Does God Love Unequally?: An evening of spiritual jealousy and cupcakes

It was twenty to eight at night.  I was sitting at the kitchen table with my apron still on.  The preschoolers and toddler were all in their respective beds, and I was waiting quietly for my coffee to brew.  Something familiar hung on me from the day—what was it?  Frustration?  Disappointment?  I stretched out my shoulders and tried to decide.  My husband sat next to me, working on his grad school paper.  I absently watched him type.

I needed to write my own article and had planned to write on offering up daily annoyances.  Still struggling deeply in that department, I trudged downstairs to look for my Mother Teresa book for encouragement.  I brought the book upstairs and set it on the table, when, suddenly, I didn’t want to read it anymore.  I felt myself recoil at the sight of her testimony.  I didn’t want to hear her inspiring words—all the beauty and love she had found in her work.  I didn’t want to read how she had done her work so well and so lovingly.  She was able to do that, I thought, simply because God loved her more than me.  And it wasn’t fair.  And it hurt.

I glanced at our poster of John Paul II holding the Eucharist in front of a crucifix, and I thought of all the great saints like John the Apostle and St. Francis who had loved God so much and whom He had loved immensely.  I knew I probably wouldn’t love Him like they had.  And why was that?  Was it because He didn’t love me as much as them and so didn’t give me those spiritual gifts?  Why did God make me to love Him just a little?  Why didn’t He love me like He loved them?

Big drops fell on my cheeks, and I knew what had been hanging on me tonight.  Underneath it all, in the midst of the trials of the day, I felt as if God had given me my little daily challenges without giving me as much grace as other people had to conquer them.  I felt like if only He had given me the gifts He had given St. Francis or Mother Teresa or St. Therese, I wouldn’t be the sorry soul that I was.

I didn’t want to bother my husband as he did his work, but I also didn’t make any attempt to hide the giant tears that were falling near his keyboard.  He stopped and looked up, very concerned.  So it all came out, in bits and pieces, until I finally got at the heart of my heartache:  How come God doesn’t love us all equally?  He come He made me to be loved less than St. Francis?

After a big hug, my husband Paul, who received his Master of Theological Studies from Ave Maria and who’s currently working on a canon law licentiate, addressed my question with characteristic thoughtfulness and thoroughness, even citing the Summa.  And here’s, in short, what St. Thomas and Paul had to say:

Thomas addresses this question in Part I, Question 20, articles 3-4.

Point 1: St. Thomas says that on one hand, we can say that God does not love some things more than others because His will is one and simple.  God loves everyone perfectly because He is incapable of loving imperfectly.

Point 2: But, on the other hand, we can say that God does love those more for whom He wills a greater good, though His will is not more or less intense.  God’s loving one thing more means His willing for that thing a greater good, for example: God might bestow on one person the gift of charity that He hadn’t bestowed on another.  St. Thomas points to the problem of deciding who loved God more, Peter or John, as proof of the difficulty of comparing spiritual gifts.  He writes that some say that Christ loved Peter more because of his gift of charity, and others say that He loved John more because He gave him the gift of contemplation.  The gifts are both so good, however, that it’s impossible for St. Thomas to compare them, and he concludes that it’s even presumptuous to do so since the Lord alone is the weigher of spirits (Prov. 16:2).

I didn’t want to be doing something that St. Thomas said was presumptuous, though I’ve done it for so long, but I was still unsure about the whole thing, especially as my imagination kept bringing up the fact of God’s bestowing more gifts on others.  How couldn’t that be a sign of His loving others more?  I put the question again to Paul, and again, he gently reiterated that it was essential to clarify that we are not talking about God’s intensity of will but rather on gifts given.  All spiritual gifts or grace comes from the cross, so we shouldn’t take the quantity of gifts given as the real sign of his love.  All gifts require His death, no matter how many He decides to give.  I glanced at our crucifix poster again and something clicked.

I imagined a spiritual gift as a cupcake.  I pictured one in front of me and three in front of the person next to me.  I suddenly knew that if I had known that someone had died to procure those cupcakes for us, I wouldn’t mind at all if I only had one and the next person had three because I knew how costly they were.  If someone had loved me enough to die for me, I’d be happy with whatever he decided to give me because it would be an expression of perfect love.  I was getting so happy that I told Paul that I wouldn’t care if I only had one cupcake and saw that someone had a whole pile…then, stopped.  No, wait, that seemed different, but then Paul was quick to point out that our limited human minds are always trying to equate the number of gifts with the intensity of will.

I was content with that.  And happy.  And thinking about how upset I’d be if my children started comparing the cupcakes I had given them with the others’, as it would imply that my love for them was somehow deficient—when, in reality, those suckers were probably really hard to make—it made even more sense.  And then I was happy to put this whole mess behind me and get down to the business of loving God.  I resolved to no longer compare others’ spiritual gifts to my own because first, it’s impossible and second, St. Thomas says that we shouldn’t.  God has given me a certain mission and gifts to accomplish that mission, and like a good child, I should trust that He’s given them to me out of perfect love, and so I should respond to that love by loving Him as I carry out my mission.  In other words: no more being jealous of Mother Teresa’s cupcakes because He’s given me my own, at a very dear price.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer

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