I Want You to Be

On the God of Love

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Tomᚹ Halík
Translator(s): 
Gerald Turner
  • Notre Dame, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , August
     2016.
     200 pages.
     $25.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780268100728.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Tomáš Hálik’s I Want You to Be: On the God of Love we find reflections on love from someone who has bravely given of himself while living under oppressive regimes. Hálik admits to having postponed a written work on this subject due to its depth and complexity but thankfully, he has contributed here a work deserving our attention on the topic of love. In the opening of his book, Hálik offers a clear statement on the purpose of this work: to learn about the Bible’s sentences on love, to learn of God’s love and the love of our enemies, and to offer a diagnosis of our times.

While clearly drawing from sentences in the Bible, the reader only finds Hálik’s numerous references to them in the Notes section at the end of the book. Far from being a criticism, it is an attestation to Hálik’s passion to reach those outside, or on the fringes, of religious traditions. Identifying with the seeker, Hálik emphasizes the point that the Bible is more about asking questions than offering explicit answers. It is clear that he is not suggesting one cannot learn from the Bible’s sentences. On the contrary, he claims that God speaks in the Bible, instructing us to love Him and our fellow human beings.

Hálik depicts the God of the Bible as one who exceeds human objectification and warns of possible idolatry in attempting to reduce God to an object, even if this is an object of love. This caution is intended to encourage us to yearn for God himself, and to turn towards a reduction of God to mere concepts, which he asserts, began with Aristotle’s concept of God gradually replacing the God of the Bible. I find this to be a refreshing challenge—to seek God, to yearn for God—in a manner transcending contentment with only thoughts about God.

If love, as Hálik suggests, is a going out of one’s self and into the other—transcending one’s self—then the hiddenness of God invites us to go out and seek Him. Evidencing my own tendency to focus on self, at first glance I expected that the title of this book was refer to God’s desire for me to be. Hálik is, instead, referring to a longing in our hearts that wants God to be. He says, “If religious conviction does not comprise compassionate consent, if ‘I know you are’ is not enlivened by the longing of love, by that ‘I want you to be,’ then faith turns into ideology” (70).

Transcending one’s self in love for the other is evident in Hálik’s life. He served as a pontiff, appointed advisor, and mediator between adherents of diverse faith affiliations. No doubt, this appointment was based on Hálik’s sympathy for those who don’t hold to his own views. Hálik does not see these individuals as enemies, which regrettably is often the designation given to those whose faith differs from ours. In addressing the subject of enemies, Hálik refers to the biblical injunction to love one’s enemies, and points out that we cease to have enemies when we decide not to treat anyone as such. He is not advocating a naïve response to the hostilities directed towards us by those who regard us as their enemy, but rather to a mindset that refrains from treating them as our enemy. Hálik also rejects the notion of tolerance as an acceptable response to others, instead pointing to Jesus’s exemplification of unconditional, boundless love for others. Hálik’s reminder that love gives priority to the other over self is pertinent for a time when it seems as if self-interests rule the day.

Seeking to apply his understanding of love in beneficial ways for our culture, Hálik offers a diagnosis of our times throughout this book, rather than in a designated section. Echoing Teilhard de Chardin’s assertion that love alone can unify all without destrustion, Hálik sees the need for a fundamental, unifying spiritual vision in the West, particularly in Europe. He lists that Christianity, secular humanism, and neo-paganism, are the three major currents in Europe today and asks the reader which of these provides the greatest scope for “goodness and tenderness”? Anticipating that the achievement of unity in answering this question will be a long and arduous one journey, he appeals to us all to persist in the quest to find it.

How can we, as a society, achieve unity in our vision of goodness and tenderness? I Want You to Be contains the answer. By living a life of unconditional, boundless love for the other we will present the world with a tangible vision of goodness and tenderness, and we can hope and pray that our activities in love will advance unity in our divisive times. In the wake tragedies as the recent Las Vegas mass shooting, it would appear that love is insufficient to eradicate evil. Yet, near the beginning of the book, Hálik points to the source of goodness, and it is here that we find hope. In a world in which evil persists, its defeat comes in its inherently temporal condition; it is finite. Love outlasts. “Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kevin Staley is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
October 13, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tomáš Halík worked as a psychotherapist during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia and at the same time was active in the underground church as a secretly ordained Catholic priest. Since the fall of the regime, he has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to Václav Havel. He has lectured at many universities throughout the world and is currently a professor of philosophy and sociology at Charles University. His books, which are best sellers in his own country, have been translated into many languages and have received several literary prizes.

Under the pseudonym of A.G. Brain, Gerald Turner has translated numerous banned authors from Communist Czechoslovakia, including Václav Havel, Ivan Klíma, and Ludvík Vaculík. His many published translations include Tomáš Halík’s Patience with God (2009) and Night of the Confessor (2012). He received the US PEN Translation Award in 2004.

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