Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
-- Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Is love an emotion? These days this question may seem counter-intuitive. According to most in the helping professions, apparently love is not an emotion.

In Solzhenitsyn's description of "our sewage disposal system," (a phrase he employs to describe the conduit through which humans were transferred from society to the Gulags) he refers to a term popular in his day, "social prophylaxis." This was the term used by repression forces in their efforts to protect Russian society from the political decadence of the bourgeoisie. "A convenient juridical term," Solzhenitsyn called it.1

PLEASE NOTE: To navigate between citation and footnote, click on numerical superscript throughout this document.

I do not wish to compare the Christian community with the bolshevik revolution, but I must note that the modern movement (for that is what it has become) toward understanding love as a rational "decision," instead of something that rises from an emotional base, is very much a social prophylaxis. We are afraid our unpredictable feelings or passions will corrupt us, so under the pretense of re-examining love, we re-define it to be more intellectually and spiritually sterile. Such thinking has become a trend. It is now trendy to identify love as an action only -- one which one chooses to make. Much is made of the greek word, agape, and the more misunderstood word, phile, is soft-pedaled if not dismissed entirely.

Why? How did this issue come to the forefront? Why is it important? It is always important when the natural order, the creative intention, of human behavior and function is challenged. Basically, this is what has happened to the natural character of love. This is disconcerting for many of us.

To address the question, "Why?," we must look deeper into motivation. The fact is that "natural love" is an enigma to everyone. It creates theological discomfort for others. It is an enigma because some, owing to their environmental stressors, have never enjoyed it, much less understood it. Theological discomfort because we are "commanded" to have it -- and how do you command your emotions? The answer is you can't. So love, we are taught, must be a decision; an exercise of rationality, an intellectual enterprise, a prophylaxis. The feelings of love with which we are all so familiar and about which the songs and poems are written, are a pathology.

"Love," notes John Ciardi, "is the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old."

Alfred Adler, one of the fathers of modern psychotherapy, gives his opinion that "There is a Law that man should love his neighbor as himself. In a few years it should be as natural to mankind as breathing or the upright gait; but if he does not learn it he must perish."

Intimacy is predicated on love. It is impossible to be psychologically intimate with anyone with whom we are not experiencing love on some level. If one is a Christian, one draws his resources from the Bible in defining his Christianity. The Bible is prolific in its teachings about love. It is critical then, to know with precision what the Scripture says about the most fundamental psychodynamic phenomena in human experience.

I think it is safe to say that when believers are trying to understand biblical love, they begin with the rubric that God is Love. In their attempts to clarify that love, often they turn to a dialogue that Jesus had with Peter after the resurrection and in the presence of the twelve.

Our Lord, perhaps amused at Peter's rashness at throwing himself into the sea, began this dialogue,

"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?"

He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."2

For reasons that are unclear, this passage is almost universally interpreted to suggest that Peter was using an inferior word for love; that Jesus had used the superior, "God's kind of love," agape, to Peter's phile, or human love. The inevitable (but perhaps unintended) result of such reasoning is that we believers are taught to love with agape love as preferable to phile love. Phile is a "friendly" love, a fondness like the love we have for our fellow man as compared to our unconditional agape love for God and his agape love for us, etc.

It is our view that this widely accepted notion of biblical love presents an emotionally insensitive, psychologically naive and intellectually convoluted perspective. Consequently, the phenomena of love itself becomes convoluted in a morass of heart feelings, rationalizations and intellectual misunderstandings. This interpretation has become conventional; it has set the foxes tails afire and is burning up the wheat.

Yet we are not in error when we use agape to describe the love of God. The overwhelming choice for love as expressed in the New Testament is in fact, agape (as in LXX). The error is in the diminishment of phile to a form (kind) of love that is less than divine. The error is in relegating it to the realm of the mundane instead of the sublime. The greatest error however, is the unwitting denigration of the normal emotional expression of love. Romantic love, feelings of love for siblings, love for children or parents or friends is consigned by scholars to phile, or God help us, to eros.

A basic Christian hermeneutic in understanding the Old Testament is that it must be interpreted in the light of and from the perspective of the New Testament. Even more to the point, it is held here that the entire Bible should be viewed through the life, Person and teachings of the Lord Jesus, himself. Perhaps also the Old Testament helps us understand the New. We find the usage of the word for love in the Old Testament to cast significant influence on our understanding of its use in the New Testament.

