It may be an obsession with equality or the extension of the trophy mentality to eternity, but I am often struck by the vehemence of those who protest that God does not love each of us equally. On the one hand, we can sympathize with our protester—that God might love some more than others reeks of a superiority complex based on the all-too human tendency to exclude ourselves from the roster of the “others.” This danger must be confronted head on because this “mere” theological exercise is not an excuse to say that one person is better than another, but a key component of a healthy understanding of God’s love for each one of us individually. It is, in fact, an indispensable facet of the Good News, enabling us to see how God’s love of all mankind extends to each person individually.
To open our minds to at least the possibility that God may love some more than others, we begin by assuming the egalitarian viewpoint. That is we must be willing to concede that God loves me just as much He does the Blessed Mother. Framed within such a stark contrast, we must at least be willing to entertain the possibility; if God were to love one person more than another, it would be here. If nothing else, this disparity would lead us to admit to the uniqueness of God’s love for each one of us. God certainly would love the Virgin Mary differently than He would love me even if it does not imply that there is a difference in degree.
Why God’s Unique Love is Not Enough
To say that God loves us uniquely is certainly true, but my contention is that we must also hold onto the more/less distinction as well. Calling it unique does not quite capture how it is Good News so we must continue on down this road, stopping at one detour along the way. To say that God loves one person more than another does not preclude Him from loving each of us with the same intensity. God is love, that is, love is of His essence and so He loves all things with the same vehemence or intensity of will. He wills the good for all of His creatures and for each man the supreme Good that is a share in His abundant life. This detour also gives us a moment to examine our perspective. When we do this, we realize we may be looking at the question from a totally human perspective. Human love is only an analogy for the love of God, only revealing part of it. It would be repulsive for a parent to love one of their children more than another. That is because when we love, it is a recognition of the good in the other. The good, in a certain sense, is the cause of our love. For God, it is the opposite—it is His love that causes the goodness (for a more thorough treatment of this question see ST I, q.20, art 3). With this paradigm shift comes a change in our focus to which we must ask, what exactly is it that makes us lovable?
In examining creation, both visible and invisible, we find that God willed a hierarchy in the natural realm. We find that by nature, angels are above men, men above beasts, beasts above plants, etc. This hierarchy means that no man, not even the Virgin Mary is above an angel by nature. There is also an internal hierarchy within the different natures. Some angels are above other angels and some men above other men. In short, nature’s hierarchy is based on how much the thing images God.
God is not content with the natural realm, in fact the natural realm was created so that those creatures who most perfectly image Him, may share in the supernatural realm. This we call the order of grace. And while grace does not destroy nature, it does disturb the natural hierarchy. A hierarchy remains but it is based on not so much on what the creature is, or, more accurately, who he or she is, but in how much he or she is “like” God. God is, from all eternity, not just love, but because He is a Communion of Persons, lovable. This means that the more “like” God the creature is, the more lovable they are. The more lovable they are, the more they are loved by God.
The Question Reframed
With proper framing we find that it is almost common sense that God would love more those who are more lovable and that our lovability is based upon the degree of our “God-likeness.” For sophisticated theologians, this “God-likeness” has a name—sanctifying grace or, as St. Peter puts it, the gift (gratis) by which we become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2Peter 1:4). We are loved to the degree that we have sanctifying grace in our souls. This is why we should ever be striving to increase in sanctifying grace (primarily through Prayer, the Sacraments, and acts of love for God), it makes us more lovable and thus more loved. The difference in love is not so much in the way that God loves us, but in our capacity to receive. That capacity is determined by one thing only—the amount of grace we have in our souls. Thus the Virgin Mary is more loved because she who is full of grace is more lovable. This is why we believe she occupies the highest realms of heaven. She who is most “like” God, is most near God.
To see why this is Good News look at someone like St. John Vianney. By all accounts he was not a man of any particular natural endowments and was probably quite simple at best. He would never achieve any great things in his life and his chances of making any lasting contributions to this world were pretty slim. Except, that he was inundated with grace and focused solely on growing in holiness (and all that entails including service of neighbor, etc.). Why it is Good News is because it doesn’t depend on my accomplishments at all. It doesn’t matter what great things I do, it only matters that “the Almighty does great things for me” only because I say yes, “be it done to me according to your word.” This is incredibly freeing, especially to someone like me who is plagued by pride. By humbling accepting this, it can gives us a laser focus realizing the desire each of us has for greatness and the call to holiness are the same thing.
If you are still unconvinced that this really is Good News, then I offer one more example of a Saint who rode this doctrine all the way to Heaven and was declared a Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux. Happy to be the smallest of God’s flowers she knew He would fill her to the brim with grace and could offer herself as a victim to His love without any hesitation. Her capacity to be loved may have been less than some of the other Saints, but she strove to have her cup filled to the brim. The Little Flower shows us the other reason why this is also part of the Good News. In the heavenly realm there is no competition. Each person is perfectly happy in their place because they are filled and are part of a whole that shows the glory of God. God is not simply trying to populate heaven, He is building a family, and like in all families, it glory consists in the whole and not the individual parts. St. Therese, pray for us!