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#133 You Made Me Love You

November 02, 2009

Can you make some one love you, even with omnipotent power?

Does it really take two to tango (or have a loving relationship)?


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Dr. craig’s response


Your question captured my interest, Andrew, because over the last year Jan and I have been taking ballroom dancing lessons, including the tango! We originally began because our son John was getting married this past summer, and there was going to be dancing at the wedding. But as we took the lessons, I became quite enamored with ballroom dancing just because it's so much fun. Even though I am hopelessly uncoordinated—and I mean that literally, as some ballroom dances, like the rumba, require you to coordinate movements of hands, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet—I enjoy the challenge and am determined to learn how to do these dances.

Mastering these dances requires practice, and so I'll spend time by myself, going through the steps with a phantom partner. I figured that I could learn, say, the tango steps even without a partner just by pretending she is there and executing the movements. You don't really need two to tango, I figured—even if it's a lot more fun with a partner!

What I've discovered, however, is that this strategy has a huge drawback. While it's true that you can learn the steps of the tango all by yourself, that's only half the story. What's required of a man is that he learn to lead his partner through the successive steps. That requires all sorts of subtle pressures through the points of bodily contact in the arms and hands. And you just can't learn that practicing with a phantom partner! So when I come to dancing with Jan, my greatest weakness is that my leading isn't clear, and so she doesn't know what to do next. That can result in some sore toes!

I've come to see, then, that it really does take two to tango, especially to tango well.

Similarly, to have a genuine love relationship it takes the free cooperation of two persons. It is logically impossible to make someone do something freely. If you make the person do it, then that person didn't do it freely because it wasn't up to him; but if that person does it freely, then it's not up to you whether he did it. We need only add that genuine love must be freely given. (Think of the story of Pinocchio: Giapetto could have made his puppet move its mouth and say "Father, I love you," but Giapetto wanted a real boy, not a mere puppet, even though that entailed the risk of rebellion.) So a genuine love relationship entails the freedom of both parties to give and receive love.

Even omnipotence cannot do the logically impossible. God could produce certain chemical reactions in our brains that would issue in what we'd normally describe as loving behavior toward Him, but it would be a sham, a puppet-like response. To have a genuine love relationship with us, God must put up with the possibility of rebellion.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the lover is impotent to woo his beloved and so elicit a free response of love. A serious lover isn't passive but tries to think of ways to win his beloved's affection. He may try to learn her "love language" along with her likes and dislikes and to act accordingly. In effect, he'll contemplate the truth of various subjunctive conditionals, like "If I were to do x, then she would respond by doing y." He'll try to bring about the circumstances in which his beloved will freely give her love to him.

Now we can make only fallible, probability judgements about the truth of these subjunctive conditionals. Sometimes we discover that we have made a disastrous miscalculation and she reacts just the opposite of what we had anticipated. But in God's case—at least if God is, as I believe, endowed with middle knowledge—He knows infallibly under just what circumstances a person would or would not freely respond to His loving initiatives. God cannot make you love Him, but He may be able to do something even greater, namely, arrange the circumstances in which you would freely respond to His love.

Now the obvious question that arises is, why didn't God so providentially order the world that everyone would come to freely love Him? This is essentially the problem of (moral) evil and the soteriological version of that problem, both of which I've addressed elsewhere (see "The Problem of Evil" and "How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?"). In a nutshell, the answer is that it may not be within God's power to create a world of free persons (without generating overriding disadvantages) in which everyone freely comes to love God. It's not enough that there be circumstances in which each individual would come to freely love God; these circumstances must be compossible, and that just may not be the case. God still extends sufficient grace to every person He creates to come into a loving relationship with Him, but some people may be implacable and reject Him.

So in God's case, too, it still takes two to tango, and if one party refuses to dance, there will be no magic.

- William Lane Craig