I recently finished reading, and then immediately re-reading, Fill These Hearts by Christopher West. It’s a powerful rebuttal to the lie that Christianity is a joyless religion of laws and suppressed desires. West touches on many points regarding marriage and the plan of God that I hit in my book God’s Love Story, a subject you know is dear to my heart. I could probably write half a dozen posts inspired by Fill These Hearts (I already quoted from it in last week’s post), but here’s the part I want to focus on today:
Christianity is the religion of desire — the religion that redeems eros — and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open … all their desires for love and union to the Love and Union that alone can satisfy. … the saints have learned to open eros (their yearning for love) to Eros (God’s passionate love for them).” (p. 39)
Seeing God’s love described as Eros might make you a little uncomfortable at first (it had that effect on me). Eros is the Greek word for passionate or sexual love. This word doesn’t even appear in scripture, although erotic love is alluded to. The word we usually associate with God’s love — and rightly so — is agape.
Agape involves a direction of the will. It is a choice to love someone by actively seeking what’s good for them. Though it does not necessarily involve feelings, it would be a mistake to assume God’s love for us is unemotional. One of my favorite verses addressing this point is found in John 16, where Jesus says, “the Father Himself loves you” (16:27). That’s not agape. The word used here is philos — a friendship love based on mutual interests and affection.
If we want more proof that God’s love involves desire, we need look no further than the Song of Songs. This is a book of erotic poetry, and yet it’s in the Bible. The Jews read it on Passover and see the Song not only as canonical, but as “the holy of holies in scripture” (Rabbi Akiba, as quoted in “Why Do We Sing The Song of Songs on Passover?“). Catholic Pope Benedict XVI called the Song “the essence of biblical faith” (quoted in Fill These Hearts from God is Love). Believers across the most disparate denomination lines recognize that the Song can teach us something vital about God.
How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! How much better than wine is your love, and the scent of your perfumes than all spices! Your lips, O my spouse, drip as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under your tongue; and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. (Song 4:10-11)
If we take the Song as an allegory, then these lines picture Christ speaking to His church. The Bible is a story of Yeshua courting us — inviting us into a marriage covenant, giving His life for us so He can say “You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you” (Song 4:7), and welcome us into the God family as His bride (Rev. 19:6-9). That is, in essence, God’s love story toward us. But what about our love story toward and with God?
A good-size portion of the Song of Solomon consists of lines spoken by the woman to her beloved. She’s not shy about expressing her feelings towards her lover and is confident in his affection, saying, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me” (Song 7:10). Similarly, we know we belong to Jesus Christ, who loves us greatly. Shouldn’t we respond to Him with the same passion we find in the Song?
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins love you. Draw me away! We will run after you. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will be glad and rejoice in you. We will remember your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you. (Song 1:2-4)
How much do you desire God? Do we really trust that He’s willing to fully fill our deepest longings? Or perhaps we do believe He can do all that, but we’re scared to let Him? In Fill These Hearts, West writes that “we’re fearful of our own joy” (p. 46). We’re scared to open ourselves up to the sort of love God offers us, and yet that’s exactly what we have to do if we want a relationship with Him.
While there is a danger in giving our feelings “free reign” and obeying the culturally accepted advice to “follow your heart,” that doesn’t mean we should fear our desires. It means we should direct our longings toward God. Indeed, that’s the first commandment — “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. (Ps. 27:4)
This is the sort of love and desire we must have for God, which we can only develop by letting Him love us. It takes courage to open ourselves up to an unquenchable thirst only God can fill and to burn with love for Him. But that’s exactly what He does for us. How could we not respond?