Except from Where God puts two hearts in a home

Eros love is sometimes like stepping off a cliff and free falling through clouds of pleasurable emotion. What kind of reception you receive at the bottom when the feelings of eros wane, as they characteristically do, and real life sets in depends on which cliff you jumped off. Eros is the least able of all the love types to sustain a marriage alone, but it adds a great deal of happiness when partnered with the other three types of love.

We often love things with eros. I have a mango on my desk right now. I love the way it looks green, yellow, and red colors, which are blending like a rainbow on a smooth, oblong shape, not quite an oval. This one has a cute little nose at one end. I love the perfumed, sweet way it smells when I hold it to my nose, and how cool and smooth it feels when I press it against my cheek. I love the way this mango feels in my hands—heavy and smooth. I have high hopes for enjoying the sweetness inside. I remember the last time that I ate a mango, and I imagine how delicious this one will be. I love the way the bright orange flesh glistens. I love the way the cubes of mango are cool and slippery on my tongue on a hot day. I love their unique flavor and smell as I chew not too sweet or too sour. I expect that eating this mango will make me happy. My love for mangoes is a low-grade, but sincere, eros.

If this mango disappoints me with pithy, sour flesh, will I still love it? Furthermore, when I am filled with enough mango, do I want more? Not for a while. In fact, if I were forced to eat mangoes every day for every meal, how long would it be before mangoes disgusted me? Not long. Eros love anticipates pleasure and grows stronger the longer it must wait. But once it is satisfied, it recedes. Another love must fill in the gap until eros is again offered the right conditions for growth. This is why parents are rightly terrified when their children marry people they met two weeks before. It is why a woman who knows her husband chose her for beauty alone worries incessantly about her appearance and is extremely jealous whenever he looks at another woman. No matter how much you wish it otherwise, eros is only constant or increases while unsatisfied. Once gratified, it abates. If oversupplied, it disappears.

Eros does have both healthy and destructive forms to which literature in every culture will attest. Because eros can be linked to pleasurable experiences, commercial industries use it to try to sell products by implying that if I have whiter teeth and nicer clothing, I will be more attractive and get more love. It is true that physical beauty is one of the factors that stimulates eros, but building a relationship on eros alone gives rise to weak marriages that break apart when the rains come, just like the parable of the house built on the sand (Mt 7:26-27).

One of the saddest examples in the bible of the damage which can be done by eros in its sinful, destructive form, is seen in the story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:1-20… we see many warnings to heed. Sinful eros, made up of infatuation and lust, does the following:

  • Looks at externals
  • Imagines the personality underneath to be the way it desires
  • May not have any desire to know the real person inside the beautiful body
  • Thrives on insecurity and risky behavior
  • Does not care for the well-being of the beloved
  • Makes selfish demands, rather than offers of benefit

Infatuation fades, never to return, because it is based on a false image. In the case of Tamar, the outcome was disastrous. Once satiated, Amnon‘s lust turned to hate and Tamar was sent away weeping. In any unstable relationship outside marriage, eros may use your body temporarily for the pleasure it yields, but it devalues your soul, the center which is the most precious and unique part of you.

In order for Eros to be experienced safely in its creative form, eros must be anchored to more than just the five senses. A good way to think of eros is as mortar, which belongs between the bricks of marriage but cannot make up the entire structure.  The Bible promotes self-control, which is very compatible with eros. Biblical self-control does the following:

  • Waits for expression of eros love in a way that is good for the other, as well as for self(Mt 7:12).
  • Denies self-centered thinking and seeks to please the other (Rom 15:2).
  • Exhibits a grateful heart that enjoys and thanks God for the sexual and tactile pleasure that He provides in the sexual marriage relationship (Prov 5:18-19).

The way to combat sinful lust, as Paul points out in Colossians 2, is not to eliminate pleasure or to reckon the physical body as evil, but to exercise self-control and to direct eros love in the way God intends.