Can Love be Terrible as Well as Gentle?



“My Lord,” she said,”I have another question to ask you. You have brought me here to the Mountain of Calamus where the reeds of gentleness grow. And I know so much about the gentleness of your love in my own experience. But is there another side to love? Can love be terrible as well as gentle? Is love really like a consuming fire which cannot be approached without fear and trembling? Can love even appear to be cruel and terrible?”

He was silent awhile before answering, almost as though he were considering the question with her. Then he turned upon her a look which was both grave and yet singularly beautiful at the same time. “Yes,” he said,”Love is a consuming fire. It is a burning, unquenchable passion for the blessedness and happiness, and, above all, for the perfection of the beloved object. The greater the love, the less it can tolerate the presence of anything that can hurt the beloved, and the less it can tolerate in the beloved anything that is unworthy or less than the best, or injurious to the happiness of the loved one. Therefore it is perfectly true that love, which is the most beautiful and the most gentle passion in the universe, can and must be at the same time the most terrible—terrible in what it is willing to endure itself in order to secure the blessing and happiness and perfection of the beloved, and, also, apparently terrible in what it will allow the beloved to endure if suffering is the only means by which the perfection or restoration to health of the beloved can be secured.”

When he had said this he began to sing another of the mountain songs.

Can love be terrible, my Lord?

Can gentleness be stern?

Ah yes!-intense is love’s desire

To purify his loved-’tis fire,

A holy fire to burn.

For he must fully perfect thee

Till in thy likeness all may see

The beauty of thy Lord.

Can holy love be jealous, Lord?

Yes, jealous as the grave;

Till every hurtful idol be

Uptorn and wrested out of thee

Love will be stern to save;

Will spare thee not a single pain

Till thou be freed and pure again

And perfect as thy Lord.

Can love seem cruel, O my Lord?

Yes, like a sword the cure;

He will not spare thee, sin-sick soul,

Till he hath made they sickness whole,

Until thine heart is pure.

For oh! He loves thee far too well

To leave thee in thy self-made hell,

A Savior is thy Lord!

“He made us; he knew what he was doing. It is love alone which can make all the agony and torment which men bring upon themselves and others explicable, for I see it is the means used by his inexorable will to save us and to make us so perfect that his love can be completely satisfied.

Behold the beauty and the terror of the love of God!”
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