It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Spe Salvi 26
Reflection – Well, it turns out the Beatles were right: all you need is love (da da da da da). And all the cheesy love songs are right, after all: all that jazz about love lifting us up where we belong and lighting up our life and… well, name your tune.
The Pope is clear: love redeems, and the Church is very clear that this applies to the most human, earthy experiences of love. But the obvious question arises: what does it mean to ‘be redeemed’? It seems to me that in this context, what the Pope is describing is life being given meaning, beauty, goodness. We all labor under a burden of futility, a sense that the world is not a good place, not going anywhere, not happy.
This is what science, which can be understood in the broadest sense of the word as mastery, as taking control of the world and life, cannot redeem us from. We can attain an utter technological or some form of control of our world, and not be one step closer towards an experience of well being, of joy, of life to the fullest.
Ah, but that moment of falling in love! Suddenly the world is Technicolor, charged with energy, life, meaning, purpose. Suddenly it is all very important. People experience this when they fall truly in love with another; they also experience it at the birth of a child. One minute ago you were just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, then your holding this little baby in your arms and the mystery of love enters your world in a whole new way. Suddenly everything is so much more important than it was one minute ago.
The Pope’s genius here, of course, is to point out that, beautiful and redemptive as all this is, it is not enough, really. Not because there’s something terribly wrong with human love, but because it is so very, very fragile.
We all know this. Love can fail. People die. Relationships founder. Things just don’t work out. And if ‘love’ is the redemptive power in the world, the one thing in our experience that gives life meaning, beauty, goodness, then an experience of love that can fail and often does is a pretty shaky redemption indeed.
And without something a bit more solid, life becomes ultimately a tragic affair. No matter how blissful the love affair, how solid and fruitful the marriage, how wonderful and perfect your children are, in the end it all comes crashing down. Death—and ‘bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness’, to quote another cheesy song.
We need a love that is stronger than death and that cannot fail, if our need for redemption, our experience of life is going to be not tragic, but (in the deepest sense of the word) comic. And this is what Jesus has given us – the love of the Father, poured out upon the whole human race, with a strength and consistency and unconditional power that comes directly from God.