What is Love?

Mar 26, 2024

What is love?

Be honest, did you sing “🎵 Baby don’t hurt me.🎵” after reading the title? If so, you’re not alone. Everyone else did too. Echoing the ideas of the song, Simon Sinek said his favorite definition of love is, “Love is giving someone the power to destroy you and trusting they won't use it.” Simon is correct. Complete vulnerability is a critical aspect of true love, although his definition is incomplete.

In English, we only have one word for love, which can ambiguate love in its many forms. Let’s explore how other cultures throughout history defined love.

Sanskrit is the clear winner in terms of the number of words for love. According to The Little Book of Love, there are 267 Words for Love in Sanskrit, and one word stands above all: Prema. Prema means pure universal love. Prema can include joy, kindness, completion, affection, and delight. It is denoted by surrender to a power greater than oneself. It can also refer to a divine love that is related to God or some form of spiritual pursuit. Prema is what we would consider charity or what the Greeks call agape.

The Greeks have the most in-depth study of love with a set of six main definitions.

Philia: Love between friends. This type of love is distinctly unromantic.

Storge: Familial love. Such as that between parents and children. It can also refer to a sense of patriotism, allegiance, and loyalty to a group or team.

Pragma: Long-married love. It is between married couples and is typified by commitment, compassion, compromise, patience, and tolerance.  This love is developed over time together.

Eros: Romantic, passionate love.

Philautia: Compassionate self-love.

Agape: Unconditional love. It's a selfless, universal love expressed in humility. It is godly love.

CS. Lewis reduces these to just four basic forms in his book “The Four Loves.” He says there are four types of love: Philia(Love for friends), Storge(Familial love), Eros(Romantic Love), and Agape(Charity). Through my research on emotions, Agape seems to be the most pure definition of love. 

English mainly relies on adjectives to differentiate between the different types, like romantic love or platonic love. English does have some wonderfully descriptive words for love: adoration, devotion, affection, and fondness. Some words are used as synonyms for love, such as infatuation, worship, and lust. These are not love; they are counterfeits. The word for pure love in English comes from the Bible: charity. 

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul declares, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not… seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; … Charity never faileth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The two great commandments have to do with love Love God and Love thy neighbor as thyself. If you look a bit closer, you’ll see that there are actually three great commandments in this order:

  1. Love God (Agape or Prema)
  2. Love thyself (Philautia)
  3. Love thy neighbor in the same way you love yourself (Philia)

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh agrees. “To love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people.” The purest love begins with seeing and embracing the divinity within oneself and knowing it extends to everyone in the same way. 

Regardless of whether we call it Charity, Agape, or Prema, this emotion is transcendent. Tapping into this emotion elevates us to a higher plane that includes everyone we come in contact with. It flows through our families, relationships, and to the full family of humankind.

I had the opportunity to be a missionary for my church. At the young age of 20, I was teaching the gospel of Christ to people in Minnesota. We ran into a man who loved hearing these messages. As we taught him, he asked which of the many translations of the Bible we used. There are now so many translations and interpretations that he wanted to know if he could trust the version we were teaching. It would have been easy to say the original King James version. Instead, I heard in my heart the beautiful words that flowed from my lips, “I use my mom’s translation of the Bible. I have never known anyone who exemplifies Christ and His love more than her. She is the kindest, most charitable person I have ever met. I believe her example to me is the most pure definition of love.” I have now seen that again in my wife, Patty. One of the purest examples of love I’ve ever known.

What is Love?

Love is the emotion of connection. Love is unfettered. Love is forgiving. Love is boundaried. Love goes much deeper than acceptance. Love embraces all of the perfect imperfections in another. Love is kind. And like Simon Sinek said, Love is vulnerable. Love is willing to give oneself to another completely without any walls or pretense. Love is seeing ourselves and others for who we truly are -- Divine.


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