love (for God)

Nida (1952, p. 125ff.) reports on different translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “love” when referring to loving God:

“The Toro So Dogon people on the edge of the Sahara in French West Africa speak of ‘love for God’ as ‘to put God in our hearts.’ This does not mean that God can be contained wholly within the heart of a man, but the Eternal does live within the hearts of men by His Holy Spirit, and it is only love which prompts the soul to ‘put God in the heart.’

“The Mitla Zapotec Indians, nestled in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, describe ‘love’ in almost opposite words. Instead of putting God into one’s own heart, they say, ‘my heart goes away with God.’ Both the Toro So Dogon and the Zapotecs are right. There is a sense in which God dwells within us, and there is also a sense in which our hearts are no longer our own. They belong to Him, and the object of affection is not here on earth, but as pilgrims with no certain abiding place we long for that fuller fellowship of heaven itself.

“The Uduks seem to take a rather superficial view of love, for they speak of it as ‘good to the eye.’ But we must not judge spiritual insight or capacity purely on the basis of idioms. Furthermore, there is a sense in which this idiom is quite correct. In fact the Greek term agapé, which is used primarily with the meaning of love of God and of the Christian community, means essentially ‘to appreciate the worth and value of something.’ It is not primarily the love which arises from association and comradeship (this is philé), but it defines that aspect of love which prompted God to love us when there was no essential worth or value in us, except as we could be remade in the image of His Son. Furthermore, it is the love which must prompt us to see in men and women, still unclaimed for Jesus Christ, that which God can do by the working of His Spirit. This is the love which rises higher than personal interests and goes deeper than sentimental attachment. This is the basis of the communion of the saints.

“Love may sometimes be described in strong, powerful terms. The Miskitos of the swampy coasts of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras say that ‘love’ is ‘pain of the heart.’ There are joys which become so intense that they seem to hurt, and there is love which so dominates the soul that its closest emotion seems to be pain. The Tzotzils, living in the cloud-swept mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, describe love in almost the same way as the Miskitos. They say it is ‘to hurt in the heart.’ (…)

“The Akatek (Western Kanjobal) Indians of northern Guatemala have gone even a step further. They describe love as ‘my soul dies.’ Love is such that, without experiencing the joy of union with the object of our love, there is a real sense in which ‘the soul dies.’ A man who loves God according to the Conob idiom would say ‘my soul dies for God.’ This not only describes the powerful emotion felt by the one who loves, but it should imply a related truth—namely, that in true love there is no room for self. The man who loves God must die to self. True love is of all emotions the most unselfish, for it does not look out for self but for others. False love seeks to possess; true love seeks to be possessed. False love leads to cancerous jealousy; true love leads to a life-giving ministry.” (Source: Nida 1952)

In Mairasi, the term that is used for love for God, by God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone.” (Source: Sandi Colburn in Holzhausen 1991, p. 22)

complete verse (John 15:13)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 15:13:

  • Chol: “There is much love in the one who will give himself to die on behalf of his friends. There is no one who has more love than this.”
  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “If one is willing to die for a friend, he has loved that one to completion.”
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “The biggest love is this, when a person gives up his life for a friend of his.”
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “Only upon very really loving their friend can they want to die in his place.”
  • Yanesha’: “There isn’t love which surpasses this: We let go of ourselves to die for our loved ones.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Uma: “If there is a person who gives his life so that his companion lives, his love is indeed big. There is no love greater than the love of a person who gives his life in order to help his companion.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “If a person submits to die because of his love for his friends, there is no human love greater than this.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “If there is a person who allows himself to be killed in order to free his friends, this is a sign that his friends are very dear in his breath. There is no dearness which can equal this.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “This is the largest love that a person is able-to-show, if he dies so that his friends may live.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “True valuing which can’t be exceeded is the valuing by a person who will give his life/breath in place of the life/breath of his friends.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “The most important thing one can do when he loves his friend is to give his life for his friend.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone,” echoing the content of this verse. (Source. Sandi Colburn in Hiolzhausen 1991, p. 22)