Saturday, February 05, 2011

"Alongside of" Love -- Philia

I want to return to my conversation with Tom Oord's definitions of love, which he offers in an effort to write a theology of love.  In previous conversations we've discussed agape as "in spite of love," and eros as "because of love."  The third form of love that Oord discusses is philia, or what he calls "alongside of" love. 

He defines philia as:

Acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being by seeking to establish deeper levels of cooperative friendship.  (The Nature of Love, p. 115). 
Note once again two key points to this definition -- it is intentional and it seeks to "promote overall well-being."  Love isn't accidental! 

One important point here is that he applies philia to God, that is, God is involved in intentionally creating friendships.  This is an important response to those who see God as being aloof and untouched by relationships.  Such a view of God is rooted in Greek categories that suggest that God is "impassible" -- that God is without passion and in truth unable to truly be part of relationships. 

Thus, he writes:
Philia is alongside of love.  Philia expressions require mutuality, and long lasting philia depends upon a friendship heritage.  Because the deepening of God's friendship with creatures requires a span of time, a theology envisioning God as time-full is more adequate as a theology of love than a theology considering God in all ways timeless.  (pp. 115-116).
If God is relational and engaged with us in true friendship, what does this mean for us and for our vision of God?  How do we separate out a truly relational God from a sentimentalizing of this relationship with God being a relationship of buddies?   But also think about the ways in which a relational understanding of God enhances the way we live together in community.  If God can be in relationship, then certainly we can as well.

2 comments:

John said...

Being in relation, even an intentional well-meaning relationship, does not accomplish what God has in mind for us - I think. We are called to be more than well-wishing witnesses to the lives of those we love.

At the risk of triteness I would point to Biblical verses like 1 Cor 13 and Jeremiah 29, for the proposition that divinely modeled loves also actively seeks the welfare of the other. I would say that this "alongside of" love, philia, must include a component of empowerment of the other, an intentionality directed at seeking to equip, empower and assist the other in achieving their healthiest dreams - not just well wishing.

John

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

John,

Thanks for the comment -- the point here is not "well-wishing" but "promoting overall well-being." What you're suggesting is what Tom has in mind. The key here is one of relationality -- that is, God is in relationship with us. I'll be posting later about the full-orbed nature of love, as Oord understands it.