E. Glenn Hinson writing his biography of Douglas V. Steere titled the book with Steere’s own words: “Love at the Heart of Things.” Douglas Steere believed in “love at the heart of things,” that our “life is undergirded by and swept up into a greater life that is at work here and that will carry us on into it as we pass from this life.” This “greater life,” this “Love,” Steere understood to be God, and God permeated all things. (There is much more that needs to be said about Steere’s understanding of God, but that is the best I can do in the space available).
For many years I have used Steere’s phrase, “love at the heart of things.” It says well what I believe and what I’ve experienced in my religious quest. If “love is at the heart of all things,’ then von Hugel was right when he wrote, “Caring (loving) is the best thing in the world; caring (loving) is all that matters; Christianity taught us to care.” Douglas Steere coined another phrase that I borrowed years ago: “life is lent to be spent” (in caring) because of the “love at the heart of things.”
My mentor, Elton Trueblood, however, was very concerned about our contemporary use of the word “love.” He preferred to use the word “care” in place of “love.” When he recited the love chapter (I Corinthians 13) at a retreat, he replaced the word “love” with the word “care” and many of us found the passage more meaningful. Elton rejected the saying, “Love is God.” He rejected this because love is an abstraction rather than a personal being. “Not all love is godly,” Elton wrote, “by any stretch of the imagination. There is love of the world and, far worse, love of self. Love may easily decline into mere sentimentality and often does so. It may, in many contemporary minds, become a synonym for lust. It is the part of realism to recognize an intrinsic distinction between what we know as love and the Divine Lover.”
Pondering over this “Love at the Heart of Things” this morning, I wonder if I’m guilty (along with many others) of making the Divine Lover an abstraction.