During 2018, I’ll be exploring 12 words of the Christian faith. We begin with love.
Writers on the web are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the movie Titanic—it came out when I was a senior in high school, and now Millennials are seeing it for the first time. In 1998, the acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “The buried power of “Titanic” comes not because it is a love story or a special effects triumph, but because it touches the deepest human feelings about living, dying, and being cherished.”
It’s interesting to me that Ebert separates out “living, dying, and being cherished,” from the stuff that makes up an American cinematic ‘love story.’ In the American vernacular, much of what we see called “love” today is what the Greek language (and the Bible) calls ‘eros’—the notion of sexual love and human desire to capture beauty. When we say (or ‘like’ or ‘tweet’ or ‘insta’): “I love this” or “I love that,” we are most often saying that out of eros, a human attempt to lay hold on what we perceive as truly and eternally valuable.
Ebert’s instinct about Titanic in 1998 as ‘more than a love story’ illustrates that in all our “love” of celebrities, musicians, artists, poets, preachers, athletes, and perhaps that teenage romantic ‘other,’ we all seek for something deeper and more expansive than eros. We seek to truly cherish and be cherished. The Greeks knew this (Aristotle and others) and had other words for love—words we find throughout the Bible.
So, what is love and what makes love, “Christian?”
The New Testament has at least three other words for love. Phileo, a ‘brotherly’ or ‘sisterly’ love, is based on interpersonal association and friendship. Storge is the kind of love you have for your children or your family. But in his famous ‘love’ chapter, the Apostle Paul says that even beyond hope and faith, agape is the greatest love of all.
1 Cor. 13:4-7,13: [Agape] is patient; [agape] is kind; [agape] is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…. And now faith, hope, and [agape] abide, these three; and the greatest of these is [agape].
Jesus made possible for us a new fellowship with God, and agape is the result of that new fellowship. This love is not based in human motivation, but in the Father’s eternal love for the Son. While eros can only attempt to create value by grasping or holding on to what is perceived by the human mind as eternally valuable, Augustine (354-430 AD) describes agape love like a perpetual fountain. Augustine said, “… to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.”
Maybe Roger Ebert knew that ‘being cherished’ is a cognate of the Latin word caritas (charity) and another English translation of the Greek word agape. Maybe not. But may we continue to drink from the fountain of God’s love for us in the Son, and for one another. May we continue to find at Elim the spontaneous, unencumbered, cross-shaped creative fellowship with God, called agape.
Pastor Paul Stephen Olson