But when tribulations, recurring again and again, constrain him to turn to God for unfailing help, would not even a heart as hard as iron, as cold as marble, be softened by the goodness of such a Savior, so that he would love God not altogether selfishly, but because He is God?
Bernard of Clairvaux - On Loving God ch. ix
In the first degree of love, we love God for "self's sake". That is, we love God for what God can do for us. We are pleased to receive God's benefits and blessings, and as we do so we are drawn to love Him. But will we still love God when "tribulations, recurring again and again" break upon us? This is the movement from loving God because of His benefits presently enjoyed, to loving God because of His care for us in the midst of troubles. As Bernard puts it, can we begin to love God simply "because He is God"?
Bernard also gives us a way of approaching hardships in life. They are redeemable in that we begin to seek God despite them. It is analogous to the marriage vow of loving "for better, for worse". The test of love does not come in the better, in comes in the worse. The analogy breaks down when we realize that it is not the Beloved who has become worse, only the circumstances of our lives. It is God's presence in hardship and despite hardship which begins to fashion in us a newer and deeper degree of love.
Let frequent troubles drive us to frequent supplications; and surely, tasting, we must see how gracious the Lord is (Ps. 34.8). Thereupon His goodness once realized draws us to love Him unselfishly, yet more than our own needs impel us to love Him selfishly: even as the Samaritans told the woman who announced that it was Christ who was at the well: `Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the savior of the world' (John 4.42).
This is a fairly interesting use of the story of the woman at the well. In a figurative interpretation, Bernard says that our "need" functions like the woman - they announce to us the presence of Christ. Then a deeper part of us replies that we can see and love God better; not simply because our needs announced that they were being looked after. Loving God for the sake of our "needs" impels us to love selfishly; we will love only as long as our "needs" are met. But as God meets those needs He also draws us onward in a place of "troubles".
I don't find it clear from the text that God creates the troubles, merely that He uses them for this higher purpose. Nor is it clear that God's response is merely to change our circumstances again to what they were. Rather, the goal seems to be to recognize God's goodness in the midst of hardships. And I might say, from my own limited experience, that is quite a leap to make. But worth it if it is made...
Lenten post series on Bernard of Clairvaux here
Which, btw, seems to missing post #4, but that is a mystery which I will need to address another time...