What Does it Mean to be In Love?
By Tiffany Wismer
Being in love is a mysterious thing. What is its purpose? Have you ever wondered why God created it? Sexuality can exist without being "in love". Affection, agape love and friendship are all still possible without it. Many arranged marriages throughout the ages have no doubt been happy and healthy without the phenomenon of being in love.
So, what does it mean to be in love? And if you are in love, is there spiritual significance to what you are feeling?
What is Eros?
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis provides excellent definitions and explanations of the different types of love. In one of my favorite passages, Lewis says:
"Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give."
We often think of Eros as having sexual feelings for someone. But Lewis' point is that Eros is not defined that way. It is defined by wanting a person, independent of anything that can be gained from that person.
So what does it mean, this longing for one particular person? Most of us have felt it. Logic and reason have no bearing on it. Nobody can talk you out of it – especially not yourself. And even when the person you love is completely out of reach, you will stubbornly continue to want them. What on earth could this possibly mean? If all things in creation reflect God's character, what does it mean to be in love?
Eros Among the Other Loves
In my darker moments I have been tempted to say that Eros love is simply a creation of the devil, a useless, hateful state of mind that has been conjured up to torture humanity. But we know that Satan creates nothing, that he only perverts what is already there. And Eros is clearly not a perversion of one of the other loves – it stands alone. Like the rest of creation, Eros must have been created by God to teach us something about Himself. But what?
"Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it." Song 8:6-7
Song of Solomon, if taken literally, is clearly talking about erotic love. It says that this kind of love is like the very flame of the Lord, as strong as death, and unquenchable. I don't think that means we are justified in following our feelings to the point of forgetting our obedience to God's love, or forsaking the love we hold toward a friend, or doing something that hurts somebody else. No, Eros cannot exist alone. To remain healthy, the loves must work together.
Here's what I mean: A few years ago, my husband and I lived next door to a troubled couple. The man was physically and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend. We felt powerless to help them. One night, we heard sounds of abuse. The man drove away and I went to see if the woman was alright. We sat on the steps of her house as she cried. She told me all about the misery of their life together. But when I suggested that she leave him, she refused. She was in love with him, and would not leave him even though he was abusing her.
In another quote, Lewis says that the voice of Eros speaks this way: "Better [unhappiness] than parting. Better to be miserable with [my beloved] than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together."
Eros is extreme that way. So the other loves help to keep Eros in check. The voice of friendship or familial love can speak reason to Eros' insanity. And sometimes nothing short of divine intervention (God's agape love for us) is enough to keep lovers from ruining themselves and each other.
Eros as a Shadow of Heaven
Again, what is the point of this madness? What can we possibly know about God through romantic love? Is it possibly a reflection of something He Himself feels? It seems to me that the most obvious answer is this: the church is Christ's bride. Not his friend, not his sister. His bride. He longs for his people as a man longs for that "one particular woman".
So the next time you fall in love, remember that those powerful, overwhelming feelings are only a dim reflection of the longing Jesus Christ feels for those the Father has given him (John 10:28-29). The implications of that are interesting. Not only is God the most beautiful, most desirable being in existence, but He saved our lives, rescued us from a terrible eternal death by spilling His own blood. He loves us unconditionally. He is a perfect hero, a perfect friend. He is the creator of music, beauty, laughter. He invented pleasure itself. And we will be invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb – not as his guests, but as his bride!
Furthermore, I think it is worth mentioning that the bible's most famous chapter on love tells us that the things we experience in this world are a mere shadow of the realities that will be ours in heaven: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
How does this verse speak specifically to Eros? Well, I believe that at the root of Eros is a desperate longing for intimacy, understanding, and wholeness in our relationships with our fellow creatures. True affirmation, and admittance fully and freely into the heart of another, without judgement, is never more closely reached than when we are in love. I believe that our relationships in heaven will be the purest form of that feeling, and the truest satisfaction of that need.
And if that doesn't make you excited to go to heaven, nothing will.
Image Credit: Philipp Nordmeyer; "Hearts on fire"; Creative Commons