Now, if you’ve been brought up in the same American culture as I have, your mind probably went immediately to sexual love, didn’t it? Why is that? Because love between men in the Bible is not like that. Scripture says Jonathan loved David as much as he loved his own soul. Jesus loved Lazarus, and John the Apostle often mentions the disciple Jesus loved, probably referring to himself.
(None of these references have a hint of sexuality, although some provocative scholars steeped in our over-sexualized culture make such claims. These claims could not have been true in either case, since homosexual behavior was strictly forbidden in Judaism, yet the accusation was never even raised.)
I have had a few close relationships with men I would think of as close – like brothers. I don’t know what it would be like to love another man as I do my own soul, as Jonathan did, as Jesus did. I have not known this holy love. I have been accused of homophobia before, and have vehemently rejected that label. I am not afraid of gays! But here’s my confession – I think I do have a fear of having a holy love for another man. I have no idea what that is like. It is a level of vulnerability that I have never experienced. When I think of it, it feels like it would be a loss of myself, somehow. I suppose that’s why it’s called loving another as much as your own soul.
I wonder how much the love of a man is similar to how I love my wife after 31 years of marriage. Our man-woman love began quite lustfully. We married quickly. I was filled with romantic passion for her at the time, but that love has matured so much. Oh, I still have that romantic passion for her, but it is complimented with the deep richness and tones of friendship and sacrifice and knowing and empathy. I sense her. I know her looks and her posture. I know the angle of her mouth and the tilt of her head with her moods. I know the sparkle of joy and the flash of anger in her. I relish these. Not the passions themselves, as much as the knowing of her. I am her student. She teaches me herself, and I am an anxious learner. She inhabits my soul. When I rise, she follows, and she actually trusts me! In many ways, we are each other. I have given her myself with reckless abandon, and I have not given it a second thought. She has done the same. Our relationship is exclusive. Unshared.
No, I cannot imagine Jesus loving John this way, or Jonathan loving David this way. It must be different. CS Lewis distinguished erotic love from all other loves in that erotic love excludes others while the love of friendship invites others. This selfless, deep, holy love of Jesus for John – this is something I have yet to fully understand, and I would guess I am not alone. Our church in St Louis, sensing this same need among our men, has begun Journey groups: Intimate small groups for men to get together and study God’s Word. I remember similar groups at Elmbrook Church when I was much younger, growing up in Milwaukee. They were called “Top Gun” groups, or something like that. I suppose I have had such friendships – “Band of Brothers” kinds of experiences. And I wonder if that is the pathway to holy man-love. I wonder if I’m even up to it. Or if I’m too afraid of it. Or if investing in such a relationship in our busy culture would take away from time with my dear wife.
Lord, give me man-love friendships that teach me the holy love you intended for your sons to have. Teach me that “Psalm 133” brother love that I need to know:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”