Today is Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate love. We’re bombarded with opportunities to declare our passion. Flowers and chocolate, some pretty steamy Valentine cards, Victoria’s Secret displays all focus on romantic love, or is it romantic lust? But for some, this is a difficult time. Not everyone is in a romantic relationship. Does lack of Special Someone mean you’ve completely missed out on love?
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis points out that the Greeks had different words for the different meanings of love:
- First, there’s storge (στοργή), or affection, the kind of love we gain from familiarity. This is the love that holds most families together. It doesn’t look at the worthiness of the person loved—we simply love them because they’re our sister or brother, mother or father. The human race wouldn’t last very long without storge.
- Next, there’s philia (φιλία), or friendship. I don’t have siblings, but I do have close friends. We say we love one another, and this is what we have in mind. This love arises first from shared interests or activities, but it grows beyond that. We decide to love our friend. A true friendship requires effort, and we willing put in the time and attention needed to maintain it.
- We’ve already covered eros (ἔρως), the romantic love we’re inundated with. True eros isn’t the same as infatuation or lust. As Lewis puts it, lust is the desire for women, whereas eros is the desire for a specific woman.
- When Paul wrote that famous passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13, he was talking about the fourth kind of love—agape (ἀγάπη). Pure and selfless, this is the love that lays down its life for someone else. Unconditional, you can do nothing to earn it.
I’ve always been taught that agape love is the kind of love God has for us. And that is true. God loved us while we were yet sinners. He gave His only son for our sins. Jesus laid down his life for us. We can do nothing to “qualify”—to earn this love—and we can do nothing to lose it. God may not like us at times, but He never stops loving us.
I have to admit, however, that while it’s comforting to know how much God loves us, eros is a lot more exciting! We all can remember falling in love. Our beloved consumed our thoughts. Our pulse would race everything the phone rang. We’d drive out of our way just to go by their house or apartment, pick out clothes to wear in their favorite color, and do nearly anything just to see them smile.
How does God’s agape love compare to the thrill of romantic love? Well, what if God doesn’t just love us with agape love, but with all of the loves Lewis mentions?
I’ve been reading Father Fiction, by Donald Miller. In it, he writes:
“I wondered if all the relationships we have—relationships with our lovers, our mothers, our friends—are not unlike blurred photos of our relationship with God, as though they are foreshadowings in the sappy prologue of an eternal novel….
“If I allow myself, I can see God holding up flashcards as I fall in love with a woman, cards that say, this is love, I’m like this love, only better.”
I think Miller has it exactly right.
God knows that not everyone will have a romantic relationship. Not everyone has loving parents or close friends. But He wants to be sure everyone has a shot at understanding love. So He gives us a variety of examples, metaphors that teach us about His love for us.
Is God affectionate with us? Consider:
“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (Deuteronomy 7:7)
“Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 10:15)
“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:8)
Does God love us as a true friend? Jesus said,
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
How about eros? Take my example above. Does God delight in us? The Bible says He does. Check out these verses:
“… the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11)
“Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.” (Psalm 149:3-4)
Does He get excited when we call? You bet! In fact, He want us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) How far out of His way does He go to get our attention? All the way to the cross.
And as far as favorite colors, well, look at the earth He created for us. You have a color? He made the sky blue, the leaves green, and flowers (and fish gems and birds and insects…) in every color imaginable. Then, just in case He missed something, He designed rainbows.
Years ago I read The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. The book compares the gospel to a traditional fairy tale, where the fair princess is rescued by the dashing prince and they live happily ever after. As a girl, I checked out and read every fairy tale collection in the Los Angeles library system, so this analogy resonated with me. Come Valentine’s Day, I easily imagine Jesus riding up on a white horse to give me a red, heart-shaped Valentine filled with professions of His deep and everlasting love.
And you know, He’s got one for you, too.