Psalm 118:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures for ever.
Most places in Psalms where the English says, “love,” the Japanese renders it as “grace/blessing.” Sometimes that comes across as real insight, because we never actually deserve God’s love, so it is definitely grace. However, I think the fundamental reason for the Japanese translating it that way is the general lack of understanding of love in Japanese society. I’m not saying the translators didn’t understand love, but rather that they were concerned about how their average reader would understand it. I’m told the Japanese didn’t even use the word, love, much at all until the Meiji Era, which marked the end of feudalism in Japan. They have a character for it, but some of the compounds using that character are certainly far removed from a Biblical understanding of love. For example, a pet dog is a “love dog,” and a car that you wash frequently and take good care of is a “love car.” On top of that, the word for “cute,” kawaii, is written as “capable of being loved.” Of the four Greek words sometimes translated as “love,” I don’t think any of those usages get past storge, which simply means to like. However, Japanese society isn’t alone in being deficient in understanding of love. In America today, perhaps a majority of the use of the word would be rendered as eros in Greek. That is a self-centered love, for the satisfaction of the one loving rather than the benefit of the one loved. The connections with sex are obvious, as they were for the Greeks, but we can understand it better with such expressions as, “I love hamburgers.” Given that sort of confusion, translating this verse as “grace/blessing” makes a lot of sense. Humanly speaking, parental love for children is perhaps a good entry point for understanding God’s agape love, because it is completely unconditional, a decision at least as much as it is an emotion, and it is totally focused on the benefit of the one loved. The Psalmist didn’t know Greek, but he knew God, and that’s how we really know love.
As I am frequently reminded, I was enormously blessed by the home in which I was born and raised. My parents loved God, they loved each other, and they loved us children, in that order. I think that is the ultimate home environment! I don’t think I ever doubted any of those three loves in my parents. At this point in my life I frequently do counseling for couples before I perform their wedding. Naturally I talk about the foundation of a good marital relationship, and I make it very clear that romantic love alone is a very unreliable foundation, because emotions swing, first one way and then another. For myself, I think decision was at the foundation of my interaction with Cathy. The Monday night after our first real date on a Sunday, I wrote my parents that I had found the girl I wanted to marry, and we were engaged on Thursday of the next week, before I had received my parents’ response to my letter! That was in February, and we were married in May. Considering that was in 1969, it seems to have lasted pretty well! Cathy’s and my relationship is a wonder to many of the people around us. Some are actually repulsed, thinking it unseemly that we would be this way, but I think the vast majority are admiring and even envious. My point is to help them see it as an illustration of God’s love for us, as Paul said in Ephesians 5. I am enormously blessed by the love that flows between Cathy and me, but that is because it is a pale reflection of God’s love. My task is to make it an ever clearer, more accurate reflection, so that others may be drawn to God who is the true source of agape love.
Father, thank You for Your absolutely incredible grace, mercy, and love. Help me be an ever more open channel for You to flow through to draw others into Your loving family as well, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!