On sex, love and agape

By Hanne Nabintu Herland

Read Hanne’s The Herland Report.

Sexuality is arguably is one of life’s greatest gifts. Christianity explains how God created sex for the unification of marriage, as two individuals share their commitment to love in order to make their way together through the harsh, treacherous landscapes of life. Protected by fidelity, trust and mutual respect, the love between them also satisfies the existential need to feel valued and appreciated, the deep human longing for acceptance.

Yet, in the current, toxic environment of the atheist West, the word “love” is often almost solely translated to “eros,” the arousal of sexual desire. Generations now grow up believing that hedonism and borderless engagement in sexual activity is the road to a fulfilled life. Eros is portrayed as the ultimate goal of literature, Hollywood films, contemporary music. It is explained as the great Greek god who was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual pleasure.

The sexualization and degeneration of Western culture implies an almost complete loss of modesty, humility and decency – our former ideals. For example, an estimated 420 million adult web pages exist online. The effects of pornography on the brain is toxic, analogous to drug addiction. The extent of the use of pornography is illustrated by The Telegraph referring to a study that claimed researchers could not find a single man who had not watched porn. Ten-year-olds often grow up with hardcore porn, an internet click away, with little or no active protest from adults. Statistics from Psychology Today show that 56% of all divorces involve one party having an obsession with pornography.

Yet, let us remember that love, defined in its highest and purest form, the Greek term “agape,” implies God’s intense love for humankind. When man reciprocates this love with a deep sense of admiration, thankfulness and respect toward the Creator, an inner state of mental blissfulness completely fills his soul with an indescribable peace. This metaphysical contentment – the mental experience of God’s love – is often described by believers as achieving “the peace of God.” Of this intimate, holy union, St. Seraphim of Sarov eloquently says: “God is a fire which warms and makes glowing the hearts and the inner of man. Thus when we would feel cold in our hearts, which comes from the devil as the devil is cold, we must appeal to God. When God comes, he warms our hearts with perfect love not only for Him but for our neighbours also. The warmth will drive away the cold of the devil, who hates what is good.”

Once man seeks out and experiences God’s love for him in the midst of the suffering and evil state of affairs in which the world finds itself, an inner transformation takes place. St. Seraphim describes this process: “He who loves God truly considers himself a wanderer and a stranger to this earth, as he longs for God and his soul and mind are focused on contemplating Him only.” This is the God kind of eternal love that once found, man is dreadfully fearful of losing. He is careful to avoid doing that which may taint this precious relationship and inner peace, careful to avoid the poisons of the mind – envy, greed, deceit, lack of sexual control, hatred and so on. Again, St. Seraphim: “Wherever God is, there is no evil. Everything which comes from God is peaceful and useful, and leads man to self-reproachment and humility.”

The Bible, the most read book in the world, is filled with epic stories of love between God and mankind. The Song of Songs is but one example that speaks about the euphoric state of bliss of a man and a woman in love, and at the same time points to the eternal love of God to men. The church is described in the New Testament as a love story and union between Jesus Christ and the church – seen as his bride. The union of marriage is in itself a symbol with deeper spiritual connotations precisely to the love of Christ toward his church.

Agape is thereby the highest, incorruptible source of peace and fulfillment for humankind. It is flawless and lasts eternally. “Man in regard to his body is like a burning candle,” continues St. Seraphim, “just like a candle is burnt out after a while, man will die one day. However his soul is immortal and therefore we should care more for our soul than for our body. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

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