Loving or In Love?
The increasingly prevalent depiction of a Christian's relationship with the Lord containing a romantic element has always bothered me. This idea is manifesting itself as a trend making its way into mainstream Christianity. Many songs talk of being 'in love' and 'falling in love' with God or the Lord Jesus. 'Hold me', 'come away with me', 'you've stolen my heart' and 'I'm so in love with you' are just a few of the sentiments expressed in song and in worship services. 'Dating God' is a new concept finding its way into Bible studies, books and songs.
There are without a doubt many flavors of 'love' in the modern meaning of the word in western society. 'Love' can mean anything from affinity for a favorite food to a deep commitment to a spouse. The Greek language in Scripture, however, uses several distinctly different words to describe various types of love. Without going into too many details, we'll examine three common Greek word expressions for 'love'. The Greek word 'Eros' refers to romantic or physical type of love, including infatuation and attraction between a man and a woman. 'Phileo' is brotherly love, referring to the bond we feel with close friends and family. 'Agape' is the epitome of love as described in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, an unconditional, sacrificial, selfless, eternal love. 'Agape' is used to describe the highest form of love that exists from God toward a person, and a love that should exist between all brothers and sisters in Christ. 'Agape' is the foundation for all committed relationships, in marriage, friendship, church, and family. 'Agape' is the reason Christ laid down his life on the cross to pay the price for our sins.
Of particular concern, therefore, is the trend of adding an 'Eros' component to the 'Agape' relationship between God and a Christian believer. Some have described it as the 'God as my girlfriend' principle. Not only does this idea seem shocking because it is grossly out of line with accepted norms, but there are also major theological and practical problems with the idea that individual Christians are to have 'Eros', or romantic feelings, for the Lord.
Firstly, the Bible describes God as our heavenly Father and Jesus as His only Son. Jesus decribed his sincere followers as both friends and family (John 15:14, Matthew 12:50). Reverent, worshipful awe should accompany the believer's 'Agape' love for the Lord as our Father. While the New Testament does designate the church as the 'Bride of Christ', the symbolism is referring to the church as a whole, that is, a collective body rather than each individual believer being a 'bride'.
It is possible that some who originated and continue to espouse the idea of being 'in love' with the Lord did not intend for it to explicity refer to a romantic expression of 'Eros' love. Certainly our love for God and our Savior is to be so deep that it surpasses our love for others in intensity and priority. Indeed it is difficult, if not impossible, to describe God's love for us with the words and expressions we have available in the English language. But the phrases 'in love' or 'falling in love', in modern western society, have never meant anything other than an 'Eros' or romantic emotion toward a member of the opposite sex, that is, between a girlfriend and boyfriend or a husband and wife. We love our parents, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our pastors, our pets, sometimes very deeply - but we never say we are 'in love' with them. To 'love' and to be 'in love' are distinctly different states.
Finally, while romantic 'Eros' love is powerful and exhilirating and can be a positive event in a person's life, it is also undeniably fickle and fleeting. Romance is superficial, temperamental, fragile, and ultimately selfish. It rarely lasts for long periods of time without fading in and out. And most of all, 'Eros' is highly conditional. Romance only exists on the condition that each partner meets and maintains each other's expectations, which usually include physical beauty, personality, compatibility, common ground, maturity, charm, and mental, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. 'Eros' can even be so capricious as to be dependent on certain environmental factors being present or missing. There's nothing wrong with all of this, it's just the nature of human response. To its credit, 'Eros' is an incredible blessing to those who are fortunate enough to find it, it is a phenomenon of God's design. But it does not come easily.
Indeed, 'Eros' can be just as ruthless as it can be exhilirating. 'Eros' and 'Agape', while they certainly can and should coexist in a relationship between a man and a woman, are nearly diametrically opposed in their essences. Romantic love is in stark contrast to 'Agape' love, the latter of which requires no conditions from its recipients. 'Agape' is always present through thick and thin. It stays strong through changing environments and circumstances. It does not fade over time. It is, as the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 states, the 'more excellent way'.
'Eros' is a part of God's creation, a gift given for a man and a woman to enjoy with each other. But our 'Agape' love for the Lord must be higher and deeper than fleeting 'Eros' love. This indescribable, supernatural 'Agape' love is expressed best by the way Jesus acted toward us, giving His life so we could be forgiven. We need to aspire to have this same love for God and for one another.
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