The lyrics of a popular Eighties song go, “Oh-oh-oh, what’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion?”

Love as the world sees it, is confused, conditional, and conflated with other things such as lust. In the worldly eyes of love, “love” is a means to use someone else, is a way to get what you want, and is but a mere fling to satisfy one’s raging hormones. Yet, these distorted notions of love cannot be further from the truth. We also use the word, “love” at an ostensible and surface level to describe the hobbies and things that enthral us. Pornography and media images distort these ideas of love further, by reducing the human being to the sum of holes, body parts, pleasure machines, and orifices to be used and discarded. According to the world, we cannot be loved unless we look a certain way, unless we possess a certain good, unless we are of a certain socio-economic standing and status. According to the world, love is “blind” and love is a selfish, self-indulgent lie.

The problem is, these callous concepts of what love should be, originate from a place of broken-ness and wounded-ness. From a young age, a child is exposed to fairy tales that speak of happily-ever- afters, but the values that these tales of enchantment propose are less than savoury. It glosses over us and we do not really think about it on a deeper level, but on further excavation, we should really be alarmed at what these stories are telling us to believe in. The Story of the Little Mermaid, for example, speaks of the mermaid, selling her voice (a metaphor for her soul) to the sea witch, in return for legs that would allow her to walk on land so as catch the attention of a prince and win his love, while the tale of the Seal-Woman tells of a seal who comes to shore every night and leaves her skin behind to take on a human form, only for a fisherman to come by and steal away her skin (a metaphor for her true identity) so that she is forced to remain on land and by obligation because he has possession of her skin, to marry the man. The reasons for love are self-centred, superfluous and superficial. These fairy tales also inculcate in us, the fallacies that we are not worthy of love, that we need to earn someone’s love, and worse that we can and should sell even our souls to be loved. These are terrible lies that we have been told, and that which we believe and re-hash over and over and over again in our own internal dialogues. Such love is toxic and does not have a place in the life of a Christian. Yet, as Christians, we too fall prey to these distorted desires and delusionary definitions of what love is, or ought to be.

What then is love?

In ancient Greece, there were four categories of love: storge, philia, eros, and agape. Storge makes referent to familial love. In it is encompassed a relationship or bond that unites the individual who loves with the people, things, animals around him or her. Philia speaks of a love and loyalty between friends. It is freely chosen out of a place of mutual compatibility and of the commonality of shared values. Eros contains love that is passionate and refers to a desire for that which is of a sexual nature, together with a desire for what is aesthetic and spiritual – a desire for the beautiful. Last, Agape is a love that is noble and generous. It gives of itself freely to another more needy, without an attachment or concern for pay-back and reward (Blackburn, n.d.).

The love of God for us is this sacrificial agapic love. It is unconditional as Scripture testifies: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) and as John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The love of God is unwavering, faithful from generation to generation, and it is a love that is given free of any condition of anything that we may do on our own part and merit.

On par with Faith and Hope, Love is a cardinal theological virtue that inclines the human heart and will to desire and to cherish God for His own sake above all things. It also impels man and woman to love his or her neighbour for the sole purpose and sake of God. The source of love comes from God who is pure love in itself: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4: 16). As 1 John 4:20 reminds us: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This love is infused together with sanctifying grace, and is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (c.f. Romans 5:5). Love finds its origin in God, and the fruit of this love is first primarily ordered towards God, and then secondarily towards fellow human beings.

Love is also rooted in the rational will. We make a constant and deliberate choice to love. While love can be intensely emotional and is frequently activated by our sensorial needs and faculties, love is also ordered logically in our intellect. We decide and choose to love. This is important in marriages, family relationships, friendships, and in the Christian ministry and community. There are times when it is difficult to love, and there are times when others hurt us either consciously or subconsciously. Yet, we choose to forgive and we choose to love them still.

Love is found in benevolence, reciprocity, and friendship. Loving God entails wishing Him all honour, all glory, and every good, and striving our best to obtain these things for Him alone. As a corollary, when we love someone this love for someone wishes and desires every good possible as far as we can, for that person. (Sollier, 1910) One however must be careful of love that sets a condition as our world is wont to do – “if you love me, you would do this for me”; “if you love me you would compromise your own dignity for the sake of my own pleasure.” These notions of love as proposed by the world are flawed and not in alignment with the love that God intends for us and desires for us to radiate forth.

Love is predicated on faith and hope. For the Christian, agape love is only possible when we depend on God to empower it. God’s love for us is so crucial and essential for our lives, that we would not have the will and the meaning to live if we did not recognise that, or if we did not know that. It is a love that is grounded and shaped by a firm foundation in faith, and agape comes about only through hard work, and much effort, the denial of the self, and a commitment to the other person. (Sri & Sri, 2019). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (2005) has written that, “…love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love.” (Para. 17) In God is the fullness of love, and as we encounter the unfolding love-song and story of God for us, we increasingly see how our self-will and ego fade away as we become more and more in alignment with the will of God our Father, which in turn allows us to recognise and feel more and more tangibly His love for us. This love comes from a realisation that it is not the imposition of a will that is foreign to us upon us, but that this desire to love, is now coincided with God’s will and that comes from within myself (Pope Benedict XVI, 2005). We can only love if we have been loved ourselves. We can only give God’s Love, when we understand and experience profoundly, His Love for us.

As we come to realise the true and authentic love of God for us, we finally begin to understand that love to be real has to be accompanied by as the English proverb sums up, “talking the talk, and walking the walk.” We cannot preach love and have our actions prove contrary to our words. A husband who says he loves his wife and children but constantly subjects them to all manner of verbal and physical abuse is not really loving them for instance. The problem is, we ourselves do not think that we are worthy of love, and thus shun the love that God offers us, only to settle for a lie in the guise of love. We justify loveless behaviour and actions towards ourselves, from others, and towards others, and accept the paltry coaxing and sweet-nothings from a shallow, unmeaningful, and unfulfilling version of “love”. As this cheap version of love is something that we believe is real and authentic, and that which we believe as the only version of love, roots itself in our hearts, we find ourselves turning to substitutes for the love that only God can provide – drugs, food, sex, gambling, addictions, pegging our worth on the affirmation of people, clinging on to toxic and abusive relationships, things, prestige, fame, money… We try to fill our lives with a million and one things that do not satisfy. Our hearts remain empty, and our longings remain magnified, unless we learn to fill the void in our hearts with the love of God.

So, given our warped and terribly distorted understanding of love, how do we know when what we see is really love?

St. Paul sums it up nicely in this oft-used passage at the Celebration of Holy Matrimony for good reason:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



Blackburn, J. (n.d.). How Does the Church Define Love? Catholic Answers. Retrieved December 17, 2021 from

Pope Benedict XVI. (2005). Deus Caritas Est. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Sollier, J. (1910). Love (Theological Virtue). The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 17, 2021 from

Sri, E. & Sri. E. (2019). Surprised by Love. St Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Retrieved December 17, 2021 from