It appears as if some talented writers of contemporary Christian songs need a little help from theologians and etymologists when penning odes of love to Divinity. This is especially true for the influential Praise and Worship movement that has been successful in mastering the art of musical manipulation and has driven the emotional depth of the worship experience to a new dimension. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love Praise and Worship services and celebrate the fact that many Christians no longer feel inhibited in expressing praise or allowing gifted musicians to fully glorify God with their creative talents.
My problem comes with the confusing lyrics that transform Jesus from a Brother into a boyfriend, a Lord into a lover or a Savior into a spouse. One song begs Jesus to “hold me in your arms, never let me go, Lord I want to see your face, feel the warmth of your embrace.” Other songs invite Jesus to “caress” and “kiss” the worshiper, and one beautifully crafted ballad celebrates “falling in love with Jesus.” Somehow, the concept of experiencing the same passion with Jesus as I do with my spouse doesn’t seem deeply religious.
Eros and Agape
The tendency to confuse Divine love with sexual intimacy stems back to some prudish theologians of antiquity who were uncomfortable with the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the Bible and interpreted it as an allegory of Christ’s desire for his church. As a result of the sexualizing of this unique spiritual relationship, many devout Christians feel that the pinnacle of the Christian relationship can only be experienced when one is espoused to Jesus. Many singles who embrace this reasoning will proudly tell you that Jesus is their “husband.”
While it is true that the Bible utilizes images of marriage to parallel Christ’s relationship to the church, two things must be taken into account. Firstly, Christ relates to the church as a collective unit. He is married to the community as a whole and not to billions of individuals who claim to serve him–he is not a polygamist. Secondly, the love Christ shares with his church is not defined by the Greek term “eros” from which the English word “erotic” is derived, but is expressed with the noun “agape” (pronounced ah-gah-pay) which denotes love demonstrated in deeds. Those who view themselves as children of God are not called to exercise eros but agape; they are not invited to brief episodes of self gratifying sexual intimacy but to a lifetime of social and spiritual interaction.
A Special Love
Jesus is not my boyfriend. I have no intention or desire to engage in a homoerotic relationship with him, neither would I want my wife to occupy her moments with lustful fantasies about him. I do love him dearly, but it’s the type of love that I have for my precious father who serves as my ministerial mentor. It’s the type of love I have for my dear mother who has sacrificed so many of her dreams in order to make it possible for me to realize mine. It’s the type of love that I have for my wife of twenty years–a love more lasting than the eros (passion) we share with each other. It’s the type of love I have for my two children who have helped me to experience life in ways I never imagined. It’s the type of love I have for my six brothers and three sisters who have blessed me in ways that they may never know.
It’s the type of love I have for my siblings in Christ with whom I share a common hope. It’s the type of love I have for the millions around the globe whose calm is capsized by calamity. It’s the type of love that Jesus desires for all of his followers: “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). As you allow yourself to become possessed with a love that is best experienced when manifested in acts of kindness, I trust that you will discover the true depth, breadth and height of Divine love (Rom 8:35-39).
Keith Augustus Burton is the Executive Director of Life emPowerment, Inc, a non-profit organization encouraging community cooperation and personal responsibility. He is also an adjunct instructor at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences and is an endorsed seminar/webinar presenter for the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center at Oakwood University. His understanding of the gospel’s view of love in action is portrayed in the book, The Compassion of the Christ.