Cupid vs. Valentine: Discovering the Better Love
I LOOOOVE love! By this I mean that I am a huge, Hallmark love story movie loving sap. Even after 20 years of marriage, I have on occasion been so moved by my feelings for my husband Ben that I will randomly interrupt what he is doing just to express my undying affection and devotion to him, sometimes to the point of tears. To this he usually replies with something like "I love you too, Babe. Have you been watching Hallmark movies again?" He's usually right.
But when it comes to love, I want God's best for me. And to be honest, our society is constantly advertising a watered down version of the real thing, which leaves us far less than satisfied.
The very concept of Valentine's Day, or rather what it has become, is a prime example in how easily we have traded in God's best in exchange for momentary celebration and pleasure. I have even heard many refer to the characters of Cupid and St. Valentine interchangeably, as if the two are one in the same. But the two are completely separate and represent very different concepts of love.
Cupid (which means desire in Latin) was the Roman name for the ancient Greek god Eros (the Greek word of romantic love). According to mythology, Cupid/Eros would force people to fall in love by shooting arrows at them. On the surface, this "I can't help but love you" mentality seems quite sweet and romantic. Who doesn't enjoy that "in love" feeling?
However, this kind of love can only last as long as our fleeting emotions can take us. Without a deeper foundation on which to anchor the feelings, this kind of love is bound to fizzle out at best and lead to heartache and tragedy at worst. It's the stuff soap operas are made of. No wonder the Greek poets and playwrights were known for their tragedies!
St. Valentine originally represented a very different kind of love in Church history. The name could actually refer to any number of Christian martyrs in the third century AD who lost their lives under the reign of Emperor Claudius II because of their faith in God. Two particular Christian priests named Valentine (some believe them to be the same person) are said to have been brutally executed on the same day (February 14) for promoting the faith and and aiding persecuted Christians who had made the choice to live for Christ.
One major "offense" of this historical Valentine was marrying Christians, which is part of the reason why he has come to be associated with romantic love. In a very sexually permissive society, the Roman Emperor Claudius would have no problem with the erotic desires and reckless sensuality that Cupid/Eros represented. He just didn't want the soldiers to get married, because that would promote a greater commitment to someone other than him. And the Christians whom this emperor so detested had already pledged their ultimate allegiance and worship to someone other than Claudius, trading comfort and pleasure for persecution and often death. They did this because they believed in something deeper than comfort and fleeting pleasure, and for this reason they could often find joy and meaning even in the suffering. This involved a very different kind of love.
The emotions involved with love and desire can be so very beautiful, but the very truest and best kind of love always involves an element of choice. In Philippians 2: 4-8 (NRSV), Paul gives the ultimate example of Christ's love and how our attitude should be the same:
"Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross."
The Cupid version of love involves constantly giving in to our fleeting desires, as if we have no control over the matter. Christ, on the other hand, chose to leave perfection and complete dominion to be limited, mocked, beaten, broken and ultimately killed. He did this because he valued our lives above his own comfort or feeling. Now that's love.
This passage gets more intense when we think about that fact that God is calling for the same kind of love from us. This love was reflected in the lives of the historical Valentine and the early Christians. But that's also not the end of the story. Philippians 2:9-11(NRSV) go on to tell us that:
"Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
In Christ we can choose to love fully, despite inconvenience or even pain and real hardship, because we know a better reward is awaiting us, and we already have the better reward within us. So my question for myself, and for all of us, is this: which kind of love are we choosing to embrace?