Thursday, September 5, 2013

God is Love...Or not?

One of the most common and extensive monikers for the Christian God is "Love". 1 John 4:8 proposes that "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (NRSV). Indeed for Unitarian Universalists, our Universalist strand of theological inheritance is grounded on the belief that God is love and a loving God could not condemn anyone to Hell. In addition to this equation of God as Love, almost every church that I've attended, including some UU congregations, will argue, in sermon after sermon, that Christian love is agape--akin to familial or selfless love.  Agape is distinct from the Greco-Roman construct of love as eros, typified by the obsessive and chaotic love between ardent lovers. The former pope Benedictus XVI wrote in a 2005 encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, that earthly Eros can lead to heavenly Agape, just like, initially,  puppy love can lead ultimately to the stability of marital relationships.

My experience as a therapist and a pastor-to-be compels me to recoil at such simplification. The nature of love is turbulent and chaotic, cyclical and unsteady. Living through love is more like tacking through a typhoon than quietly sipping a coffee onshore. But that is not necessarily bad, just psychologically realistic.

Plato in his Symposium on Love presents us with a bevy of beautiful stories and allegories about the nature of love as eros. On such myth, as told through the voice of the priestess Diotima, recounts the genealogical origin of the god Eros. Eros' father, the god, Poros (plenty or resourcefulness), got hammered from drinking nectar at one of Zeus' parties. Eros' mother, Penia (lack or poverty), seduced Poros and later  gave birth to Eros whose character traits combined both those of his mother and father. Eros often is in need, empty and squalid like his mother, while, at other times, is resourceful, clever and energetic like his father. He is betwixt and between. Unlike either parent he craves the beautiful because he is simultaneously aware of his emptiness and motivated toward seeking perfection.

We humans are sibs to Eros--body and soul--lack and plenty. We are in urgent need for love, yet, at the same time, aware of its storminess. Let us not forget our humanity is our striving for the impossible perfection of an immutable "God as Love".

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