Thursday, 14 February 2013

Eros is soooo overrated

Many are familiar with the four main Greek words for love (phileo, eros, agapao & storge). Did you know however that eros ('romantic' love) does not appear even once in the New Testament? In fact of the four Greek words, only phileo and agapao feature. Phileo has the inference of "liking" someone or something (and blends most closely to the way we use love today) whilst agapao roughly translates as treating someone as they deserve e.g. when the Bible speaks of loving the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength it is saying we should treat God as He deserves - with the esteem and honour of which He is worthy. Interestingly the NT never uses phileo with God as the object i.e. the bible never describes us as "liking" God. Strikingly too, when calling upon husband and wife to love one another the Bible opts not for the word eros but for agapao. In other words spouses are to think of their love more in terms of doing what is best for the other rather than being focussed on the frisson levels in their marriage. Don't get me wrong I'm not anti-sex or consider it unimportant in strengthening marriage. It. most. certainly. is. important. (in fact a marriage that is flourishing in agapao will almost inevitably have a vibrant sex life given that the disposition of either spouse is not how much sex can I enjoy but rather how can I express my affection so as to do good and bless the other). However if our dominant view view of love is erotic, then we are subscribing to and espousing an unbiblical view of love.

How then should this affect us this today? A few days ago the Daily Telegraph published a front page article which declared that researchers had discovered the precise date when marital love goes off. Apparently "couples start taking each other for granted three years and six months into their marriage." Uh oh - I'm a few months short of this so I better start making the most of it! But seriously, what a warped view of love that is. If couples are really heading into marriage with a view that love has a use by date, then I'm actually surprised that it takes that long before it cools. If one is constantly searching for the signals of whether your spouse's love has cooled or not then 3 years and 6 months seems an optimistic target. If however one takes the beautiful (Christian) view that the promises we make [to love, cherish (and obey)] should be until death then the marriage vows becomes dependent not on our emotions or situations but rather form the bedrock for a lifetime commitment to do whatever is good for one's spouse (and do it whether one feels like it or not). In other words, to love my wife is to care for her whatever, wherever and whenever. Eroticism should have no overriding claim when evaluating whether I love my wife or not. To love one's wife is to keep oneself pure from other women regardless of how you feel. To love is principally about doing the right thing for the benefit of one's husband, wife or others.

I read somewhere of an American pastor chatting to a man from a country where marriage was highly esteemed and hardly any couples divorced. During the conversation this man said to the pastor that he hoped that the marriages in his country would continue being life-long and divorce a rarity contra what he had heard about marriages in the West. When asked why he thought marriages in his country stayed the course he responded: It seems that you in the West marry the girl you love; where I come from, we love the girl we marry. That I think captures the bible's view of love:  to actively to love/seek the best for one's spouse for life. This St. Valentines Day, rather than ask "do I still love my spouse?" seek instead - by God's grace - to love the person we've married.

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