The predominant Hebrew word for love is Aheb. It is interesting to note that the word is used in just about every way one can use the word love: Love for God; love for fellow man; love for inanimate things; erotic love; permanent steadfast love, etc. Another curiosity is that the LXX uses the greek word agape when translating Aheb in the Canticles where clearly erotic and romantic love is intended. Some agree this text (LXX) is more representative of the actual Autographs than the Masoretic texts. The one place where eros does occur (Prov. 7:18) concerns prostitution.

However, the fundamental thrust of Aheb, is that of action flowing from emotional feeling. It is not an act which can be directed by simply willing to do so. The notion of deciding to love and then doing it is foreign the meaning of Aheb.

Kittel is aware that most authors fail to note this:

"When the love of God is considered, the tendency in most authors is for the act, i.e., the ethical expression, to be ranked above the feeling, so that the impression is left that man himself decides whether or not to love. Love in the OT is basically a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving or, in relation to things, to the seizure of the object which awakens the feeling, or to the performance of the action in which pleasure is taken. Love is an inexplicable power of soul given in the inward person. Love is such a powerful expression of personal life that even the metaphorical use of the term in relation to things hardly ever loses its passionate note. The attitude denoted by the word aheb, is one of natural feeling which cannot be legally directed."3

This OT concept of action based on feeling is less definitive in the NT. Neither agape or phile seem to completely capture the essence of Aheb. For the Christian to whom these words carry great import, this presents a bit of a puzzle. However, when assembled with discretion, the pieces fit. The integrity of the OT Aheb, is maintained. The only cause for alarm is what we have done with phile.


We should be aware that there are three words used for love in the New Testament, not just the two under discussion. The third, (-storge), is used as a suffix to phile and only occurs once in the Bible. The other greek word for love, eros, does not occur at all. As already noted, eros occurs once in the LXX, (Prov. 7:18).

  • Love for immediate family as compared to love for Christ:
    Anyone who loves his father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than he loves me is not worthy of me. 4

    Jesus draws a contrast between the love which we hold for our immediate family and the love we hold for him. In both cases, he uses phile. If Jesus wanted to draw a distinction between agape and phile, this was an excellent opportunity for him to do so. He did not.

  • The Father's love for the Son:
    For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.5

    An unequivocal statement that the "kind of love" the Father holds for the Son is phile. Nothing about agape. Should this not evoke a shadow of humility in those who suggest that phile is a lesser love than agape?

  • The Father's love for us; our love for Christ:
    No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 6

    The Father's love for the believer is characterized by phile. As is the believer's love for the Father. Again, the word for the Father's love here is not agape, but phile as is the expression of our love for Christ.

  • A sincere, heartfelt love which comes from adherence to the Truth; a product of our new birth:
    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.7

    Here again phile is chosen by the Spirit to express emotion. This is an emotional love which is sincere (true) and without deceit. It comes from understanding how much the Father loves us. The cycle goes like this: We understand God's love and perhaps "feel" it for the first time. The result is conversion. In this experience we return deep emotional love for Him as well as for others.

  • The redemptive love of God:
    But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.8

    This is quite remarkable! The very redemptive love which is responsible for our new birth is phile! It is here described as the "love of God our Savior." In the literature with which we are familiar, regeneration of the believer is always used in connection with agape -- never phile. As we can see, the literature is not always as accurate and enlightening as we would hope.

    It is a strong test of restraint not to further cement this point by the many other references which support it. It is our hope that this study will stimulate the reader to research the biblical material him or herself.


    Let me remind us once again that agape is the logical corollary to aheb in the Old Testament. It is used over 300 times in the New Testament. In every way that phile is used, agape is also used. It appears in the NT three times to phile's one. In that sense one may say it is the more common word for love, not necessarily the most important and certainly not the superior. The following citations reflect not how similar the two words are, but to show how agape is often used in the non-divine sense. To suggest that agape is "superior" in any way after a perusal of what follows is precarious, to say the least.

  • Agape is also used of "sinners" loving other "sinners:"
    "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them." 9

    The word here is agape. Can sinners (non-believers) possess agape? If it is "the God kind of love," how can this be?

