaster that carries me from the peak of ecstasy to the depths of despair. And back again.

"I bear the thought of other topics when I must, but prolonged concentration on any other subject is difficult to tolerate. I must admit that it has happened on occasion that some entertainment or distraction overwhelmed thought of you, and I was suddenly freed from my pain and for an instant viewed you from a new perspective. (On those occasions I glimpsed reality usually closed from my view.) I don't seek 'distractions.' I'm too afraid that they won't distract after all and I'll be imprisoned somewhere saying polite nothings while I long to give myself up to desiring you with all my passion; to Tin Pan Alley's 'burning desire.'

"Everything reminds me of you. I try to read, but four times on a single page some word begins the lightning chain of associations that summons my mind away from my work, and I must struggle to return my attention to the task at hand. Often I give up easily, leave my desk, and throw myself down on my bed, where my body lies still while my imagination constructs long and involved and plausible reasons to believe that you love me."

This is one description of the feeling of romantic love for another human being. Obviously the relationship entails much that is limited to non-spiritual levels, but if we can feel this way about a fellow creature--does it make sense that the expression of our love for the inexpressible beauty of the personality of God can be any less? Does the thought of God so fill our minds that the ability to concentrate on anything else is lost? Are the wonderful and mysterious qualities of another fragile and imperfect being more deserving of this overwhelming feeling of affection than the qualities of the Father of all? True worship is described by the revelators as ". . . a natural and spontaneous reaction to the recognition of the Father's matchless personality and because of his lovable nature and adorable attributes." (*65:6) In light of this statement, the romantic attitude might very well fit somewhere into a useful model for a natural and legitimate response to God.

Tennov, in her study, looked for regularities in the expressions of romance given to her by over a thousand people on questionnaires, in diaries, and in individual interviews. The resulting pattern of behavior she identified by the term "Limerence," which stands for the condition of being in love. Its first and foremost characteristic is described by her in a quote from Stendhal, in which he states, "The most surprising thing of all about love is the first step, the violence of the change that takes place in the mind.... A person in love is unremittingly and uninterruptedly occupied with the image of the beloved." (p. 33) According to Tennov, " . .when your limerence for someone has crystallized, all events, associations, stimuli, experience, return your thoughts to (the limerent object) with unnerving consistency. At the moment of awakening after the night's sleep, an image of (the limerent object) springs into your consciousness. And you find yourself inclined to remain in bed pursuing that image and the fantasies that surround and grow out of it. Your daydreams persist throughout the day and are involuntary. Extreme effort of will to stop them produces only temporary surcease." (p. 34)

"The 'moment of consummation,' the goal, the climax of the limerent fantasy is not sexual union but emotional commitment on the part of the (limerent object)." (p. 39) This reciprocation of feelings seems to be the most critical element in the expression of romantic love. The lover yearns most to be loved in return. Such a phenomenon is not limited to mortal feelings. A Divine Counselor confesses that "...I think we all, including the mortals of the realms, love the Universal Father and all other beings, divine or human, because we discern that these personalities truly love us. The experience of loving is very much a direct response to the experience of being loved. Knowing that God loves me, I should continue to love him supremely, even though he were divested of all his attributes of supremacy, ultimacy, and absoluteness." (*39:3-39:1) This Divine Counselor goes on to say that the Father himself ". . is eternally motivated by the perfect idealism of divine love, and that tender nature finds its strongest expression and greatest satisfaction in loving and being loved." (*59:3) "There is an infinite grandeur and an inexpressible generosity connected with the majesty of his love which causes him to yearn for the association of every created being who can comprehend, love, or approach him. . ." (*62:4)

The excitement of romantic feeling; the uncompromising preoccupation with the beloved; the insatiable desire to be loved in return; all of these criteria describe a condition which many of us have experienced in connection with another being. I wonder how many have gone through the process of falling in love with God. Is there anyone on earth as beautiful, as good, or as capable of loving us in return?

Beyond Limerence

And yet, the limerent condition falls short of an ideal response to God --it does not represent the highest form of worship available to man. For one thing, according to Tennov, the state of ". . .limerence appears to develop and be sustained when there is a certain balance of hope and uncertainty. However unappealing it may be," she says, "in a universe conceived as orderly and humane, the fact is undeniable; fear of rejection may cause pain, but it also enhances desire." (p. 54) This principle seems to be the basis for the classic game of playing hard-to-get, which on the human level has been effective for as long as anyone can remember. Based on Tennov's analysis, "Games, play-acting, subterfuge, coyness, the sending of ambiguous messages and trial balloons that can be retracted or denied if such seems a wiser course: Such deviations from straightforward honesty become essential limerent strategies." Does God play games with us? I think not. Do we play games with God? That appears to be an inescapable aspect of the human condition.

Tennov agrees that limerence is not the highest form of love. She finds that limerence is a highly dependent state, where insecurity exerts a profound influence on our behavior. As she expresses it, "Is this deplorable state of affairs a necessary aspect of love? It does seem essential to limerence; hence the need for a new term. . .'Love,' in most of its meanings, involves concern for the other person's welfare and feelings. Affection and fondness have no 'objective'; they simply exist as feelings in which you are disposed toward actions to which the recipient might or might not respond. In contrast, limerence demands return. Other aspects of your life, including love, are sacrificed in behalf of the all-consuming need. While limerence has been called love, it is not love."

