Friday, April 12, 2013

What is love?

Throughout the centuries, humanity has tried to determine what the nature of love is exactly. As someone who loves theology, philosophy, and history, I have studied many instances where people not only wrestled with the question in mental exercises, but acted on what they perceived love to be. By the way, how many of you know that the word "philosophy" means "love of wisdom"?

When trying to figure out such an abstract concept as to what "love is", one of the first things I do is look to see what about it is real, much like a bank teller handles real money so they won't be fooled by fake money.

So what is real love? I am going to use myself as an example: I love dogs. I love bacon. I love Italian food. I love classic cinema. I love a good non-fiction book. I love having a working vehicle. I love my parents, my sister, and my nieces. I love spending time with my friends. I love quiet times where I can be alone with my thoughts and meditate on God's word. I love my wife.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but suffice to say I love a lot of people and things. So do I love every one of these the same way? To the same degree? With the same drive and passion?

Using just two of my examples, you might hope that I don't love dogs the same way I love my wife. There is then this understanding that though we have one word for love, we don't have one meaning and that is where, I believe, much of the confusion begins.

The Greeks had four words that encapsulated different aspects of love, and they are storge, phileo, eros, and agape. In case you were wondering, I am going to go through each one of these so please be patient.

Storge is the Greek word for love that speaks to a natural affection that occurs between parents and children, those who are in your family, and is also present in a good marriage. So, there is a type of love that I share in common with my family and my wife.

Phileo, though it is translated as love, might be better understood as "strong affection" or "to have a special interest in someone or something." When we say "I really love this movie" or "I love my friends" or even "I love my dog", phileo is what we're really talking about, as it is a strong, emotional, connection.

Eros is the third Greek word that I want to mention, and this one provides the root for a word that we might all have some familiarity with: erotic. This is a sexual love, and though the word really isn't used in the Biblical texts, I still think it is important that we understand that when we speak of the love that a man needs to have for his wife that is exclusive, this is what we're talking about. As much as I show familial affection with all of my family, eros is reserved only for my wife.

Finally, we come to agape, and this might in fact be the most important love there is, as it is the type of love where feeling will often run contrary to action. We talk of agape as "unconditional." It is what the Apostle Paul described in "The Love Chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13. This type of love is not based on feeling or emotion, but a choice. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, the word Jesus was conveying was agape, but Peter was responding with phileo, or "Yes Lord, I have a strong affection for you" when what Jesus was really asking Peter was "Do you, despite your feelings of betraying me choose to do what I ask you to?"

On top of that, agape is the type of love we are to demonstrate to those who might be considered our enemies. We certainly don't need to phileo them or have storge with them.

I think now that we have a foundation for understanding what love IS, what it isn't is permissive. A parent who loves their child will not allow their child to play in the road or touch the hot stove. Their storge is such that they don't want to see their children hurt. And if their children do wander in the road into on-coming traffic, then their agape will take over and they will rush into the road and try to protect their child from harm and possibly death, despite the harm it will do to them.

Love also is not blindly accepting of ongoing destructive behavior. Too often there will be some who say "If you really love me you will accept the things I do, and not judge me for them." I love my sister very much. I have a strong storge for her, and that will not change. We're family, siblings. But that doesn't mean that I phileo the things she does or the choices she makes, and because of my storge I can, in agape tell her that I don't phileo all her choices or decisions.

So, does this help?

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