"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
I usually have about a dozen books I'm reading at the same time, which means that it takes me some while to finish one of them. One of the books I am currently reading (and have not yet finished) is Victor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I am reading it because our son, Mark, downloaded it onto my "Kindle" while he and his wife, Julie, were staying with us so that he could finish a school assignment. Just recently, I started reading it and have become fascinated with Victor's account and observations concerning his experience as a prisoner (because he was Jewish) in Nazi labor and death camps. I had heard of Victor Frankl's "Logo-therapy" and the book before but had never read it.
I would like to share a quote but first I will give you the context. Victor was very wearily trudging along the road from the barracks to his work assignment with the other prisoners when his friend beside him said, "If only our wives could see us now!" That set Victor to thinking about his wife and though for all he knew she was already dead having also been sent to Auschwitz (and in fact she was murdered in the concentration camp), he could suddenly see her in his mind's eye as clear as though she were actually present and he could hear her voice speaking to him. This was not an instance of psychic phenomenon but a result of being reduced to one thing that had meaning for him: the love of his life, whether living or dead. This led to a profound insight which I will let you read in his own words.
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart:the salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'"
This reminded me of our recent foray into the Song of Solomon (in my message series on each of the books of the Bible) where romantic love is vividly and passionately expressed. I began to see that we Christians ought to regard romantic love, the love that brings a man and woman together, hopefully into a life-time commitment, not as something in competition with spiritual love, but as a doorway, an introduction to spiritual love. Eros is not so far distant from agape (two Greek words translated "love", the first usually used in the sense of the attraction between the sexes) as we might imagine. I think that it is God's way of tugging us toward the higher love between God and the soul. Yes, it is not virtuous, for it is, at least in its initial stages, a largely involuntary response and is fired by selfish considerations. And yet, it often produces something close to the divine charity, a dissolving of ego boundaries and a self-forgetfulness leading to acts of genuine self-denial. One is absorbed in the contemplation of the beloved, highly solicitous of their welfare and alive to everything they do or say. Persons in love are usually humbled and amazed that the object of their devotion returns their affections. They do not feel worthy to be loved by such a rare and wonderful creature! So not only charity but humility (though in a lower sense than spiritual love) is engendered in the state of mind produced by romantic love.
It is as if God were saying by this uniquely human experience, "Here is what, in a limited sense, it feels and looks like to have a love relationship with Me." This brings us back to the quote from Victor Frankl. We should note the last sentence: "For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'" I don't know where Victor found these words but they sound like something from classical Christian theology. I think that one of the terrible lacks among Christians today is the absence of a vivid perception of their spiritual Beloved. In fact, it is stretching it a bit for many to even think of Christ as their Beloved. We speak much of having a personal relationship with Christ but I am convinced that many Christians, including myself all too many times, have a mostly abstract and distant relationship with God. We are like someone who has been so long absent from a close friend or relation that they have actually forgotten what they look like.
So we should nourish our spiritual love-life by gaining and maintaining a vivid sense of our ultimate Beloved. While we cannot here in this life contemplate the infinite glory as well as the angels do, we can still feed our mind with thoughts of God, especially as revealed in Christ, that are not only true but that quicken our affections for Him. (We think so little about God it is no wonder we have such paltry feelings for Him!) In this, we will be aided by the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit's role to take the things of Christ and reveal them to us. The Scriptures are the tools the Spirit uses to give us a vivid view of our Redeemer. For instance, pick up your Bible and begin reading in one of the Gospels. Try to do more than read it cursorily. Picture, as realistically as possible, what is going on in the narrative or if it is conversation, imagine you are hearing it as first spoken. Then begin to talk to Jesus about what you have just learned about Him. Speak to Him in terms of endearment; treat Him as a real, living personality - for He is! Then I think you will begin to sharpen the vision of your beloved that it shall motivate you to serve Him, live for Him and joyfully make Him known to all who come within your reach!