Eros -- A Theological Reflection for Valentines Day
It is Valentines Day, a day to celebrate love in all of its forms. When we think of Valentines Day we normally think of romance, and that is an appropriate way to think of the day. Cheryl and I have been married for 27 going on 28 years now. Like all couples we've had our ups and downs, but our love is as strong today as ever, though it has evolved with time, and that is a good thing. As I reflect on this day and what it means -- beyond cards and flowers and expensive dinners -- I want to do so theologically.
As I've noted in my reflections on Tom Oord's book The Nature of Love, there are three primary forms of love as defined in the Greek context. There is agape, which he defines as "in spite of love." Now there are times when we will love the ones hold dearest in spite of what the do and say, but I'm not sure that's the love we celebrate today. Then there is philia, which Oord defines as "alongside of love, and which we often define in terms of friendship. And most assuredly intimate relationships, especially marriages, are rooted in such a love. But what about eros?
The word erotic, which derives from this word eros is completely tied up to the sexual, and sexuality is definitely part of intimate relationships such as marriages -- but Oord offers us the opportunity to deepen this concept of eros. He speaks of this love as "because of love." When we express this kind of love we are recognizing something of extreme value in the other. It is that "something" that draws us into intimate relationship that is deep and abiding. It is true that this "because of love" is shared with others beyond spouses and those with whom we have deep relationships, but Oord suggests that it is a love we can share with God and which God shares with us. In that sense, there is nothing romantic or sexual about it. It is instead a recognition that the other is "true, honorable, pleasing, and excellent" (p. 121). It is a type of love that can be shared in different contexts and in different ways.
That being said, I think there is something important here that needs to be expressed. For much of my ministry, as I've officiated at weddings, I've downplayed this form of love and lifted up agape. I did so, because I didn't understand the full-orbed nature of love. I saw eros as being transitory and secondary, but now I understand that God has given us this love. In fact, God expresses this love for us. Therefore, even as God values that which is me, I may value that which is the other, including the one with whom I share the most deep and abiding relationship in human experience -- my wife, Cheryl.
For those who seek to celebrate this day, I invite you to affirm the value, the beauty, the grace, the giftedness of this other who inhabits your life. For indeed, this is a gift of God.