By Roderick Logan, DPTh, CFTP
The underlying concept of unity stems from two powerful ideas, mutual love and mutual respect. Remember, unity is not sameness. Rather, it is the couple, the family, the congregation, the team, or the people working together to move in the same direction. And, when love and respect are shared; when they are mutual attributes of the relationship, then unity is realized.
What about love and respect?
What about love and respect? Is it not just two words saying the same thing? No. In fact, in the ancient world, there was one word that encompassed both of these ideas. Although, these words share some similar qualities, love and respect are quite different. How so?
In the Western world, love tends to emanate from an emotional place. Love is an expression of how one person feels about another person, or perhaps a place or a thing. In contrast, respect is the deference, the honor, or the acknowledgment that one person shows to another. Love tends to give attention to the feelings of the one showing love. Respect, on the other hand, tends to give attention to the feelings of the other person. Again, in the Western world, these are treated as two differing, separate, or compartmentalized concepts.
In the Hebraic world, there is a single verb that has two actions. That word is ahavah. It usually is translated love, but it comes with the cultural presupposition that love cannot exist without respect. The concept behind ahavah is, benefit to another at a cost to myself.
In the Western world, it is conceivable to love another, but not respect them. You might imagine that in this situation love would be possessive, narcissistic, and self-agrandizing. Expressions of love like this treats the other person as an object. The other’s humanity and personal dignity is diminished or completely dismissed. This kind of love often leads to abuse, and always regards others as merely a means to an end.
Likewise, if you imagine respecting someone without loving them, this too leads to an imbalance in the relationship. Respect without love is the consequence of fear; in particular feelings of intimidation. If one believes he or she is being manipulated by someone more powerful, more influential, or more believable than they, it is likely eventually he or she will runaway or rebel. Loyalty and long-term relationships cannot be sustained by respect alone.
Looking again at the Hebrew verb, ahavah, protection is built into the culture of the word. Ahavah does not exist without both actions - love and respect. Not only are both required and expected, but neither one exists - or allowed to exist - without the other accompanying. In other words, in the biblical Jewish world, the presence of love is always in the context of respect, and the presence of respect in the context of love. Love is the act of giving what is beneficial to the other person. So, the act of love requires not only an awareness of the need of the other person, but also a self-awareness of the would-be giver’s talent and resources. A person cannot give what they do not have. To expect otherwise will lead to trauma. Love and respect working in tandem provides that there is an awareness of the other and a healthy self-awareness. In truth, the later enables the former.
Ahavah, is essentially sacrificial. There is always a cost in providing benefits to others; in meeting the needs of another person. True love provides the payment of this cost. It is absorbed by the giver. However, sacrifice is fundamentally a volunteer action. If sacrifice is compulsory or mandated, then it is no longer sacrifice. It is now servitude or slavery. The presence of both love and respect ensures that both the gift and the cost of the gift are provided freely and without reservation.
The mental images that some have grown up with which picture God as being unhappy, with a giant hammer, and ready to pounce on unsuspecting minions when they do not sway his anger does not originate from the Bible. In English, it reads:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Pr 9:10).
The word translated “fear” does carry the same meaning as the English word for “fear.” It comes closer to the word “respect.” In other words, the biblical principle conveyed Proverbs is that wisdom is to be found when one person respects another; not just love them, but respects them.
Should we love God? Absolutely, but love of God alone is not sufficient. Just having a warm, positive, affirming emotion toward the Creator is not enough to sustain our relationship with him. If we feel our sacrifice(s) to God is compulsory or forced, then is it any wonder we often want to pick up a gun and fight or drop everything and flee? We must also respect God. We must show deference, honor, and acknowledge his ways, his instructions, and his points-of-view - as revealed through the Bible. Love without respect is not a relationship. It is imprisonment.
Likewise, our unity in marriage, in family, at work, in our city and our nation is reachable when we share and experience mutual love and mutual respect. This is an ancient biblical principle - tried and true.
Roderick Logan, DPTh, CFTP
Roderick is an Adoption Educator and Trauma Professional with Christian Family Care, in Phoenix, Arizona. He is an alum of Grand Canyon University and holds a Master’s in Biblical Counseling and a Doctorate in Practical Theology from Master’s International University of Divinity. He is a Certified Family Trauma Professional with the Arizona Trauma Institute and the International Association of Trauma Professionals.