Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eros -- the "Because of" Love

When we see the word Eros I expect what comes to mind is the "erotic" and thus the sexual.  But is it possible that there is more to this word than meets the eye?

In laying out his theology of love, Thomas Oord has defined love as "promoting the over-all well-being of others.  With this basic definition of love in mind, he defined agape, which is often believed by many Christians to be the "distinctly" Christian form of love, but Oord makes it clear that this is too restrictive.  What he does, however, is define agape as "in spite of love."  That is, agape is that type of love that seeks the well-being of the other, in spite of how they may feel about me or what they may intend for me.  Thus, the basis of Jesus' call to love one's enemies. 

If agape is "in spite of love," then we can understand eros as "because of" love.  I like this definition, because as Oord makes clear, if eros is love, then we needn't add any qualifiers, as if there are proper and improper forms.  Note his definition, which comes in the context of his reflections on Augustine's definition of love as desire.  Although Augustine's understanding of love is deficient, this idea that love is desire has its place -- and that is in the idea of eros:

I define eros as acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being by affirming and/or seeking to enhance value.  To put it another way, eros affirms what is good, beautiful, and valuable and seeks to enhance it.  The value may be present in other creatures, in the lover, or in God.  Because eros promotes overall well-being, the absence of eros results in covetousness (Ex. 20:17).  To covet is to desire what is valuable but not promote overall well-being in that desiring.  (p. 83).
So, the point here is that when we see something of value, and seek to "enhance it, improve upon it, or enjoy it," we are expressing the eros form of love.   And, not only do we express eros but God does as well. 

And here is the good news -- God doesn't just love the world "in spite of" what it is, but also "because of" what it is.  What this means is that even though there is darkness and sin in the world, the created order, including humanity, is not without value and beauty.  And, God seeks to enhance this value.  Yes, this is good news!

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