February 11, 2008
What is Love?
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”
1 Jn 4:16
When I first sat down to write this devotional, I had both Valentine’s Day and Lent on my mind. As I reflected on the nature of love, and God’s love, I began to write down thoughts on how the sacrificial love of Christ far surpasses the frivolous, romantic love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day.
Then, I stumbled across a reflection from a previous Lent that got me thinking in a slightly different direction.
As Christians, our goal is strive to imitate God, become more like Him. So I was intrigued last year when Pope Benedict released his first encyclical, titled "God is Love" (Deus Caritas Est). His reflection opens with the verse above, and regardless of your denominational background, you may appreciate what he has to say.
While his writing goes much more in depth than I can go here, he makes an interesting connection early into the encyclical by delving into two key expressions of love: agape and eros.
Agape "indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other."
Eros "denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved."
Traditionally, eros is the kind of love represented by Cupid’s arrow. And, it’s not difficult to see that Christ's sacrifice on the cross epitomizes agape love in that He gave Himself freely for our good, our eternal salvation.
Pope Benedict, however, does not hold agape and eros at two ends of the spectrum, forever separate or opposed, nor does he demote eros to merely an insecure or earthly love.
"[Christ] is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us."
God is thirsty for the love of every one of us. In other words, the purpose of Christ's suffering wasn’t just to give us a pass to heaven – it was to bring us back in union with Him, in relationship to Him. The Pope asks: "Is there more mad eros' (N. Cabasilas, Vita in Cristo, 648) than that which led the Son of God to make himself one with us even to the point of suffering as his own the consequences of our offenses?"
God has a passionate, even mad, love for each one of us. Of course this "mad love" isn’t meant to stay on the Cross. We’re meant to receive it, and then share it. Why do we cry at weddings? Because there we see eros and agape displayed and intermingled in a special way. The passionate yet sacrificial love of the couple (forsaking all others, for better or for worse) is a tangible representation of God's love for you and me – and also an example of how God’s love spills over into our love for one another. Pope Benedict articulated it like this: "The love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy which eases the heaviest of burdens."
The connection between eros and agape reminds me that followers of Christ are not to imitate Eastern meditations that demand we separate ourselves from others in attempts to achieve enlightenment, nor are we to fall into hedonistic tendencies that strive merely to possess others or find pleasure in them. Both eros and agape are gifts to be acted on with wisdom, and when one inspires the expression of the other, we experience a piece of heaven on earth.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Make a list of the traits you love most about your significant other, and thank God for their presence in your life. If you're single, reflect on the different ways God has demonstrated His love for you in the past year.