  • A Roman centurion's love for the Jews:
    The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue."10

    If phile means love for fellow man, surely it would be the word of choice in this context. Clearly Luke means that this Roman officer had an affection for or was fond of the Jewish people. Perhaps the intent of agape here is to suggest that this centurion had helped the Jews in building their synagogue, thus proving his "love." Notice the "action orientation" of agape in this reference.

  • The prostitute who had "loved much:"
    Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."11

    Many scholars agree (because of the tense of the verb) that Jesus was referring to her many lovers. If so, this means that even our Lord referred to eros with the use of the word, agape as it is so used in the Septuagint translation of the Song of Solomon. Agape as eros? Despite the incredulity, we haven't taken leave of our senses. The fact that Jesus quoted the LXX exclusively lends credibility to this use of agape.

    In the introduction of his most recent work, Love and Friendship, the late Allan Bloom remarks,

    "Against my will I have to use the term "eros," in spite of its alien and somewhat pretentious Greekness as well as its status as a buzzword since Freud and Marcuse. There is an impoverishment today in our language about what used to be understood as life's most interesting experience, and this almost necessarily bespeaks an impoverishment of feeling."12

    Bloom understands the frustration of those of us who are persistently assaulted with the "love is a decision" syndrome. It is noteworthy that he too, has chosen eros to discuss love. It is also noteworthy that he identifies it with feeling.

  • Love of evil:
    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.13
    This seems to be the limit! Can one actually have agape for evil? Of course. And the result of that love is that their acts (deeds) were evil.

  • Equated with phile:
    Jesus loved (agape) Martha and her sister and Lazarus.14 Then the Jews said, "See how he loved (phile) him!"15

    The language of commerce for Jews at that time was Aramaic. But since koine -- the common Greek -- was used routinely, they well may have used these exact words. The Jews chose phile to describe the emotion expressed by Jesus. John, the gospel writer chose agape. Could it be that Jesus expressed agape with such emotion that the Jews used a word that better seemed to capture those feelings? Something I remember from my high-school geometry class from Euclid: "Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other." This is called a syllogism. It is one of the reasons why we understand that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit can all be God. It seems their friends could not tell the difference. As with phile, we cannot take the space to discuss all of the relevant passages.

    What can one make of all this? Simply this: there is little if any difference between agape and phile. Friedrich puts it very bluntly:

    . . . throughout the Gospel . . . agapao and phileo are synonymous.16

    If he is right, then this means that there is no epigraphic "God's kind of love." There is no substance to the notion that there are two "kinds" of love based on exegetical assessment. There are simply different octaves of love used to create the over-all impressionistic harmony. It could well be that the Old Testament idea of aheb (that of action arising out of an emotional feeling which one has naturally and spontaneously), is divided by the New Testament into two separate ideas. If there is a difference one might surmise that agape is more action and phile is more feeling. Or, perhaps agape is the larger of the two terms which includes the feeling character of the more specific phile. But this too, is speculative. It is doubtless, more precise to note that aheb and agape are the two most common words for love and are really not unlike our present day use of the word "love."

    A further study of these two words might also suggest something else: It is perfectly natural and good to have feelings of love. Isn't this obvious? It is comforting to know that God has "feelings," (Heb. 4:15 KJV) that his emotions are not mere anthropomorphisms.

    It is good to cry; it is good to laugh and be "in love." What liberty it brings to know that one is not required to have a clinical, decision oriented agape love and discount the more feeling phile love. We are "freed" from religious legalistic concerns of obligatory and forced feelings. We do not have to make a distinction between one kind of love and another at all. We can simply be ourselves and love in the natural way God has given us the measure to do so.

    Nor do we want to miss Kittel's point. Biblical love is love which acts upon its feeling. I do not think it wise to argue that if one will decide to act loving, the feelings will come. It is true -- most of the time, perhaps. As someone who has several of decades of experience helping others work through their pain, I can speak forcefully to the point that it is not true all of the time. And those times when it does not work are those times when not only is action oriented love not returned, it is held in contempt and high scorn. When acts of love are consistently, violently or indifferently rejected; when acts of love are seen as weakness and held in contempt, they will never engender emotion, and if emotion is there, given enough resistance and rape of soul, it too will die!

