The book has resurfaced at last, and so I am back on board with the scintillating tale of Love Alone is Credible. Part I is here. And Parts II and III are also available, but not in hardback.
After introducing the glory of divine love, von Balthasar breaks into an account of the human experience of that love: "The Failures of Love."
When a man encounters the love of God in Christ, for the first time he realizes what genuine love is and also that he himself does not possess true love. His own failure to love has two parts: it is finite and it is frigid. (What a glorious adjective!) This failure is a call to conversion of heart, "which must in the face of this love confess that it has failed to love until now," and a conversion of the mind, "which must relearn what love after all really is."
The first failure of human love is its finitude. All of our little loves and desires are limited by time and nature. While some loves (erotic desire) can be gateways to a lifelong fidelity (marriage), not one of our human relationships accomplishes the journey our hearts desire. Spouses die or are unfaithful; the beloved's "faults and limitations become unbearable." Children find their parents' love to be smothering. Love, as it changes, becomes frigid, and dies.
We suffer from these contradictions in love: Our hearts know that "the here and now ought to be eternal--and at the same time ought not to be (lest it become an unberable hell). Thus, the heart remains a mystery to itself." We are aware of our heart's paralysis--it is torn between the desire to last forever and its inability to last forever. Nothing in the natural world gives us a solution. Human philosophies recommend resignation, or simply shrug off the impossibility of love, or compartmentalize our various loves into little boxes that cannot inform our lives as wholes.
The Christian answer, therefore, cannot primarily be a new "teaching" or knowledge. Gnositicism is guilty of making Christ into some secret knowledge that saves us. Rather, "the revelation of love must in the first place be an action that God undertakes ... The key to understanding the action lies solely in God's presentation of himself to human beings on the stage of human nature ... Indeed, the fact that God's love transforms [sinful man], converting him or hardening his heart, expresses not the essence of that love, but its effect." In the light of human standards, God's love will appear "foolish," but only because God does not tailor Himself to meet our expectations.
Thus, von Balthasar insists, a true experience of divine glory is received only in "the abiding shock." God's action breaks in upon our lives in the concrete struggles of daily life; it is the action of a Wholly Other. We cannot conceive a sufficient "reason" for this love. It is so perfectly piercing and beautiful, we cannot imagine why God would ever come to us in this way. Divine love is a scandal--a stumbling block: "The scandal is here [for man to] draw his eye to the uniqueness of the love that manifests itself and, in its light, to reveal his own inchoate, creaturely love quite concretely for the nonlove that it is."