My musical friend was talking about the songs she loves, which made me aware of the limits language puts on our reactions and perceptions of life. While English has only one word for love, other languages may have a variety of words to describe a wide range of feelings, reactions, and understandings that we lump together in one word: love. And that, unfortunately, can create a lot of misunderstanding.
The Greek Bible, for instance, uses three different words to describe different types of love and human relationships. Eros describes romantic and erotic love. Philia describes family or brotherly love, while agape describes the selfless and sacrificial nature of love as exemplified in Jesus’ life, death, and teachings.
Agape love looks outward. It is not a feeling. Agape love is about “we,” not “me.” It’s no wonder we get confused when we lump loving our enemies with loving that new dress! However, when we talk about the love of country or God’s love, we are speaking to something much bigger than ourselves, our needs, our wants, or our joys. When we say, “God so loved the world that he “gave” his only begotten son, we are talking about something much bigger than a warm fuzzy feeling. When a friend died fighting a house, he was exemplifying agape love. That kind of agape love is transformative. It’s the love Paul describes in! Cor. 13 that is challenging, but not beyond us. Agape love completely changes the way we experience life and frees us from the bondage of greed and selfishness. Selfishness, my friends, is so very, very limiting, while selflessness is freeing. Agape is not a sentiment; it is a choice, a way of life. Agape is a gift we first give ourselves and then others. In fact, agape love is the only thing that can save a divided community or world, for it is about we, not me.
Brotherly and erotic love involves sentiment and feeling. There is nothing wrong with warm fuzzy feelings, of course. In fact, I am grateful when I am flooded with positive feelings, the joy and warmth I experience when my kids come home or friends gather around the kitchen table. However, when we talk about love of country or God’s love for us and in us, we are talking more about a committed lifestyle than a feeling.
Bishop Curry describes agape love as God’s GPS. I like that description. He says,” while faith and hope are necessary for a full life, they are not a guide for life. They don’t tell you what to do. That love’s job. Love tells you how to direct the energy of outrageous faith. If hope and faith are the wind and sails, love is the rudder. It’s God”s GPS.” He goes on to say, “Because we think agape love is removed from real life –business, politics, etc. – we tend to think agape doesn’t apply. Actually, it’s as simple – and as difficult – for all of us to switch on God’s GPS. We simply ask ourselves, ‘Is this about me, or is it about we? Does this decision serve only my unenlightened self-interest, or does it somehow serve the greater good? And if the answer is me, me, me, and only me, you don’t do it. It’s as simple as me or we. Where selfishness excludes, love includes. Where selfishness puts down, love lifts up. Where selfishness hurts, and harms, love helps and heals. Where selfishness enslaves, love sets free and liberates.