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Why Agape Love Might Be Individualistic

Reflecting on the common perception that agape love means the selfless, no-expectation-of-any-return kind of love, my friend Rob Haskell writes:

So why am I harping on this? It’s just my old complaint about individualism: While loving without getting loved back can be made to sound like the ultimate kind of love, it actually promotes a kind of individualism by ignoring that we are relational beings for whom a mutual benefit to loving is good and healthy. Loving with no expectation of return can be a temporary discipline, but if we make it the ultimate definition of love we are actually undercutting the need for other people. We are setting up the individual self-sufficient lover/giver as the ideal. This person does not need to get anything back when he or she loves because, well, it would not really be love if they did. That just seems kid of cold and twisted if you think about it.

This is a really good reflection on something we rarely question ourselves. Click here to read the full post. It’s really worth reading.

I would say there is nothing wrong with having expectations or hope for a reciprocal response in a loving relationship. There is a problem only when we manipulate or coerce the fulfillment of that expectation. If that is the case, then it is not love. Love must be freely given and received in return.

Posted in Posts in English, Theology.

6 Responses

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  1. Edmund says

    Actually, I am rather concern about such only-this-or-nothing understanding of love. Traditionally, such “freely given, freely received” definition of love is attrributed to the agape love of God. But as many have rightly agrued, this is NOT the only kind of love as expressed EVEN by God and Jesus.

    A closer reading of Jesus or Paul, one can find, may I dare to say, manipulative or even forceful acts for specific outcomes. The question is not if that is﹐ therefore﹐ love. It is, I think, precisely becuase it is done for the benefit of the other.

    When someone is being confronted with the hard reality of who he or she really is and are expected to change drastically, how can we say it is not love if it is only done for benefit of that person? And if such person is bringing harm to himself and/or others, wouldn’t it be fair to those who confront to force for some immediate change?

    A prime example is the conversion experience of Saul (Paul).

    Yet the question remains as to whether we would like to admit we are like Saul one way or the other, and in need of some harsh love from God and from our closest ones.

    My 2 cents based on my own imperfections and brokeness.

    • Anson says

      I’m not sure if we can say that God’s love can be harsh or even coercive, but one thing I know for sure is that it is patient, persistent, and persevering (1 Cor 13).

      Even if it is true that God can sometimes coerce His love and induce radical changes in people (e.g. Saul), I don’t think we can make it equally permissible for ourselves. God can do it because he knows the depths of each and everyone’s heart. We can expect, but cannot demand immediate changes in others, even out of heart-breaking love, because we do not have God’s perspective, his comprehensive knowledge of the other person, and his sovereignty over the other person’s life. If we do, we are attempting to become like God for others.

      So as I say, we can have expectations on others and have hope in them, but we should be careful if we start coercing the fulfillment of that expectation, because I think it is more often about our own problems rather than the other person’s problem. It might actually be our impatience disguised in the appearance of love for others.

      “Love is patient, love is kind…… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13)

      • Edmund says

        Of course we need to be careful. There is no doubt about that. But I find that it is just as troubling when we always doubt he person who are confronting us as doing something for their own good.

        You only see 1 Cor 13 as the perfect love that should counter the selfish motives of the person who longs to see change. But on the other hand, where is the “trust, hope and perseverance” of those who are expected to change?

        Ask any social workers, or young parents like yourself. I honestly don’t find a coercive love that hard to understand or accept.

  2. Edmund says

    Question of the day: Can we see those who want change in us, might be people that love us truly and will be deeply hurt when we continue to walk in our old ways?

    • Anson says

      Yes, I agree with that.
      But the next question is:
      What is it more about? That person who needs to change or the other person wanting to cease the hurt?

      I believe true love will suffer indefinitely, at least until the unrepentant is genuinely moved in his/her conscience. Btw, as I think more about Saul’s case, I don’t think Jesus coerced Saul into conversion. He just revealed his glory to him and asked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” What caused Saul to convert is his conscience and the realization of his own guilt. Jesus showed him the truth, and the truth set him free.

      • Edmund says

        Is knocking Saul down and blinding him for days just a gentle revelation of truth? “True love suffers indefinitely” is a rather romantic way to express God’s love, and an easy excuse for those demanding such love without showing it.