What Is Love?

Here is a topic that should yield some excitement while giving me some headache. I must confess that I am a tenderfoot when it comes to love. The greatest practical love I know is my parents’. They have been together 46 years. I have seen them going through so much together; their love for each other is never put into question. On a personal level, I don’t know much. My last girlfriend was years ago. I am not sure if the rules of dating still remain unchanged. What I can guarantee my readers though is that I have a lot of knowledge about love and I am a Christian. Therefore, I know what it means to love. I want to ground this post on the most interesting book of the Bible to bring out some conception of love found in that interestingly fascinating and fascinatingly interesting book.
If the ancient philosophers spoke about love, they never went beyond the idea that love takes four forms—Erotic love (sexual love), agape (charity/unconditional love), affection (fondness through emotion or attraction), and filial love (friendship).
Plato, in the Symposium, wanted to speak about love, however he turned it into the most ridiculous jokes that one can make about love. So historically, his account of the nature of love, philosophically speaking, remains the most thought-provoking account we have of love. Yet, he failed to discuss the different types of love we daily encounter. He failed to give a definition of love. If he discussed any kind of love, it is erotic love. He argues that each one of us is seeking the half of our original nature with whom to spend the rest of our life. This understanding of love is the most thoughtless thing that Plato had ever said in my opinion. Aristotle spent a good part of the Nicomachean Ethics discussing filial or friendship love. He essentially asserts that filial love is pursued because we are seeking to satisfy our own self-interest. We had to wait for C. S. Lewis in the 20th century before we see a thorough discussion of the most common types of love. We are all very family with his understanding of these kinds of love, so needless to redefine them here.
No one has tried to characterize or construe love in the manner the book of Song of Songs has. Certainly not these thinkers! That is why even though I have little experience of love, I can still explain love as I understand it in that book.
The very title of the book characterizes love as a [song]. So love is a song. Not a song that we can sing with our pretty sweet voices, but a song to which we can always listen. As peter Kreft says, “God is love, and music is the language of love. Therefore, music is the language of God”. Music is not simply something that awakens some feelings in us, it is the “saving light” as Gabriel Marcel put it. That love is best expressed through musical modes because music has the capacity to open the road to Truth. It gives us the sense of an unshakable testimony of a deeper reality where everything fragmentary and unfulfilled on the sensory level comes to fulfillment. Marcel found through music, the mode through which God speaks, something like a “blind intuition” or a “non-seeing sight” that elevates the mind to being itself. It brings everything to unity. It is the “sea” whose depths join the shores of philosophy and the islands of drama.
If love is anything awesome, it is “Dialogue”. Have you been in love? When one is bitten by that toxic virus, the most delicious food, the most succulent drink no longer taste good to him. All that person needs is to enjoy the company of his/her beloved where there is an unending dialogue. it is no wonder that successful marriages are those founded on communication. It is a dialogue that takes its very stamp from God. their communication reflects God’s love, mystery, and harmony that exist between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One characterization rarely given to love is that it involves suffering. Exception is made here to Christianity whose very basis is suffering love, but outside of that, most people believe that love should bring sunny weather only. It does not. Love opens us up; it makes us vulnerable and exposes our sensitive self in the midday sun. Think of Romeo and Juliet, they die because they love each other. Had they accepted what fate proposed, they would both have been fine. Imagine Jesus; who could ever kill God had he not opened himself up in love to save mankind. Imagine yourself. The only reason why your beloved hurts you is because you are in love. You become vulnerable and weak before him/her because you are in love. The only way to avoid suffering is to not fall in love, which would mean to choose loneliness. Is there any greater suffering than loneliness? The good thing is that love is greater than suffering. It can transform, conquer and redeem it. “Not even deep water can quench love for it is as stern as death” (Song 8:6-7). Suffering in love is like a little stream of water struggling to go up a hill, and then a huge powerful wave of water comes and pushes it upward. Where there is love all marks of suffering are effaced because the power of love engulfs all past bitter experiences.
Love is fearless. This conception of love stands above recent sayings. In Song of Songs, the bride is hiding in the cleft of the rock (Song 2:14), fearful of meeting the beloved. That’s so cute. It is widely accepted today that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”. Well, I don’t see eye to eye with this statement. We have a lot to fear—diseases, evil, hell, death etc. We fear these things to a point where we are ready to do whatever is necessary to avoid them. We fear that we love someone and open ourselves to him/her and be rejected.
Above all else, we fear God, the perfect goodness. No matter how holy we think we are, if we are told we are going to meet God face to face as our judge, would we be totally comfortable in our skin? See, we are afraid!
Now there is nothing wrong in being afraid. What would love overcome if fear did not exist? Would love not fall on unprepared soil? Fear is necessary to keep our love awake in awe and watchfulness. It is fear that keeps our soul alert so it may produce the right kind of love—love that grows in a fertile and pure heart. When this kind of fear falls into the ground of love and dies, it yields much fruit. This love is not erotic; it is agape. It is the kind of love that St Paul spoke about. It is patient and kind. It does not envy, boast, or proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. It just never fails. Above all, it is the greatest (1 Cor 13, 4-13).
Love casts out fear and there is no fear in love (1 Jn 4:18), only outside of it. God is love and He is the most trustworthy love. It is the only love that does not disappoint and gives without expecting absolutely anything back. It is the only love from which when we are connected is all possibility of fear expelled. So can we truly love anyone other than God then? Should we trust anyone who says that he/she loves us? Well, that’s when faith comes in. I believe they love me and their actions testify for them. Should we doubt that our parents love us? I know they love me. My siblings love me. I know some of my friends really love me. They know I love them because I say it and my actions signify it. Because we love and love is fearless, we don’t doubt.

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