I love a whole lot of things -- my wife, my son, my mother, the Giants and the Ducks. I love pizza and burritos. You can see where I'm going with this. The reality is that too often we speak of love without defining it.
For Christians, one way of defining love has been to appeal to the word agape, which is supposedly the distinctive form of Christian love. This love is sacrificial and unconditional, and according to Anders Nygren, it is a love that comes only from God, without any human interaction (why else would it be unconditional)? Nygren didn't believe that any other form of love, especially eros, was appropriate for Christians. Unfortunately, this definition is very passive. We don't enter into the equation at all? Well, if love is to be central to our theology, we're going to have to do a better job of defining the word.
I'm reading Tom Oord's excellent book, The Nature of Love: A Theology, (Chalice, 2010), and Oord gives a definition of love that is quite helpful. He defines love this way:
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well being. (p. 17).
Oord goes on to provide other nuances and expansions, but this is the basic definition. It is upon this basic definition that he builds his definition of agape.
Agape is "acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being in response to that which produces ill-being." (p. 56).
He goes on to write that the easiest way to define agape is to call it "in spite of Love."
Agape is the form of love promoting overall well-being in spite of the negativity the lover faces. Agape does good in spite of evil previously inflicted. Just as God loves us in spite of our rebellion, complacency, and sin, so we ought to love others and ourselves in spite of the pain, suffering, and destruction others and we have done. (p. 56).
What is love? It has many meanings and nuances, but ultimately it is a commitment to pursuing the well-being of the other (and of ourselves). Can we commit ourselves to this calling? Can we put this at the center of our theology?