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What is love?




Evening Times Editor S ong lyrics will tell you that love is a many splendored thing, that all we need is love and that love will keep us together. People my age will probably hear the question, “What is love?” and immediately sing “Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more” in their heads.

Love is real. Love is something, however, that we’ve sort of ruined the meaning of over the years. Despite what you might feel, you do not, in fact “love” cheeseburgers or or ice cream. You also don’t “love” the Dallas Cowboys or the way you look in those jeans. We’ve kind of done the same thing with other words, like “awesome”… as in something that inspires awe. I know they’re good, but the barbecue nachos at the Memphis Grizzlies game are now awesome… and you don’t love them.

Something that I was very interested to learn several years ago is that there are several kinds of love. No, I know that not some amazing new concept. Everyone knows you love in different ways. You don’t love your Mom the same way you love your husband or your daughter or your best bud you’ve had since you were a little boy. But I hadn’t really thought about it too much until I heard a sermon series about it in church.

While we usually just use “love” as a catch-all term for describing the way we feel about people and things we’re really into. I mean, I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. I love Batman, and I love baseball, and I love my cats, and I love the Star Wars movies, but we all know and understand that what I mean is that those are things that I take a strong interest in and feel strongly about.

But the Greeks had different words for different kinds of love, and those different words conveyed a special kind of meaning when they were used in the Bible. I assume they served the same purpose in other places too, but I have very little exposure to ancient Greek manuscripts that have been translated in to English for comparison. One of my favorites is “phileo” which describes a true and brotherly affection for someone. True bonds of friendship are forged through this kind of love. You’ve probably heard the city of Philadelphia called “The City of Brotherly Love” before. Well, it’s not just a nick name like “The Big Apple” for New York. The city’s name literally means “The City of Brotherly Love,” which is pretty cool. It’s also pretty ironic, though, as a sports fan, because that city’s sports fans are notoriously some of the worst.

Another type of love that we have all felt, even if we didn’t consciously differentiate from other types of love is what the Greeks called “storge” love. It’s a type of love that comes from an empathetic bond. It’s a love of family or familiarness. Parents feel this love for their children (and vice versa). You get this type of love from grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. But you also get this kind of love through shared experiences, such as serving together in the military or playing on the same high school football team. “I love you because we went through this together and came out of it closely bonded.”

Anyway, another type of love the Greeks understood was “eros,” and if you know anything about word origins, you can probably already deduce what this is in reference to. Yes, we get the word “erotic” from this kind of love, which means a romantic, physical act of love. If you’re “in love” with someone, that’s the kind of love that is being described here. It’s a completely different kind of love from what you would feel for your best friend or your army buddies or your schoolmates. And it’s a little weird that the Greeks had different words for this and we don’t. I don’t think any of us would be comfortable saying we had “eros”-type love for pizza.

And the final type of love that I learned about through that sermon series was “agape” love. It is often described as “God’s love,” but the literal translation is closer to unconditional love. The Christian scholar and author C.S. Lewis (probably best known for the “Chronicles of Narnia” books) described agape love as love that exists regardless of changing circumstances and the “greatest” kind of love. In this context, God loves us no matter what we do or how often we fail or in what snares we might find ourselves entrapped. He even wonders if we as mere humans are even capable of true agape (unconditional) love.

It’s a good question. I don’t know that I know the answer, but I do know that we probably need all four of these kinds of love in our lives. And I do wish the Greeks had come up with a word for describing the kind of love I have for chocolate- chip cookies.

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