    What of unconditional love? Is there such a thing? Yes, happily there is! God loves absolutely without condition. But sorrowfully, it stops there. We humans are too imperfect to give love in the Absolute sense of the word (which is what unconditional demands). We are incapable of anything good that is "unconditional." For instance, if our hand is held in hot coals long enough, our screams will smother our feelings of love for our torturer and our intent to act upon it. If that is true, then we are incapable of unconditional love. When we are most secure about the unconditionality of our love, let us remember what we humans do when in Pain.

    Now we can return to the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. In that conversation Jesus used agape twice and phile once (the last time). Peter never used agape. What can we make of this obvious play on words? What sense can we make of this biblical conversation which has been so misrepresented and tangled over the years?

    (An assumption is generally made here that Jesus and Peter were speaking in Greek. It is possible. It is also possible that they were speaking in Aramaic and John recorded the translation in Greek. It is a point to note but given the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not one which influences the sense of the argument at all.)

    First, understand the personality of as well as the education of Peter. Peter was not a learned man. He was a fisherman like his father before him and his father before him. He did not play with the sophistry of word making. He was a simple man. Straightforward. Brave. And for a brief moment, disillusioned. I cannot believe that Peter was capable of the quaint interplay on words that we like to ascribe to him.

    A passionate man. Impulsive and intense. The only one of the disciples with the courage to walk on water. In a fit of rage he accosted Jesus, grabbing him by his robes shaking him from sleep with the accusing words, "Carest thou not that we perish?" This is Peter, who could not stomach the Lord's washing his feet and had the courage to tell him so. Peter who had a proclivity for asking awkward questions, ("What shall this man do?"). Awestruck with wonder, he impulsively volunteered to build three tabernacles: one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. And it was Peter who was scolded by Jesus, ("you do not understand the things of God!"). This, the only time recorded where Jesus spoke in anger to one of his own. Peter who drew his sword at Jesus' arrest and cut off Malchus' ear. It was Peter who just a few moments before this celebrated exchange, recklessly threw himself into the water to swim to his Master.

    With this characterization of Peter, isn't it incredulous for a man like this to stand before the risen Christ and tell him, "I'm only fond of you?" Peter was not capable of such mild emotions. It contradicts completely the character of the man to suggest that he only had warm fuzzy feelings for Jesus.

    The old disciple is intense. Here is a man who desperately wants to make amends. Here is a man who must be heard, who must be convincing no matter what! Jesus asks Peter to compare his love with that of the others, "Peter do you love me more than the other disciples?"

    Peter replies, "Master, you know me! This is me! Peter!" You know that I love you from the depths of my heart."

    It was a message straight from the deepest kernel of his soul. Jesus did indeed know that. The reason he asks this comparative question is to emphasize the depth of Peter's love. There need be no surprise at Peter's use of the word phile; indeed one would expect the use of the more emotionally intense word. There is no condescending look from Jesus, but the simple quiet statement, "Then feed my lambs."

    With perhaps a gentle smile on his lips Jesus asks a second time, "Peter, do you really love me?" Has anyone whom you love deeply and intensely ever taken you by the shoulders, looked you in the eye and asked you of your love? You want to burst in your desire to convince them.

    "Yes!" Peter responds, "and you know that!"

    "Then put that big heart of yours to work -- lead my sheep." We can hear Jesus laughing as he finally uses Peter's word, "Peter come now, do you love (phile) me? Do you really love me that much?"

    At this point the writer of the Gospel interjects an editorial observation, "Peter was grieved," said John, "that he asked him a third time 'Do you love (phile) me.'" This observation is of interest because John chose to represent all of Jesus' questions of love with phile. As Friedrich notes, "the little clause 'the third time,' supports the meaning 'for the third time,' not 'on the third time' . . . "17 In short, John saw no play on words at all. To him, the words meant the same thing.

    If Peter made any distinction between these two words at all, he thought he was using the more intense, the more rare, the more specific, the more meaningful word. Peter, consistent with his type "A" personality, was getting tired of this. Frustrated. Three times already! Enough is enough!

    More than that, Jesus was delighted at his old friend's answers. He knew exactly what Peter was feeling and it had to give him immense pleasure. His final word to him is "feed my sheep." "You are my rock, Peter. I have given you the keys to the kingdom. And (more soberly with loving sadness, phile if you will), you will die like me."

