Facets of a Diamond - Blog

“The Search for the Word”

I have been searching for a long time to find a particular word or phrase. It is a word for what we call divine or universal love. Unfortunately, the word love has been so debased and misused and overused that it now has little real value. We “love” ice cream and we say that it tastes “divine,” so how can we use those same words for God or for the God that we see in our fellow man?

Photograph of street vendor with umbrellas and rain

Photograph by John Diamond, M.D.

In Greek up until the time of Christ, basically two words were used for love. One was eros, which referred primarily to sexual love; it is the satisfaction of a desire, not the realization of our divine aspiration.

The other was philia, referring to brotherly love. Probably it was in that spirit, although perhaps more with the idea of divine love, that Plato said that philia was the cement, the bond, of the universe. But brotherly love is but a pale reflection of love from God. It mainly involves just mutual consideration and affection. It is inadequate.

The early Christian writers recognized that neither of these words described the feeling of overwhelming, completely selfless love that God has for us and that we try to reciprocate. And so they used the word agape, a previously minor word used to denote “being content with.” Thus it came to mean, as for example when used by St. Paul, “the intenser form [of love] which finds its truest satisfaction in giving and in the sacrifice of self.”[1]

Agape would solve the problem of the search for the word were it not for two factors: it is, at least to our ears, a harsh-sounding word, despite its meaning; further, it does not by itself delineate to us today all the factors of love that I wish to describe.

The word we use for love must state that love is all that matters. It is the only real fact. All else is but a metaphor. It is love and love alone – deep, impersonal, selfless, Godlike love – that we must strive to feel, strive to have in our hearts. It is the Only. It is the universal reality. Love and love alone heals. Nothing else in life, and of course in medicine, matters.

Photograph of storefront with Buddha and Ganesh figurines

Photograph by John Diamond, M.D.

The phrase we are seeking must imply that, as Empedocles first stated, there are opposing forces of love and hate. Love bonds the world together and hate disintegrates it. When we as individuals are in a state of love, we are whole, healthy, integrated, and complete. But when our feelings are negative there is strife and stress; there is disintegration, chaos, and disharmony within us – and thus disease. Love is the selfless path of nature; strife is our selfish pushing and shoving through the world. God has designed our world to run on love, and when we are carrying out His will and we are one with the rest of man kind, we are one with nature, one with the universe.

The phrase must also acknowledge that it is our will, our desire, our aspiration, that determines whether we shall be in a state of love or strife. At every moment of our waking life it is our voluntary decision to be in one state or the other.

Further it must recognize that when we are in a state of love we will generate love in others. But when we are in a state of hate and strife, we will generate that in others. The phrase must highlight this social responsibility of our aspiration, of our decision to be in a state of love.

The mystics describe the selfless feeling of oneness with the universe, of absolute completeness, of limitless boundaries of self, of melting into the total cosmos and of being totally and utterly bonded in a syndesmotic relationship of recognizing that God is all and all is God. This feeling originates when the baby has been born without violence. He has been cast out of his perfect watery state and, after the anguish of the birth passage, for the first time experiences love when he is placed on his mother’s belly. The cord is still attached and pulsating, and he still feels his mother and is still at one with her, but now on the outside. He is again one with the mother, but different because now he has experienced the terrible fear of abject separation. It is now that first arises in the baby the feeling of complete oneness, of everything, of God.

All this the phrase must convey. Perhaps the expression does not exist because the true feeling is so rare. And when we try even to imagine the feeling, we leave words behind. It is all too great and powerful for language.

And thus it appears that we end with a phrase that does not appear to convey all I have tried to convey, yet does convey that and so much more. In fact, it conveys everything. Thundering across 2,000 years it stands before us and in our hearts like nothing else: GOD IS LOVE.


Excerpt from The Re-Mothering Experience: How to Totally Love

The Re-Mothering Experience book cover

[1] Charles A. Anderson Scott, Christianity According to St. Paul (Cambridge, 1961).