God’s Love Reflected and Magnified
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Maybe you’ve been at a wedding where the following poem was read:

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
flows into a pure soul the way that light
rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
the greater the intensity of their love,
and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

Beautiful, powerful thoughts about how true romantic love can magnify each partner and multiply the satisfaction they can experience together. “Mirror-like, each soul reflects the other” — I wish I’d put those words together.

However, there are clues in the poem that it was intended for a greater purpose than a marriage ceremony. First, it begins with a salute to “the love of God, unutterable and perfect,” which lifts our vision to the eternal, infinite Creator of the universe as the source of love. Right away, we get the feeling that this is not primarily about the love of a man and a woman, but about the dimensions of the love of God.

Second, the poem indicates that the mutual magnification of a loving relationship between two people is even further amplified when the numbers of loving people are increased:

And the more souls who resonate together,

the greater the intensity of their love.”

This is not an encouragement to polygamy — the more wives the better. No, the full meaning of the poem can only understood by recognizing its origin.

These lines were written almost 700 years ago, during the late Middle Ages, by Italy’s “Supreme Poet,” Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), as part of his classic work The Divine Comedy. There’s nothing funny about the “comedy,” as it’s a serious, in-depth study of every human being’s struggle to find meaning in a very confusing and painful life. Using an elaborate and imaginative analysis of Biblical and classical Greek and Roman themes, Dante describes a human soul’s struggle through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Much of his references are lost to modern readers, since they are dominated by a Medieval view of the world and the cosmos, but there’s no mistaking the intensity and authenticity behind the words and phrases.

The passage we’re discussing occurs in the Purgatory section, and it’s really a vision of the ultimate relationship between believers in heaven, where “more souls resonate together.” Dante’s point is that the ultimate fulfillment of our longings for love will be perfected by the interactions among the gathered souls of the redeemed in heaven.

Protestants don’t envision a place called Purgatory. For us, our earthly journey is Purgatory. And we like to believe that in true Christian fellowship we experience a foretaste of heaven when our “souls resonate together,” inspired and empowered by the love of God.

For you romantics, I’ll give you this tidbit: Dante’s guide in his journey through Purgatory was Beatrice, an idealized woman he had fallen madly in love with in his youth, but who had never given him the time of day. Ah, Beatrice!