On Love

Dr. Joseph Rudolph
Perhaps no word in our language is as powerful or as hard to define as the word “love.” It can have so many different meanings! I love God; I love my wife; I love to teach; I love coffee. And in each context, "love" means a very different thing.
Any discussion of “love” in a classical Christian school should begin by pointing out that Greek –– the language of the Gospels and the language of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle –– has four terms for love: erosagapephiliastorgeEros, often associated with romantic love is the love of people attracted to each other, and it has to do with the way we respond to beauty; storge is the natural, instinctual affection between family members; philia is the bond between friends--peers and equals--who share mutual respect and grow together; and agape is the self-sacrificial love by which we want what is best for another person. It can also be translated as “charity,” the love of God and the love of neighbor.
When we think of “love” in the Bible, we rightly think first of agape, of charity. “For God, as John the Evangelist writes, “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” But as humans we deeply long for all four loves!
Here is the radical claim –– the world- and life-changing claim –– that Christianity makes: we can have it all in the person of Christ through whom we can come to know and participate in the Divine life of God. The scriptures do not merely speak of God as a disconnected principle of being (as the ancient philosophers saw him) but as a personal God in whom our deepest desires for Love are ultimately met: our restless hearts long for God and He even more passionately longs for us; God is a loving, nurturing parent, and God is, perhaps most shockingly, a friend. Not only does God, the Being of beings, the source and summit of all things, the prime mover of this wonderful universe care about us, a part, as we are of his creation, he actually wants us to have a real, personal relationship with him.
In John 15:15 Jesus says makes clear that he is not only making a grand sacrifice for redemption, paying a debt and walking away, but that he is inviting his apostles –– and inviting us –– into friendship–– into philia:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
It is easy to think of Christianity as something official or intellectual –– a set of propositions to assent to and a set of rules to follow. But really, fundamentally, it is an invitation to a personal relationship with a God who loves us.

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