Must Love Be Chosen?

Love must always be chosen. Love never forces itself on someone. So says Benjamin Corey, who echos popular beliefs about the nature of love. But is it true? I think not, because in both cases there are clear counterexamples.

It is not the case that love must always be chosen. Suppose it is: then every mother had to will herself to love her newborn child when it was placed in her arms. If not, she failed to love her baby. That is very hard to believe, for in many cases such love naturally arises without a second-thought, and remains in place without interruption. Only malformed parents have to will themselves to love their child at birth. This is not the say that there are not cases where exemplary love is chosen–enemy love for example. In that case, love is not naturally determined by the nature of the beloved, and takes conscious effort of the will to bring about. Such love is admirable in its own way, but not all forms of love require such willing. From a theological point of view (a view Corey speaks from), it does not appear that the Trinitarian Persons must choose to love one another. Indeed, there would be something defective or imperfect about a love that requires such a choice, for if the beloved is worthy of love, claiming that it is up to us to bestow love on the beloved disrespects the beloved.

It is not the case that love never forces itself on someone. No doubt this is plausible, but think of a couple who adopts an orphaned infant who lives in dire poverty. It is not up to the beloved in this case to accept or reject the love of the adoptive parents: the love of the parents is related to the infant without the infant’s consent, and it would not be wrong to remain so related to the infant who might grow up and reject the love of the adoptive parents.

To be fair, Corey is talking about romantic love, the kind a man expresses to a woman in a marriage proposal: it would be unloving to override her autonomy, and that surely seems correct. It would be too much to spell out what exactly “autonomy” entails, but with respect to love, I think the intuition Corey is trying to explain is this: the beloved must not be manipulated into loving the lover. This explains why the “love” that comes from the beloved who is under the influence of a love potion concocted by the lover is a farce (see the video below). And this plausible belief underlies Corey’s objection to the Calvinist’s doctrine of irresistible grace, which implies that the love that comes from the beloved to the lover is such that it is produced by the lover. Presumably, God is interested in there being a genuine love relationship between him and his creatures, and the kind that results from irresistible grace is not it.