Sunday, December 11, 2016

Agape and Optimism

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

There are many people in this world who only look at the negatives of religion.  They consider religion to be exclusive, not inclusive.  They dwell on what not to do, instead of what should be done.  Some of these same people are religious, others are not.  However, this view of Christianity is as far from my belief as possible.  This is a pessimistic view of religion, and as someone who decided years ago that a positive attitude is far greater than a negative attitude, I look to a far more optimistic view of Christianity.

The two verses above are just two of many examples in the Bible that show the optimistic view of Christianity.  More than anything, I believe in the inclusiveness of Christianity.  God loves us all, and we are told that we should love all. This type of love is called agape.  Agape often translated "unconditional love", is one of the Koine Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology as the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one's fellow man. 

Although the word agape does not have specific religious connotation, the word has been used by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including biblical authors and Christian authors. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia (an affection that could denote friendship, brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection) and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis). When 1 John 4:8 says "God is love," the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God's love.

Anyone who proclaims that Christianity is a negative religion and focuses only on what not to do, need look only at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-7:27) to be proven wrong. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) are enough in themselves to show the positive nature of what Christianity should be:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If more people would follow the teachings of Jesus Christ instead of focusing on the negatives, then I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place.

1 comment:

Richard Lichty said...

Appreciate this post. Only recently discovered your blog. One comment on agape love. One reason Christians get negative is in understanding the diversity and multiplicity of God's love, and think of phileo, eros, agape as three different kinds of love. The words are useful for descriptions of how love is variously known and expressed, but separating them out and often seeing them in opposition does great damage. Much of the difficulty is with eros, as if it is essentially self-serving and the opposite of agape as self-giving. Eros of course has a great deal to do with sex and sexuality, but is much broader. It is that experience of love when we perceive--in no particular order, this is a rambling stream of consciousness--diversity, beauty, delight in color, find enjoyment in art, hobbies, passion to do our work, in recreation and athletics, in walks through woods, noticing and delighting in the myriad of form, color all about us. All of that is context for what we do in bed, but the erotic is not and does not need to be solely focused on genital activity as the goal. All these other expressions of eros are, can, and should be ends in themselves. There is of course a dangerous side to eros, when it demands everything for oneself, whether that is in sex or on the job, unrestrained promiscuity, misuse or abuse of environment and other parts of the created world, strictly for the self without regard for the other whether the other is another human, animals, plants, etc.

On the other hand agape also has a dangerous side, something Christians misunderstand. If a battered spouse (regardless of the coupling--same gender, other gender, or even in nonsexual relationships) allows the other (husband, wife, partner, "friend") to bully, demean, physically harm, etc. and the sufferer accepts that in the name of agape,that is a totally misunderstanding of agape. To stay in a battering relationship in order to change the abuser, or to submit to the abuse in the name of some higher good is a perversion of agape, just as much as it is a perversion of eros to be in a succession of one-night stands, without regard for relationship or the welfare of the other. As a retired pastor, I'm simply reflecting on what I've seen in my years of ministry. Thanks very much for your blog. I am a straight man, happily married for 54 years, and appreciate your integrative thoughts. Appears that you see and delight in a unitive world view and universe and reject the destructive dualistic thought that pervades so much of our culture. Best wishes and thanks again. Richard