Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Christian Life: Love.

If you have followed my blogs over the years - and I've been blogging since 2006 - then you know that 'love' is one of my favorite topics! So today, on St. Valentine's Day, I think it is apropos that I should talk about love. First a few general observations.

Love is something most of us don't understand.

a) We confuse love with biological lust. The ancient Greeks called this 'eros' and understood the consequences of eroticism when pursued without boundaries.

b) We think love is a 'feeling' - something we fall into and out of, rather than a willful placing of the good of the other over our own good. Thus love becomes a fickle, elusive feeling.

c) We think love can only be practiced within the boundaries of marriage, thus we confuse again the nature of actual love with romanticized popular love or even eroticism.

d) English just doesn't do justice to the various forms of affection that the earliest cultures understood.

eros is the word for physical affection, which easily becomes corrupted as "lust";

phileo is the word used to describe the affection one has for a friend or even a spouse;

storge is the word used to describe 'familial' love - an affection one has for a family member;

agape... agape is the word used to describe the affection God has for us and the affection that human beings can only experience when God dwells within them. It is the affection that God displays for human beings by allowing his Son to stand as the propitiation for our sins. It is the unconditional affection by one for another that seeks only the good for the other, whatever the cost.

On St. Valentine's day, it has become our tradition to celebrate popular love, the attraction a man has for a woman, a husband has for a wife. But this was not always so. Pope Gelasius I in A.D. 496 proclaimed this day as a "Holy Day" honoring the martyrdom of Valentinus, who was murdered by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for refusing to convert to paganism. Thus the earliest "Valentine's Day" celebrated the unconditional love one man had for God. A love that cost him his life.

Now I don't want to be a 'spoiler' for all you "young lovers" - as Oscar Hammerstein would say -but I do want you to think for a moment about the question, "What is love?" Is it a "feeling"? Is it a biological response? Or is it the activity of God in us and through us to others. In English, the answer would be yes to all of the above. But it gets complicated quickly.

Unconditional affection (agape) for every human being is impossible. It's a God thing. I can phileo my wife and many of my friends, storge my daughters and other members of my family, and my eros stays within the boundaries of my marriage covenant. I've tried to agape, but its too hard. I can't do it on my own strength, I just can't. Only God can do it in me and through me. So every day, I have to relinquish the control of my life to God so he can agape through me.

I've had the great privilege of loving many people. I have good friends and I have a great family. I truly love my colleagues and students. I also have a few special friends that I love dearly and deeply. I have one friend that I will love more than they could ever know, though I may never see them again. But if love did not cause a little suffering in our lives, I don't think it could truly be love.

I love you all.

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