    What a giant of God Peter turned out to be! It was through the preaching of this giant that ushered in the most significant day for Christians since the resurrection (Pentecost). The mere shadow of this big fisherman passing by was enough to bring sight to the blind and make the lame to walk.

    Why labor this issue? Why not leave established ideas alone?

    Because as a professional Christian counselor, I am concerned. This conventional assessment of biblical love has created far more problems than it has solved. Not to speak of the conclusion that it is plainly wrong. Recent books have been published by respected psychologists and psychiatrists which, while well intended, have missed the mark. Their message represents, yet again, the psychotherapeutic community's theological limitations. We might trace the beginning of the "Love is a decision" movement back to a work which made the New York Times best seller list for years. I refer to Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. Peck minces no words in his observations of love . . .

    "Love is not a feeling. I have defined love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth. Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the feeling is present. It is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on the feelings of love. 18

    This is likely one of the most anemic definitions of love this writer has ever encountered. Dr. Peck is wrong about love. Dead wrong. He seems to trip over his own language for he tells us that love is not a feeling, and in the same discourse speaks of the feelings of love. Further, he has done us all a great disservice with doctrinaire notions that are truly damaging because of their fundamental unnatural character. It is not helpful to tell us to love and not feel it; and if we do feel it, to tell us it is not love.

    I feel I have accurately represented Dr. Peck's viewpoints and have not taken them out of context. His words speak for themselves. I feel he has partially understood agape but in unknowingly discrediting phile, he has erred to our loss. I say "unknowingly" because Peck does not use the biblical words, but his position relative to loving feelings and the decision to love is abundantly clear. In his writings, he seems very taken with the concept of cathexis, the expression of emotion toward an object or idea. He states that society has confused cathexis with love. I suggest that Peck has confused cathexis with intimacy. Humans are not "objects" or "ideas." An object or idea cannot reciprocate; and it is the possibility of reciprocation that forms the basis for relationship and intimacy.

    Bloom further comments on our use of the term relationship:

    "Isolation, a sense of lack of profound contact with other human beings, seems to be the disease of our time. There are great industries of psychotherapy that address our difficulties in 'relationships' -- that pallid, pseudoscientific word the very timidity of which makes substantial attachments impossible. Yet one has to have a tin ear to describe one's great love as a relationship. Did Romeo and Juliet have a relationship? The term is suitable only for expressions like 'they had a relationship.' It betokens a chaste egalitarianism leveling different ranks and degrees of attachment. 'Relationships' are based on 'commitments,' as in 'I'm not ready to make a commitment.' It is a term empty of content, implying that human connectedness can arise only out of a motiveless act of freedom."19

    Peck's observations and conclusions (by his own admission) are based on his evaluation of his clients. Hardly a place to find truth about so basic a concept; so pristine a need. His comments about romantic love are especially disturbing and suggest the prevailing attitude of the secular psychiatric community.

    Do loving feelings produce loving deeds? Obviously. A second grader can tell you that. Can you act in a loving way towards others when you don't feel love for them? Of course you can. That is no revelation. It is called being nice and charitable. We have been doing it as a society for millenia. Will loving feelings follow loving deeds? Will you develop the feelings of love toward someone if you treat them in a loving way long enough? Maybe. It depends on their response. Your love and your actions of love are not unconditional as we have discussed. To continue to "love someone" when they treat you despicably, usually results in a pathological form of enablement and co-dependency.

    Some interesting studies have been conducted which cast revealing light on our attitudinal postures toward intimacy and love. Mikulincer and Erev explored what they called "adult attachment processes" among 337 secure, avoidant or ambivalent people. They found that secure people put more emphasis on intimacy than avoidant and ambivalent people. Their relationships were characterized by high intimacy. The romantic relationship of ambivalent people was characterized by failure to realize their desire for a warm and secure love. Finally, avoidant people experienced less intimacy than secure people, but more commitment than ambivalent people in their relationships.20 This study reveals that love uncharacterized by intimacy represents an impaired condition -- not a desirable condition.

    Love provides a generous paradigm for the foundation of self-esteem as well. Fascinating information emerges when the work of Drs. Walsh; and Drs. Medora, Goldstein and Von der Hellen are examined together. Drs. Walsh noted that love was "the most powerful predictor of self-esteem."21 This followed by the other researchers, "Two variables were significantly related to self-esteem -- the incidence of sexual abuse and the incidence of abortion."22 These studies clearly illustrate the fact that subjective and active love produces self-esteem while abortion is placed alongside sexual abuse as an example of what destroys self-esteem.

