Recent headlines have led to serious debate about how to define a marriage. Central to this debate is the theme of love. It is hard to properly have a debate on love without first agreeing upon the true meaning of the term. As this is an Orthodox Christian blog, my post will use, to the best of my limited ability, a christian perspective on love. Certainly St. Paul’s epistle to the church in Corinth best expresses the meaning of true Christian love:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Cor 13:1-13)
Current debates are obviously not centered around Christian teaching, as that is an open and closed debate. But those who would argue against Christian teaching still propose to end the discussion by proclaiming that “religion is about love” and “love wins.” I cannot disagree with that. What I can disagree with is what love means as they use it. We cannot adequately describe God with our created, limited language. The closest we can come is to say that God is love. So, what does that mean? Our opponents who use this word seem to indicate that love is a complete tolerance of any action that makes a person happy: complete permissiveness. I take issue with this on several levels. The same St. Paul who wrote the above paragraph describing love also says the following: Love is the “fulfilling of the law” of God. (Romans 13:10) Love is an action word. English wraps many ideas into this one word. The Greek has several words for love with differing ideas:
- Eros, or sexual passion. The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and it represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. …
- Philia, or deep friendship. …
- Ludus, or playful love. …
- Agape, or love for everyone. …
- Pragma, or longstanding love. …
- Philautia, or love of the self.
The love used in comparison to God is agape love. This is the type of love used to express “love (agape) your neighbor as yourself”. This is the love that led Christ to give up his life for us.
Let us consider the love that a parent has for his child. My child desires to eat endless amounts of junk food, does not want to study, does want to seek danger, does want to break the rules of the house, and the like. Would love dictate that we correct the child, or allow the child to pursue any activity he wants? No sane person would argue this point. Correction and Protection are the very tasks of good parenting. Love demands correction, because the parent knows better than the child about what is prudent, moral, and safe. The correction could be to assist in moral standards, it could be for the child’s health, or to maintain order within a community or society.
If we as Christians believe in God, and that this God is the creator of this world and humanity, it follows that God is infinitely more wise than are we. How can the created man be wiser than the Creator? We refer to God as Father. How does our Father instruct us? How did he order nature?
The current social topics tend to center around “philos” and “eros”. Eros is the word from which we derived the term erotic. So, the current idea of marriage seems to reason that since one person has erotic love for another person, that this justifies a marriage ceremony. And since Christians are taught to love above all else, that we should condone, even actively support such unions irrespective of the nature of that match. This reasoning is fallacious. Meanings of the term love are used where the opponent sees fit, switching the meaning within the course of his own argument.
Love is an infinitely broad topic. The current discourse could continue for pages, but for the sake of the current post, I will wrap up and relate it with the social topic of the day: homosexual marriage.
So, the same St. Paul who taught us about love, also said that if we truly love God, we will fulfill God’s law. The same St. Paul then teaches us God’s law around this type of erotic love in his Epistle to the Church in Rome. The following is the very first chapter of the letter:
21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. 29 They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.
Christians are not to live the life of the libertine. We should not spend our complete energy chasing sloth, gluttony, erotic behavior, or any other overindulgence. I don’t know what sane person would propose such a lifestyle. These are the acts of a child in need of correction. I would argue that the job of the Christian is to gently and lovingly share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus does love us. If we are to join to Him, He who is love, we are to live according to the prescription of His example and through his Church. There is a difference between judging a man and condoning behaviors that Jesus tells us to avoid. “32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.”
Let us then gently and lovingly proclaim the gospel of God, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” (I Rom 1:16-17)