We come into the world as helpless infants totally dependent on the love of our parents. Throughout childhood and adolescence parental love is essential to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In adulthood we look to marriage for, what we hope will be, a union of life-long intimacy. And in the twilight of life, when physical and cognitive faculties decline, we depend on the loving care of our family and community.
No need is more basic to human flourishing, and few things less understood, than love.
Depending upon whom you ask, love will be said to be a feeling, a desire, an emotion, a commitment, or the ever-so pietistic “non-judgmentalism” of “never having to say you’re sinning.” As an ideal, it may be considered real or illusionary, possible or impossible, or conditional or unconditional with expressions limited to one’s lover, spouse, family, country, or the global village.
Above the muddle of conventional notions stands the testimony of John, “God is love,” revealing that love is central to God’s nature. And because we are beings made in God’s image, created to love and be loved, love is central to our nature, as well.
But what is love, really? And how is it distinguished from our human conceptions?
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis parses love into four expressions: storgē (affection), eros(romantic love), philia (friendship), and agapē (charity).
Storgē relates to affection primarily between family members. Lewis describes this as the natural love parents have for their children and children for their parents; it can also characterize the tenderness one has for close acquaintances.
Eros is what is normally meant by “being in love.” Derived from sexual attraction and desire, eros is expressed in the romantic love between a man and woman. Like storgē, eros is designed into our nature. Lewis notes that without storgē, none of us would have been reared, but without eros, none of us would have been born.
Philia is love between friends—groups of “two’s and three’s” drawn together by a common interest. From an evolutionary perspective, philia is superfluous because, unlike storgē and eros, it is unnecessary for either our arrival or survival. Rather, Lewis offers, “it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
These natural love expressions are exclusive, reserved for those who are intrinsically lovable by virtue of shared genes, interests, or sexual attractiveness. Collectively, they are a part of common grace—God’s benevolent provision to flourish creation.
By contrast, agapē is inclusive, seeking the highest good of others irrespective of natural affinity, merit, or attractiveness. Characterized by self-giving and sacrifice in the supreme symbol of the Cross, agapē is the commerce of those who, under the Yoke of Christ, are being transformed into his likeness by loving as he loved. For that reason, agapē is often distinguished from the other loves as “divine love.”
Therefore, if storgē, eros, and philia are a part of our design as beings made in the image of God, they must be intrinsic to the Godhead, too. Continue reading here.