    Lastly, Cochrane demonstrates the relationship of physical love (contact) with the incidence of depression:

    Following the demonstration of a strong association between unsatisfactory physical contact and depression, a significant relationship is found between depression and the experience of being not loved. These two relationships are shown to exist independently of one another and when causation is investigated, both unsatisfactory physical contact and the experience of being not loved are seen to cause depression rather than vice versa.23

    It should be clear that the above studies are discussing felt-love. Real intimacy -- not cathexis or decision making. If we do not feel loved, we are depressed, lacking in self-esteem and are possibly avoidant, insecure or ambivalent in our relationships with others and with God. For the Christian, the strongest stimulus for self-esteem procurable is the ultimate act of the love of Christ. Self-esteem bespeaks of self-worth. We believers derive our self-worth from the cross. If we want to know how much we are worth to God, we envision the cross. There, in all of its stark realism, is the final measure of what we are worth to him. If we are worth that much to the Father, how can we say of ourselves that we are worth less?

    Peck feels of course, that romantic love is a myth; that "falling in love" is a fanciful fiction. In our view, another book entitled A Severe Mercy, written by one far less "credentialed" than Dr. Peck, has a far better grasp of the subject and one easily more understandable, for he speaks in a language of love we all know and can appreciate:

    ". . . one of us found something on falling in love that, with the appropriate pronouns, was just the way it was for both of us. A bit sentimental, perhaps, but then lovers are. It is quoted from memory, perhaps inaccurately, with thanks to the unknown author:

    'To hold her in my arms against the twilight and be her comrade for ever -- this was all I wanted so long as my life should last . . . And this, I told myself with a kind of wonder, this was what love was: this consecration, this curious uplifting, this sudden inexplicable joy, this intolerable pain.'

    What was happening was happening to us both. I believe it was always so, mutual, and at least at first, equally intense, if it is genuine inloveness. The actual thing -- inloveness -- requires something like a spark leaping back and forth from one to the other becoming more intense every moment, love building up like voltage in a coil. Here there is no sound of one hand clapping. Unreciprocated love is something else, not genuine inloveness. I think, perhaps, it is infatuation or passion or, perhaps potential inloveness. I believe that genuine inloveness is rather less common than romantic novelists suggest. One who has never been in love might mistake either infatuation or a mixture of affection and sexual attraction for being in love. But when the "real thing" happens, there is no doubt. A man in the jungle at night, as someone said, may suppose a hyena's growl to be a lion's, but when he hears a lion's growl, he knows damn well it's a lion."24

    Both Christian and secular society is affected by the "love is a decision" concept. The basic reason why this movement exists antedates even Peck and focuses primarily on Freud and Kinsey for whom sex was nothing but sex. It has bred a generation of believers who cry with Tina Turner, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" Being a romantic in today's Christian and secular society is as our friend Bloom remarks, ". . . a little like being a virgin in a whorehouse."

    I mentioned above that as a Christian counselor, I am concerned. For the following reasons, I am concerned that the accepted "love is a decision" philosophy will harm Christian personality formation and human authenticity.

  • The current and accepted view of agape and phile suggests a legalistic quality. To state that believers under Grace are required to do anything that does not spring from an authentic and genuine emotional base when it comes to love is adding evil upon evil. Because the conventional religious approach to love is inaccurate and misleading -- inaccurate because it does not adhere to the most basic of exegetical and hermeneutical principles: Consider all of the evidence before drawing a conclusion. Misleading because it sends us off in a direction that is contrary to nature and will ultimately end in exasperation. If to feel love for another and be loved in kind is the most basic of psychological needs, then such misdirection is tragic indeed.

  • The accepted view seems to completely ignore the basic meaning of aheb in the Old Testament and its influence on our understanding of love in the New Testament. This is a major hermeneutical oversight. If the OT is relegated into functional irrelevance for the Christian, what shall we do with its Truth? With its revelation of God? If we ignore aheb in our attempts to understand agape and phile, we have theologically impoverished our understanding of God, hence our understanding of Love.

