The Call to love is a call to forgiveness
Love is a topic widely discussed. It is easily recommended and advised. It is a relationship bond. Love is life; a life to be lived. It is an ideal. Yet it is difficult to write on love and about love. The qualities of love line out in 1 Cor. 13:4-10 are read and appreciated but in practice there are challenges. The reality love in action is, most times, difficult to comprehend. Whatever the difficulty and challenges in the way of love, the truth is: Love is life. Love is of God because God is love, 1 Jn.1:8.
Important as love is, there is no word more misunderstood in our society than the word ‘love’. In his little masterpiece The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis clearly distinguishes supernatural love, agape, the kind of love Christ is and lived and taught, from the natural loves: storge (natural affection or liking), eros (natural sexual desire), and phileo (natural human friendship). All natural loves are good; but supernatural love, the love that God is, agape, is the greatest thing in the world. And part of the Gospel, the “good news,” is that it is available to us; that Christ is the plug that connects us to the infinite supply of divine love-electricity.
Eros love is the passion to possess an object of value, worth, or beauty. It is rooted in our emotions, and it requires a desirable object. It is not only romantic and sexual love; it is also love for especially intelligent or creative or charismatic people, love of “cool” things even love of certain food and drink/drugs. It is also at the root of mystical religions, which are quests for intense spiritual experiences. Eros love is very intense, but also very fickle and unstable. Its object is perpetually “on trial,” and eros easily wanders away if its object loses its attraction, or if a more attractive object appears on the scene. Corrupted eros becomes addictive lust. Marriage in America is in trouble in large part because it is excessively dependent upon eros.
Eros is also the love of bodily desire. It is tempting to think of eros as simply a synonym for lust, but it is much more than that. In ancient Greek, Eros was viewed as a god, a testament to the uncontrollable passion it could generate between lovers. Eros is more familiar under his Roman name, Cupid. He is often depicted as a youth or baby with a bow and arrow, which symbolize how such love is often involuntary, unexpected, and leaves us feeling vulnerable. Eros appears nowhere in the New Testament, so it might seem like our ascent to God means leaving it behind. But, we know that the body is good and sacred, so this does not seem quite right to us either.
Eros, reduced to pure “sex,” has become a commodity; a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. … Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.
Anyone who thinks Christianity eschews passionate love hasn’t read Song of Songs or seen the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. A passionate desire for God is really the foundation of the devout life. Thus, far from leaving eros behind, the Christian life purifies it and orients it towards God.
Storgos occurs infrequently in the New Testament. One synopsis defines it well: “It is a natural movement of the soul for husband, wife, child or dog. It is a quiet, abiding feeling within a man that rests on something close to him and that he feels good about.” Like eros, storgos arises from our natural desire for kinship with others, but it is less intense, less carnal, and broader in scope.
Christianity calls us to replace these natural ties with supernatural ones, earthly loves with heavenly ones. Our spiritual family consists of the brothers and sisters we have in Christ. Our heavenly Father is God. Our spiritual mother is Mary. And our true citizenship is in the City of God.
In Philia we cross from the carnal into the spiritual. As one writer puts it, “If Eros is the love of the body; Phileo is the love of the soul.” Philia is commonly associated with close friendship. This is how it appears to be used in the New Testament. For example, in John 16:27, Jesus says, “For the Father himself loves [philia] you, because you have loved [philia] me and have come to believe that I came from God.
Agape is an even greater form of love to which we are called, and that is agape love, which permeates the New Testament. If eros desires in order to possess for oneself, agape so strongly desires the good of the other than it is willing to sacrifice itself. In a final dialogue with Peter, before His ascension, Jesus makes it clear that we are to move from simple philia to agape love.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Our English text masks a deeper dynamic of love at work here. Each time Peter says love the Greek word is the verb form of philia. However, the first two times Jesus asks him, the word is the verb form of agape. Only in the last does Jesus meet Peter where he is: at philia.
Peter’s formation is not yet clear. He has yet to receive the Spirit and take command of the Church, which happens at Pentecost. Only later does he commend agape love to us, in 1 Peter 1:8, in discussing the faith of his readers in Jesus, “Although you have not seen him you love [agape] him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”
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……
To be continued…..