OSL Canada

The International Order of St Luke the Physician



Romantic Love and Chosen Love


By Colin C M Campbell, PhD


Romantic love may be the purest form of love that most people will ever know.  While it lasts, it satisfies the deepest yearning of the human heart.  It is life in all its fullness.  People kill because of it - their rivals, themselves and, sometimes, even the one whom they love.  In our postmodern society, it is a major cause of family breakdown, as people seek soul mates and try to find themselves, often at whatever cost to their families.  The recent release of the movie Anna Karenina depicts the tragedy in all its timeless poignancy.  Anna must choose between romantic love and social ostracism, on the one hand, and a life of wealth, privilege and passionless obligation, on the other.  However, dutiful obligation is an inadequate solution.  Romantic love, admittedly, causes collateral damage but duty is a poor substitute for love and merely replaces one form of collateral damage with another. 

The healthy alternative to infidelity is not to grit one’s teeth and simply endure.  Generally, unfaithful people are unhappy.  Duty makes this state permanent.  Fortunately, healing is possible.  In the language of Paul, the psychikon person (one without faith) is weak.  With romantic love, the weak person feels strong and sees the possibility of happiness and the chance at a new life.  For Paul, however, it is the pneumatikon person (one who has faith), who is made strong.  To Paul, faith is not merely a belief in theological ideas but a trust in God’s power to transform the weak person into a loving one.  As with romantic love, the person feels strong and sees the possibility of happiness and the chance at a new life.  It is a basic Christian belief that people are spiritual by nature and that love is the fruit of a healthy human spirit.  Romantic love is a particular expression of spiritual love, called eros.  For it to be sustained, however, it must be supported by another type of spiritual love called agape.  Eros is human love and is weak.  Agape is God’s love and is strong.   

Generally, postmodern society is unaware of God as a source of love, preferring to seek it without his help.  People choose to live psychikon, rather than pneumatikon lives.  “Psychikon” is commonly translated as “natural” and “pneumatikon” as “spiritual.” This translation is unfortunate, since it implies that the natural person is not spiritual.  This is not Paul’s intention.  He uses the Greek word “pneuma” as a synonym for the Hebrew word “ruach,” the breath of life, gifted by God to all living persons.  He uses the word “psyche” as a synonym for the Hebrew “nepesh,” sometimes translated as “soul” but more accurately rendered as “self,” since the nepesh includes the body as well as the soul.  So, in Hebrew and Pauline anthropology, a human being is a self/nepesh/psyche, animated by a spirit/ruach/pneuma.  For Paul, a pneumatikon person is made strong by a spiritual relationship with God, whereas the psychikon person lives in the flesh (or by the power of the self alone) and so is weak.  He did not intend to imply that the natural person did not have a spirit and was created with natural needs only – a conclusion drawn by a later theology.  A person “living in the flesh” still has spiritual needs, the most powerful of which is love.  Romantic love is natural but it is the consequence of a natural spiritual hunger.  God’s love is supernatural and is his gift to satisfy this natural spiritual need.  Agape is different from eros.  God loves with agape but not with eros.

Romantic love (or eros) is the commonest way, in which people meet their need for love.  However, because he is God, God has no need for love of this kind.  In theological language, we are said to be “passible”; that is, our love for others is altered by whether others love us, in return.  God, however, is “impassible”; that is, he loves everyone, whether they love him or not.  When he gifts us with the power to love in the same way that he does, our minds are transformed by joy, peace and the ability to endure rejection.  That is, our love moves from passibility to impassibility.  Agape love is reliable and strong, whereas eros love is fickle and weak.

The attraction of romantic love is that it is not only fulfilling, but also it is instant and effortless.  It happens between Anna and Vronsky before they even know each other.  This explains why, so often, it is adulterated by dark, irrational projections from our subconscious impulses.  Why is it that some women are attracted to “bad boys,” finding themselves helpless to love men whom they admire? Why is it that men are obsessed with the femme fatale – women that they do not even like? Romantic love can be treacherous, wayward, demanding, controlling and unpredictable, yet its intoxicating power mocks commonsense, prudence and duty.  Shakespeare realized this and satirized it in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, when its whimsical spell was cast on mere mortals by fairies.  The Greeks had a similar insight, when they ascribed it to Cupid’s arrows.

Agape love is like romantic love; it is fulfilling.  However, it is unlike romantic love since it is neither instant, nor effortless.  Agape love involves a choice to love and often a decision to sacrifice.  It is the only way to lasting happiness.  Our unhappiness is due to a combination of bad conditioning and bad choices.  So, our healing requires reconditioning and good choices.  It is no exaggeration that, in order to be healed, a person must be “born again.” God provides two supports for this to happen.  The first is new life, as modeled by the life and sacrifice of Jesus.  The second is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who provides the believer, with the thoughts and feelings necessary to live this new life of loving others, without conditions.  Agape love respects others, as they are.  It does not demand that they change in order to make loving them easier.  We deprive others of their ability to surprise us, when we do not welcome their gifts, or demand that they give us gifts that they do not possess.  So, unlike romantic love, agape love is hard.  It means that we must sacrifice our wishes for those of others, freeing them to love us with gifts of their choice.

Agape love is chosen love.  Whereas romantic love is destroyed by conflict, as Anna finds out, agape love expects it and uses the strategies of respect, forgiveness, generosity and humility to deal with it.  God willed responsibility for our nature.  He expects us to use it for chosen love, not to discard it for the easier path of romantic infatuation.  Romantic love is wonderful and so is real, but Job’s love for God had to be tested to be really true.  Romantic love is both blissful and precarious.  For it to endure it must survive the tests of life’s conflicts; that is, it must be supported by chosen love.  Its duty gives us perfect freedom, not in the form of an escape, as romantic love does, but in the ability to will good in all situations.

May God’s Holy Spirit transform our hearts and minds, so that we are able to live the gift of new life in all its fullness!

Colin Campbell was elected Vice President of OSL Canada in August 2011, at the First OSL Canadian National Healing Conference in Winnipeg, MB.   He is a long time member of OSL, former President of The International Order of St Luke the Physician Board of Directors, and a current member of OSL Region 8 Council.    Dr Campbell is Convenor of the newly established OSL Hamilton Chapter and the founding Convenor of the first OSL Young Adults Chapter in Canada.   Colin is a secondary school teacher and resides in Hamilton, Ontario.   He may be contacted at ccmcampbell@gmail.com