  • It makes love rational and, therefore, sterile. Far from a decision based upon relevant facts or even a Divine command, love (especially the love of God) is the most irrational of psychodynamic realities. It is primal visceral. The conventional view suggests that love is an `upper story' intellectual decision. It thus creates a tension between a man and his God where there should be none. If God loves with a rational love, how can He accept us given our proclivity to sin? That is irrational! Love is not a sterile, objective act of the will devoid of passion.

  • It creates a false piety in that it makes love an objective to achieve rather than a spontaneous experience. It places love "out of reach" for those of us who are very much in touch with our need to sin. To suggest that we should strive for love when it is something to relax with and experience does severe damage to our idea of God.

    Once I visited a friend, an elderly woman who knew me when I was a very young Christian. She spoke piously of living the "holy life;" of maintaining "God's standards." I admire her idealism, but it is misplaced. Christ is our standard. His death, burial and resurrection is the only one the Father will accept. What kind of "standards" do we think God has for us? Perfectionism. He wants us to be perfect. Can we pull this off? Of course not. So he did it for us in the sacrifice of our blessed Lord. So what does God expect from you and me? He expects us to do exactly what he knows already that we will do -- fall short of being perfect. We will never do anything else in this life. "God's standards" are something we cannot attain. It comes only through the shedding of blood. So the best we can do "is live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God."25 This, with his help, we can do.

  • We are not God. Christians and people in general speak glibly, and perhaps, nobly, about unconditional love toward another person. We cannot and do not love unconditionally. I think deep down inside we know that. The fact that God can and does love us unconditionally, gives us a sense of hope. Our love does not have to be a performance. God loves us with emotion which births action. I can do that. If I feel love for someone, it is a natural expression to treat them accordingly. And if I do not feel it, I do not have to treat them badly.

  • Finally, the passage in John just makes more sense if we understand phile in the way we suggest in this discussion. We do not need to force the meaning of the passage. Even the risen Christ as he conversed with Peter and as he is now, is still human. With his humanity comes human feelings of love. We should remember that.


    I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.
    . . . Henry Ward Beecher

    1. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. I. The Gulag Archipelago, Harper & Row, New York, 1973. p.42. (Back)

    2. John 21:15-17.(Back)

    3. Kittel, Gerhard. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Translator and Editor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids. Vol. I, p. 29. 1964. (Back)

    4. Matthew 10:37.(Back)

    5. John 5:20. (Back)

    6. John 16:17. (Back)

    7. 1 Peter 1:21-23. (Back)

    8. Titus 3:3-6. (Back)

    9. Luke 6:32. (Back)

    10. Luke 7:3-5. (Back)

    11. Luke 7:47. (Back)

    12. The American Heritage Dictionary defines syndrome as "a collection of symptoms which characterize a disease, psychological disorder or other abnormal condition." Such a characterization fits nicely our view of the position this paper examines. (Back)

    13. John 3:19. (Back)

    14. John 11:5. (Back)

    15. John 11:35-36. (Back)

    16. Friedrich, Gerhard. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Translator and Editor. Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids. Vol. IX. p. 135. 1974 (Back)

    17. Ibid. p. 135. (Back)

    18. Peck, M. Scott, M.D., The Road Less Traveled, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1978. p. 119. (Back)

    19. Ibid. p. 14. (Back)

    20. Mikulincer M., Erev I., "Attachment style and the structure of romantic love." British Journal of Social Psychology. 1991, Dec;30 ( Pt 4):273_91 (Back)

    21. Walsh A., Walsh P.A., Love, Self_esteem, and Multiple Sclerosis. Social Science and Medicine, 1989;29(7):793_8 (Back)

    22. Medora N.P., Goldstein A., Von der Hellen C., "Variables related to romanticism and self_esteem in pregnant teenagers." Adolescence. 1993 Spring;28(109):159_70 (Back)

    23. Cochrane N, "Physical Contact Experience and Depression." Acta Psychiatric Scandinavian Supplement. 1990;357:1_91 (Back)

    24. Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy. Phoenix Press, Walker and Company. New York. 1977. p.40. (Back)

    25. Micah 6:8. (Back)






    Back to Top
    Back to Top
    Back to Top
    Back to Top
    Back to Top

    Home | Excerpts | Bio | Aud/Vid | Blog | Reviews | Links | Contact