….. Agape is the kind of love that Jesus commands us to show to our neighbor. It’s the love that never fails in 1 Corinthians 13. When 1 John 4:8 tells us God is love, he means agape.
We are called to ascend to agape love of God. But we must remember this is only possible because God first descended to us and first showed agape love towards as. This is how the Gospel of John introduces the word agape to us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16)
But agape love is a commitment without regard to the object’s worth. Unlike eros, agape is rooted not in our emotions but in our volition; it is “the love that commits.” And unlike eros, it loves unworthy objects. This is how God loves us (Rom.5:6, 8, 10), even though we were helpless sinners and enemies. In fact, while eros love admires an object because of its value, agape redeems (creates value in) its object because of its love.
The old word for agape in English was ‘charity.’ Unfortunately, that word now means to most people simply handouts to beggars or the needy among us. But the word ‘love’ may not be an accurate translation of agape. For ‘love’ means to most people either sexual love (eros) or a feeling of affection (storge), or a vague love in general. To solve this translation problem, it may be necessary to insist on using the Greek word agape instead of any of the misleading English translations, so that we do not confuse this most important thing in the world with something else in our minds, and consequently risk missing it in our lives. There is enormous misunderstanding and confusion about love today. They include the following:
Agape is being confused with a feeling. Our feelings are precious, but agape is infinitely more precious, because our feelings are not infinite but agape is. Feelings come from us, but agape comes from God as its ultimate source. Feelings also come to us, passively. They are “passions.” Agape comes from God and is accepted actively by our free choice. Thomas Aquinas defines it as “willing the good of the other”, which is the simplest definition of love. Agape is an act of the will, not the feelings. That is why we are responsible for it, and commanded to do it, to choose it. We are not responsible for our feelings. Feelings can be “disordered,” but sins can come from acting on them. We are responsible for our agape or lack of it, for agape comes from our free will, our deliberate choice, while feelings come from wind, weather, hormones, advertisements, and digestion. Real love (agape) comes from the center of the soul, which Scripture calls the ‘heart’. Liking is a feeling. But love (agape) is more than strong liking. God does not merely like us; He saves us, He dies for us. Agape is a deed. Love is “the works of love”. Jesus had different feelings toward different people. But he loved them all equally and absolutely. We fall in love but we do not fall in agape. We rise in agape.
Since God is agape and agape is not feeling, God is not feeling. That does not make Him cold. Coldness is a feeling just as much as heat (passion). That also does not make Him abstract: a principle or an ideal rather than a Three-Person. Agape is not a feeling, not because it is less than a feeling but because it is so much more. God is agape itself, the essence of love, while feeling is only the little dribbles of love, little echoes of love, received into the medium of our emotions, our passions, our passivity. Love “overcomes” us or “comes over us,” but nothing can overcome or come over God. God cannot fall in love for the same reason water cannot get wet: it is wet. It is wetness itself. Love Itself cannot receive love as passivity. It can only spread it as an activity. God is love-in-action, not love-in-dreams. Feelings are like dreams: easy, passive, spontaneous. Agape is hard and precious like a diamond.
The object of Agape’s is always the concrete individual, not some abstraction called humanity. Love of humanity is easy because humanity does not surprise you with inconvenient demands. Humanity is an idea that occupies the mind. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, the real individuals we meet, just as He did. He died for you and for me. not for “humanity.” The Cross has our names written on it, not the name humanity. When the nails pierced His hands, the blood spelled out “John” and “Peter” and “Mary,” not “humanity.” When Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, He said He “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3). One of the saints says that Jesus would have done everything He did and suffered everything He suffered even if you were the only person who had sinned. He would have done all that just for you.
Love is being confused with kindness, which is only one of its attributes. Kindness is the sympathy with and the desire to relieve another’s suffering. But love (agape) is the willing of another’s good. The more we love someone, the more our love goes beyond kindness…….
Readers’ comments are welcome.