Although every being derives the deepest satisfaction from being loved, the expression of true love, God's pattern relationship, demands nothing in return. Says The Urantia Book, "Love is the desire to do good to others." (*648:5) "Love is the outworking of the divine and inner urge of life. It is founded on understanding, nurtured by unselfish service, and perfected in wisdom." (*1898:6) "Love is the secret of beneficial association between personalities." (*141:4) The epitome of unselfish love finds its analogy in ". . .the parent-child relationship, than which there is none more tender and beautiful in mortal experience." (*40:7), according to a Divine Counselor. Here again, the impositions of finite reality may tend to obscure, for many of us, the ideals inherent in the absolute pattern.

Throughout The Urantia Book, the parent-child relationship is extolled as the greatest expression of love in human experience. To what extent do we see, in our own lives, the unselfishness and the wisdom of the Father's love as we bestow it upon our children? In turn, do we really look upon our earthly parents as a reflection of the infinite love of God? I suspect that most often the reverse is true. Our image of God as a father is deeply affected by the original impression we have of our human experience as children. Erich Fromm tells us that "...the love of God cannot be separated from the love for one's parents." In his words, "If a person does not emerge from incestuous attachment to mother, clan, nation, if he retains the childish dependence on a punishing and rewarding father, or any other authority, he cannot develop a more mature love for God; then his religion is that of the earlier phase of religion, in which God was experienced as an all-protective mother or a punishing-rewarding father." (p. 68-69) A Melchizedek points out that "Religious meanings progress in self-consciousness when the child transfers his ideas of omnipotence from his parents to God. And the entire religious experience of such a child is largely dependent on whether fear or love has dominated the parent-child relationship." (*1013:6)

Fromm distinguishes between generalizations of mother love and father love. "Fatherly love," he says, "is conditional love. Its principle is 'I love you because you fulfill my expectations, because you do your duty, because you are like me.' In conditional fatherly love we find . . a negative and a positive aspect. The negative aspect is the very fact that fatherly love has to be deserved, that it can be lost if one does not do what is expected. In the nature of fatherly love lies the fact that obedience becomes the main virtue, that disobedience is the main sin--and its punishment the withdrawal of fatherly love. The positive side is equally important. Since his love is conditioned, I can do something to acquire it, I can work for it; his love is not outside my control as motherly love is." (p. 36)

On the other hand, Fromm says that the child learns, through the early nurturing experience with the mother, that " . . . I am loved because I am. This experience of being loved by mother is a passive one. There is nothing I have to do in order to be loved--mother's love is unconditional. All I have to do is to be--to be her child. Mother's love is bliss, is peace, it need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. But there is a negative side, too, to the unconditional quality of mother's love. Not only does it not need to be deserved--it also cannot be acquired, produced, controlled. If it is there, it is like a blessing; if it is not there, it is as if all beauty had gone out of life--and there is nothing I can do to create it." (P. 33)

From the human view, which is more desirable, mother-love or father-love? Fromm feels that "Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand, to be loved because of one's merit, because one deserved it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person whom I want to love me, maybe this, or that--there is always a fear that love could disappear. Furthermore, 'deserved' love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, that one is loved only because one pleases, that one is, in the last analysis, not loved at all but used." (p. 35)

There is an inescapable note of insecurity, however, in Fromm's description of both types of parent love, a negative aspect to each. Does this sense of insecurity creep into our response to God? Are we sure that we're doing the right thing? Will the beneficence of infinite and eternal love be removed from us? A Melchizedek assures us that "God the Father deals with man his child on the basis, not of actual virtue or worthiness, but in recognition of the child's motivation--the creature purpose and intent." (*1133:5) Jesus said that "The child, being immature and lacking in the fuller understanding of the depth of the child-father relationship, must frequently feel a sense of guilty separation from a father's full approval, but the true father is never conscious of any such separation. Sin is an experience of creature consciousness; it is not a part of God's consciousness." (*1898:5)

In summary, if our response to God's love is truly conditioned by our human experience and by our established patterns of relationship to fellow mortals, and if we, here, today, are earnestly seeking a higher form of expression for that response, then a major shift in perspective may be called for. Rodan of Alexandria understood and explained that "The lower religions shape their ideas of God to meet the natural state of the human heart; the higher religions demand that the human heart shall be changed to meet the demands of the ideals of true religion." (*1781:3)

To me this is an invitation--an appeal to render to our Creator at least the best of our human capacity to love and then to go beyond our experience by reaching for the ideals presented by his indwelling gift. As a Mighty Messenger puts it, "Men all too often forget that God is the greatest experience in human existence. Other experiences are limited in their nature and content, but the experience of God has no limits save those of the creature's comprehension capacity, and this very experience is in itself capacity enlarging. When men search for God, they are searching for everything. When they find God, they have found everything. The search for God is the unstinted bestowal of love attended by amazing discoveries of new and greater love to be bestowed." ( *1289:3)


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