Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ubi Caritas Et Amor

Most of us are familiar with the Greek terms for different kinds of love: storge or affection, philia or friendship, eros or ‘in love’ love, and agape or charity.  This post is about agape.

In I Corinthians 13 we are told that we can speak in tongues, prophecy, have all knowledge and all faith, move mountains and be martyred, and it is nothing if it is not motivated by love.

+Love is not tolerance. Tolerance is passive, often to the point of indifference and that is the opposite of love. We want what is best for those we love. If we simply tolerate others, we ignore their sins and suffering. God is not tolerant. Hebrews 12:6 says,
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
Or as professor and author, Peter Kreeft says, God is a father, not an uncle.

+Love is not feeling based.  God has commanded us to love, both himself and each other.  Feelings are fickle.  It is with the will that we can obey this command.  Feeling can play a part, but they often follow an act of love.

+Love is action, an act of the will. In describing love, the apostle Paul uses words of action:  patience, bears all things, kindness, rejoices in truth.  It looks out for the good of others.  Jesus tells what love is in the parables of the lost sheep, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son. He shows what love is in his life and death.

+Love is specific.  We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.  We are not called to love the church, a civilization, a society, that would be too easy and not real.  We are called to love one another, and to love one another deeply.  I Peter 4:8

+Love makes us vulnerable. Because love is self giving, putting others ahead of ourselves, and trusting, we lay ourselves open to being terribly wounded. C.S. Lewis says in The Four Loves,
Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God , not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.
 Who, but God in Christ has shown themselves to be more vulnerable?

+Love is a witness.  
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34&35

+Love is eternal.  
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:8-13
Love is eternal because God is love.

This has been a tough season for many of us.  We have each had our burdens to bear; the downturn in the economy, professional difficulties, ill health and the loss of loved ones. 

The world presents us with two ways of dealing with suffering.  One is stoicism or the teaching of Budda, which is to deny desire and accept pain, to expect nothing and to therefore not be disappointed.  To hope only for an end of existence.  The other way is hedonism, to live for oneself.  To gain all the pleasure one can, no matter the cost to others or self.

God has another way of dealing with suffering, and it is love.  It is love that stoops to lift us up.  It is love that is compassion, to suffer with.  It is love to teach the truth, to let reality break into our self deceit.  And it is love to which we are called.

Below is a hymn, Ubi Caritas.  It has been sung by the church for centuries.  The first line is Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est, which translated means, Where charity and love are, God is there.  It is a lovely hymn with a real depth of meaning.  I wonder if it inspired Tolstoy's short story, Where Love Is, God Is.


  1. Thank you for this post and for the beautiful music. It makes me miss hearing you sing!
    Andrea LeGault

  2. Andrea,you're so sweet. Thank you. It's been much too long since I've heard you play your flute!