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What is Love?

Kristen Henriques

Maybe I’m showing my age, but the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the question, “What is love?” is the 1993 hit song of the same name by Haddaway. Despite asking the question, the song seems unable to provide an answer; in fact, it only raises more questions. At best, this is common for most songs about love; at worst, these songs leave us wondering whether love is just lustful thoughts, emotions, or physical objects.

Whether these songs shaped our view of love or are just an outward expression of our expectations is a debate for another day. Regardless of which came first, culture has impacted our view of love, leaving us with either a skewed view of love or, like Haddaway, asking the question “what is love.”

I Want to Know What Love Is

Diamonds are often seen as a symbolic gesture of love. While they are one of the most durable materials on earth, they don’t start out looking very impressive. They begin as a crude rock and require much carving depending on the desired cut, shape, or caret. In many ways diamonds and love are similar because love also has many facets and forms.

According to the Greeks, there are four different kinds of love: storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (romantic), and agape (charity). [1]   While each of these types has its own definition and unique attributes, the noblest form of love is agape love. William Barclay defines agape love as “not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.”[2]  Simply put, agape love doesn’t depend on another person to do or to be anything. It does, however, require a conscious act of deliberation on our part.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

What difference does it make how we define love, though? The easy answer is because it affects our relationships with others. If we allow culture to define love, then by today’s standards, love is merely an item we can toss away when the feeling is gone. This is a twisted view of love for many reasons, but first and foremost it places the emphasis on what’s in it for us. We view love selfishly and when we aren’t getting something out of a relationship, or don’t feel like loving someone, we move on.

In his book, The Four Loves, CS Lewis says: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal… The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.” 

Loving someone requires vulnerability, sacrifice, and selflessness; yet this isn’t usually how our culture portrays love. Our culture usually portrays the opposite. In fact, we often view vulnerability, sacrifice, and selflessness as a weakness. Not only does this one-sided view of love wreak havoc on our earthly relationships, more grievously, it affects our view of God.

How Deep is your love

We often view God through the lens of the world and when we don’t feel His love or get what we want we look elsewhere. We forget it was God who first modeled sacrificial love and we see this in the Biblical book of John. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[3] That may spark the question “Why did Jesus have to die?” and while I don’t have the space to address it here, we do examine this very question on our podcast Where We Begin. [4]

This ultimate sacrifice shows the true power of love and embodies the definition of agape love. This kind of love isn’t contingent on what we bring to the relationship; it simply asks that we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus extends rest, clarity, and joy to each of us and beckons our minds, hearts, imaginations, and souls into a deeper kind of love.

[1] Lewis, C.S. https://www.cslewis.com/four-types-of-love/

[2] Barclay, William. 1974. New Testament Words. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press.

[3] John 3:16

[4] Why Did Jesus Have to Die? https://lightengroup.org/why-did-jesus-have-to-die-video/

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