/ EROS DEFILES / Andrew Kerr

Behold what manner of love?

Recently, and somewhat worryingly, at a major Christian Conference, John Piper described love for Christ as more than obedience - he even ventured the term erotic, before, seemingly, correcting his "overstatement".

Perhaps, knowing his track-record, he aimed to shock & provoke thought by this approach - his worthy motive, to mix metaphors, might have been to cultivate panting thirst for God.

Nevertheless, what would have been much better, in my view, and far more accurate, was to say “grudging, cold or servile obedience is not what God wants - love for Christ should be a willing, joyful, grateful obedience, or the fervent, obedient, devotion of a grace-filled heart,” or something of that ilk.

In hinting that love for Christ might be erotic, even for a moment, regardless of intent, is a daring, misleading, and tending-towards-blasphemous assertion. The evidence would seem to be straightforward in this regard (I find it hard not to believe that our brother might very well know all of what I am about to write below):

First, the LXX (Septuagint, or Greek Translation(s) of the Old Testament) uses Agape for intense (and marital) love: it never, ever, once, uses EROS or hints at erotic love for God - only twice, in Proverbs 4:16, and Esther 2:17, is the verb of the "desire" group used for human marital love (and in Esther, given the context of the lurid Persian Court, it is hard to entirely free the verb from a pejorative sense). The noun, itself, is never employed once.

Second, in the LXX, in all other significant cases, the strong form of love AGAPE is used as the favoured term of translation - the relevant texts can be found in 2 Sam 13:15; Ecc 9:1, 6; Song 2:4,5,7; 3:5,10; 5:8; 7:7, 8:4,6,7; Jer 2:2 in the Greek Bible).

Third, the New Testament, though it talks about marital love, never uses the term EROS, or that word group, to denote it - other terms, of course, are utilized to describe sexual indiscretion and infidelity of various sorts.

Fourth, the term EROS was in circulation at the time of the translation of the LXX and writing of the New Testament - it is found, according to one article, in sources as early as Hesiod's Theogony (700BC), Parmenides (400BC), and Aristophanes (414BC), all of which predate the biblical texts mentioned above.

Fifth, by New Testament times, there were very good reasons to avoid even the faintest hint or taint of EROS in Scripture - even use of the term to describe marital love is avoided. There are probably a couple of reasons for this:

One was the fact that EROS often, from the start, had a notoriety and stigma attached to it (though not invariably) - it comes from a word group that has to do with sexual desire, and was employed to describe the mischievous and illicit affairs of the gods, even those of a homo-erotic nature; furthermore, it was also connected to the mystery religions, fertility cults and sexual prowess; thus, EROS, basically, often (though admittedly, not always), tended to become a debased, dirty, word - EROS, in general use, meant sexual desire, either neutrally conceived, or at its worst, robbed of all that is noble and good.

Another was the fact that Christian marital love had been lifted and elevated to a higher plane by the death of Christ - far beyond self-gratifying EROS, loving husbands, along with all the rest, are now summoned to self-giving AGAPE.

So, clearly, then, there were sound linguistic, ethical, moral, religious reasons, coupled with profound theological reservations, that made the writers of Scripture, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, balk at using the term EROS in connection with Christianity - EROS is even apparently considered unfitting to describe Holy Matrimony. That being the case, I sincerely hope, that the marriages we form, can rise above the mire of tarnished EROS and soar into the clean mountain air of AGAPE, displayed by God-in-Christ at Calvary (Ephesians 5:1-32).

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

It is true, as I faintly recall, that C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves suggests that EROS was sometimes neutral, and got a bad press, though he does also mention that EROS has a dark side that could lead to suicide pacts! If I remember correctly, also, this is what John White points out in his little paperback Eros Defiled - Erotic Love, in a post-Fall world, is now not so pure or innocent as it seems (or once was).

It is quite plausible, in charity, that our brother meant "deep desire for God", much in line with his penchant for "Desiring God" - yet, at best, it is an unnecessary and retrogressive step (and I venture to say dangerous in our hypersexualized culture which denigrates the body, as they did in Ancient Greece) to forge even tenuous links between EROS and JESUS.

Perhaps our brother’s nearest and dearest friends will offer him advice and counsel humble repentance. After all, there is only One Prince of Preachers, who stands all alone, above all the crowd, who speak in His Name - it was the Lord Jesus Christ alone, the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, who never erred or strayed in what he said in public or private!

It is not too far to go to say "I went too far" or "I was unwise in my words" - we can all say this and still pursue fervent holy desire for God-in-Christ who, in AGAPE, loved and gave Himself for us..

And, of course, we must not forget the comment of John Bradford, who when he came across a disagreeable sight said to himself - “There go I but for the grace of God”.

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr

Pastor of Ridgefield Park NJ (NYC Metro Area) - Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul & Andrew, Father-in-Law to Matt, Loves Skiing, Dog Walking. Passionate for Old Testament - in Deep Need of Grace

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