Were Christianity to select a single word to describe the breadth and depth of the relationship between God and human beings, it could do worse than “philanthropic”.
In fact, not only is Christ still called Philanthropos—“The Philanthropist”—in the liturgy of the Orthodox Church, but the term actually owes its 5th century B.C.E. Greek origins to a god.
Prometheus is imprisoned by Zeus, the king of the gods, for “philanthropy”—specifically, his deep, personal friendship with human beings. Cries the bound Prometheus, “Look at me, the unlucky god who is chained up for exaggerated affection for the mortal beings”.
The term “philanthropy” originates, thus, not with reference to human acts of beneficence toward humanity but rather with a god’s love of human beings who, it is worth noting, are depicted as incapable of reciprocating anything of value in return.
(Excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Whole Life Offering: Christianity as Philanthropy, scheduled for release in January 2011.)