The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny, and Imagination

The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny, and Imagination

The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny, and Imagination

The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny, and Imagination


Often what passes for love is a product of self-deception and wishful thinking. Genuine love, according to philosopher Caroline J. Simon, must be based on knowledge of reality, and Christianity affirms that reality includes not just who people are but the unfolding story of who God intends them to be. Taking the use of narrative seriously, The Disciplined Heart draws on works of literature to display a Christian understanding of love in its various forms: love of self, love of neighbor, friendship, romantic love, and marital love. Using instances of love and its counterfeits in novels and short stories by such authors as Flannery O'Connor, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Simon constructs an account of love's joys and obligations that both charms and instructs. Learned, astute, and elegantly written, The Disciplined Heart is a groundbreaking work at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and literary analysis.


I imagine one can never tell whether God is in a story
before one has finished it completely. For if only two
words of the telling are still missing—indeed, if nothing
but the pause after the last word is still outstanding, he
may yet come.

“The Song of Justice,” in Stories of God

The basic ideas presented in this book can be set out with deceptive simplicity. Love must be based on and yields knowledge, knowledge of the loved one’s destiny or true self. I call the capacity for such knowledge imagination. Both imagination and love have counterfeits. We often fool ourselves into thinking that we love when in fact we are indulging in fiction-making: seeing people as who we wish they were rather than who they are.

There are many kinds of love, and they are distinguishable, in part, by the differing ways in which imagination is related to the loved one’s destiny. Self-love involves the hard work of knowing ourselves, of giving up our wish to have unlimited creative license in writing our own story. Self-love requires the imagination to see ourselves as creatures whose destinies are gifts of grace from our Creator. Thus, true self-love always entails seeing how God’s story comprehends our story. In neighbor love, imagination allows us to see others as also having . . .

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