Immortal Love = Impossible?

In his book, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, Henri Nouwen tells a “fairy tale” about a lonely man who lives in a big city and eats in the same restaurant every night.  One day a rose appears on his usual table, and after that the man is comforted by the rose’s presence each evening. After several weeks, however, the man dares to touch the rose and discovers that it is plastic. He becomes angry, depressed, and lonelier than before. Then Nouwen writes this:

We are not made to love immortal things. Only what is irreplaceable, unique, and mortal can touch our deepest human sensitivities and be a source of hope and consolation. God only became lovable when he became mortal.

Woah. That is quite a statement! Is Nouwen suggesting it was impossible to love God before the Incarnation?  That the Old Testament, pre-Jesus command to Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind was an impossible ideal?

Just read this and had to post it.  What do you think? Discuss!


5 thoughts on “Immortal Love = Impossible?

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  1. Wow that is quite a statement! My initial reaction is that it’s really hard to love something we can’t relate to on a personal level, thus God sending his Son to meet us where we are at. I mean think about it. In the old testament days God was this highly feared supreme being almost no one had seen or even knew what looked like. When Jesus came it was Gods way of personifying himself in the flesh and gave us humans, who have such a single dimension of the understanding of God, something basic we could all relate to to love. But on the flipside I disagree with Nouwen when he says we weren’t created to love something immortal because if we are created in Gods image, then we were created with his ability to love.


  2. i’m a little curious at nouwen’s equating “immortal” with that which is not “unique.” i wouldn’t think that something that is immortal would also by definition have to be uniform. perhaps that’s a subject for another debate…

    but to the point under discussion here: i have a feeling that King David in the old testament would disagree vehemently with nouwen’s statement that God could only be lovable in mortal form.


  3. Grace, you bring up a good point about how Nouwen makes a quick generalization of immortality disqualifying a being or object from being unique or special. Later in this section he argues that only when something is distinctive, changeable, and perishing can we appreciate it for the precious gift that it is (of course he is mainly referring to people/relationships). I vehemently disagree with Nouwen on this point, as it is God’s unchanging character that makes me love Him so much. This idea is often reflected in the Scriptures, likening man and worldly pursuits to fading grass and wildflowers, rotting garments, and shifting sand while God is a faithful, steady Rock for us to run to. I like (read: love) that in a God!

    Also, while I believe God may ask us to do things that are impossible without the help of His Holy Spirit, He will not ask us to do things that are impossible, period. If it were impossible to love God as an immortal being, He would not ask/command us to do so.

    Finally, I think that Nouwen is mistaken when he says that we are not made to love mortal things, assuming that there is not an immortal aspect to our souls that can connect with the immortal Godhead (and not just Jesus). If it were only possible to love God in human form (viz. Jesus), how then can I explain the “hope and consolation” I receive from his immortal Spirit dwelling inside me? And don’t even get me started on the obvious love relationship portrayed between God and man in the Old Testament, as Grace alluded to in her comment.

    So yeah. Love a lot of stuff Nouwen says, but I think he should have re-thought this section before putting it to print.


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