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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Love of God

Uncovering the meaning of foreign words in dead languages is not easy and I cannot claim to have done it with anything close to perfection. But I have tried over the years to read key "biblical" words in a variety of contexts in their original language - even outside of the biblical texts and sometimes preferring what I found to what I was taught at bible school or what I read in theology texts. So I offer the following as my mere opinion.

The Hebrew word "chesed" often translated "kindness" or "love" is not a word for emotion but rather a word that denotes "actions taken to beget an outcome related to a meaningful committed intention." In this sense although love is something you can "feel," what you feel is a secondary characteristic. The primary characteristic of this "love" is the committed intention, leading to actions, and resulting in an outcome.

In Greek, the word "agape" is so churchified that it has become meaninglessly magical. In the bible it does not always refer to God's love and it in no way indicates a love only God is capable of. Before the Septuagint the word was capable of denoting an almost pitiful condition. It was the Greek word to use if one had made a commitment and conditions change so that, much to one's regret, they still have to keep their promise because they are fond of their reputation. This certainly does not describe the love of God and this is not the only circumstance in which the word was used. The word was used to describe values that motivated commitment or choice.

I believe "chesed" is the concept behind the love of God and that when the love of God was spoken about in Greek, that none of the words for "love" in Greek captured the meaning so well. "Eros" was romantic love and sexualized, focused upon attraction. "Phileo" was brotherly love and often focused upon taking sides in a dispute with no care for which side is right. "Storgay" is familial love and denotes attachment, favoritism and loyalty. This leaves "agape" which is the only word left in Greek strongly connected to commitment, so it was chosen as the word to use when translating the Septuagint.

The tradition endured over time. When Semitic people spoke of "chesed" in the common language of the day they used the Greek word "agape." They also used the word "agape" in its pure Greek sense as did Jesus when he said, "men won't come to the light because they love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil." Jesus was speaking of their commitment to self-centeredness.

We love when we authentically want what is truly best, are committed to act in such a way that will best secure that outcome. This will involve, secondarily, a great variety of emotions in both the one who loves and the one loved.

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