Summary: Three dimensions of authentic love, seen in love for God, love for our church, and love for our community.
One of the stranger enigmas of modern history is the 18th century French thinker Rousseau (Johnson 1-27). Rousseau’s ideas were immensely influential in 18th century Europe. Rousseau believed he loved the entire human race with a unique and special kind of love. Yet Rousseau’s life was a complete mess of failed relationships and sexual perversion. Rousseau exploited his family for all the cash he could get, and he then sponged money of wealthy families. During his unconventional life Rousseau had four illegitimate children, and he abandoned all four of them as infants on the steps of the local orphanage. Rousseau knew full well that three-fourths of all babies in the orphanage died. So by abandoning his four kids to the orphanage, Rousseau all but ensured that they’d die in childhood. Yet he proclaimed that he loved the human race more than any other person every had. What a living contradiction. Rousseau’s life reminds me of that other great philosopher, Linus, who once said to Charlie Brown, "I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand."
How do you define authentic love? Obviously Rousseau’s definition of authentic love was quite different than mine and probably yours as well. What is authentic love? When you close your eyes and think about what real love is, what do you see?
Some people equate authentic love with ROMANCE. Movies like the blockbuster film Titanic focus on this kind of love, the kind of love the ancient Greeks called eros. Eros love is a passion that seeks to possess the object of its desire. Eros is that flutter you feel when you find yourself incredibly attracted to someone. Eros is erotic love, the kind of love that draws men and women into relationships. Titanic is a vivid example of our culture’s obsession with eros, romantic love. This is especially clear in the movie when Rose describes her lover John Dawson by saying, "He saved me in every way a person can be saved." The message is that only eros can truly fill the human soul. Romantic love is good--I’m certainly grateful for it--yet left unchecked, romantic love can turn terribly destructive. Some people in pursuit of romantic love go from sexual partner to partner, from marriage to marriage, all in search for the kind of romantic love that fills the soul. A person who’s life revolves around romantic love sometimes can’t take "no" for an answer when someone doesn’t reciprocate that love back. Out of control eros love is what drives people to become stalkers, and even worse when they can’t have the object of their passion. For many people in our culture, romantic love is the highest kind of love there is.
For others authentic love is FRIENDSHIP. The ancient Greeks used the word philia to express this kind of love. Friendship love is the warm affection we experience with people we share things in common with. You can see how this love has been catapulted to center stage in TV shows like Friends and Seinfeld. In those shows romances come and go, boyfriends and girlfriends change with each episode, families are places of dysfunction and pain, so real, authentic love is experienced in friendship. These friendships become the only place you can be yourself, the only safe place where you’re accepted. Many people who’ve become disillusioned with the idea of romantic love turn to friendship to find meaning and purpose in life.
For others authentic love is PATRIOTISM, love of our nation. According to C. S. Lewis, the ancient Greeks used the word storge to describe patriotic love. This is the kind of love we saw in the Mel Gibson film The Patriot. It’s only natural to have a special sense of pride about our nation, to feel that we share in our nation’s story. Yet patriotic love can at times become blind and hateful. Think about all those patriotic church members in Germany who wholeheartedly embraced Hitler’s anti-Christian nazi agenda in the name of patriotism. The German Christians of the Confessing Church movement who refused to go along with Nazism were viewed as unpatriotic, disloyal to their nation, and some like Dietrich Bonhoeffer were even executed. As important as love of our nation is, it too can become evil if there’s nothing higher to regulate it.
For still others authentic love is FAMILY. The Greeks used the word philadephia, which literally means "love of brothers," to describe this kind of family love. Christians today are often associated with this kind of love, with all our talk about family values and focusing on the family. It’s certainly true that Christians believe that the family is important, that it’s the most basic building block for a healthy society. When families erode, all of society suffers.
But not every family is a safe, loving place. A family’s outside veneer can be a covering for horrible evil, like violence, unfaithfulness, and abuse. Often these evils are covered in the name of family love, with people saying, "If you really love this family, you won’t tell." Families do fragment, the tragedy of divorce does happen at times. With no higher standard of love, a fractured family means never being able to experience authentic love.