Sin’s Disruption and Disordered Love: Insights from St. Augustine

image 1 - Adam and EveWhen Adam and Eve turn from God and His will by choosing for themselves and their own will, they were in essence choosing to love themselves over God. Sin can be both the decision for and experience of disordered love.

Saint Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo in present-day Algeria, described this reality when he wrote: “virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God” (On the Morals of the Catholic Church, XV.25) Augustine is telling us that the good life – the virtuous life – is formed around well-ordered love of God. 

In light of that well-ordered love of God we learn to love everything else, whether people or things. He writes:

though [something] is good, it can be loved in the right way or in the wrong way – in the right way, that is, when the proper order is kept, in the wrong way when that order is upset. (City of God, XV.22)

This helps us to understand what happens to our love through the Fall.

It is dislocated from its proper center in love for God, and then, being out of order, it leads us to love people and things in wrong ways. And so, impacted by sin, we try to love things in ways that do not give us life:

  • A father tries to feel love and acceptance in life through others’ acclamations of his child’s athletic accomplishments 
  • A daughter tries to receive love from her mother by always doing the right thing or pursuing goals her mother likes but the daughter does not
  • A man tries to feel loved through serial sexual experiences with others but finds intimacy and love elusive
  • A woman escapes an unhappy marriage through an emotional affair but still fees empty

The catalog of ways we experience disordered love could go on and on. It is because love is disordered that the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 are so powerful and praised: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast.” The very fact that this passage is so revered tells us just how special – and perhaps rare – ordered and right love truly is.

But it is not only that we love things wrongly in our Fallen state. We also, apart from God, evaluate love wrongly in ways that reveal our utter disorder:

  • someone’s love for sports overruns their priorities and ruins their marriage
  • someone’s love for their work becomes obsessive, ruining the family they are trying to support with that work
  • someone’s love for interacting with others on social media loses all bounds, ruining their actual face-to-face friendships 

As Augustine writes elsewhere, real love knows how “to love things…in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less” (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28).

This attention to disordered love is foundational to our discussion about the ways in which we experience disorder in our sexuality and our bodies because, as Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). That is, our outer life of action flows from the inner life of the heart and its related desires. Or, as Jamie Smith says, “you are what you love.”

We were made by God for loving relationship with God and others, but the Fall sunders that relationship and creates disorder in love.

God made us with the creational good of love to sustain and hold together every aspect of our identity, including our sexuality and bodies. But sin dislocates us, leaving us confused and muddled in the way we love things. All of this has tremendous impact for our bodies and our sexuality.

[This blog post is excerpted from my message, “Fall and Embodied Sexuality.”]

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