The loss of Christianity as a significant cultural force has meant a loss in the rich landscape of love that so ignited the imaginations of Dante and Petrarch, Shakespeare, Donne and Herbert, and the romantic poets. But it is also a loss of the link between romantic love and what in the New Testament is rendered by the Greek word agape: a love that mirrors the way God loves. Romance may begin as a system of exchange, but to love as God loves is the heart's deep desire.
And here's perhaps the most radical claim of Saint Paul: love, like faith and hope, is a gift from God. In medieval theology, it's called a theological virtue. It is a skill, a practice that enables a person to relinquish the economic model of relationship ("what's in it for me?"). It is an act of faith in the other, an opening to possibilities in the relationship that one cannot control. It is a risk. It takes time, effort, creativity, and single-mindedness to constantly ask the question "how can I love this person the way God would love this person?" But its payoff, in contrast to the economic model, is that it becomes perhaps the only island in our market-driven world where one is not engaging in competition, but cooperation.
Non-market love is the shared pilgrimage toward a distant good, the tenacious perseverance through good times and bad, the willingness to suspend immediate goods for more lasting ones, the faith that walking through life with a friend is better than walking it alone. It is faith in the other. And above all, it is rooted in hope.