All That Is Not Eternal

In the last chapter of The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about Charity. He begins the chapter with this statement: “The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else…must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet” (116). At first this Something else is “vaguely described as ‘decency and common sense,’ but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation” (116). This “something else” is Charity—the love of God which, according to Lewis, shines brightest when contrasted against its rivals—the natural loves of Affection, Friendship and Eros.

Love means risk. Lewis is both grave and joyful when he declares: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken” (121). Charity loves despite the risk of injury. It cannot go about insulated. It must be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Charity dares to let its future depend on something that may be lost. In a memorable phrase, Lewis observes that, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell” (121). Surely the life and work of Jesus Christ exemplifies a love that does not play it safe. Says Lewis, “Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness.” Rather Christ taught us to love our “earthly beloveds” … without calculation (122). In this way we are prepared to love God, whom we cannot see with the same lack of calculation. “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in our lives, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor” (122).

If Charity makes any calculation at all it is this: if by loving without calculation we can approach (by practice) the love of God and by loving so He ordains that our heart needs to be wrung and possibly broken, then let so be it. All the natural loves are rivals to Charity in the sense they are all capable of being excessive. Here Lewis observes, “it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy” (122). So the issue is not so much that we love God or our earthly Beloved “more,” as much as it is “which do you serve, or choose, or put first?” (122-23).

This leads to Lewis’ exposition of Luke 14.26 where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Lewis’ interest lies in an analysis of the word “hate.” “To hate,” states Lewis, “is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil” (123). Jesus himself declared no one can serve two masters for she will hate the one and love the other. There is no middle ground for equivocation. It is either “adhere to, consent to, work for” God or work for money. To love God requires that we “turn down or disqualify our nearest and dearest when they come between us and our obedience to God” (124).

However, the difficulty here lies not so much in making the choice between “our nearest and dearest” and “our obedience to God,” as it is to know when such a choice must be made. It is here where the natural loves interfere. They meddle, partly out of sentiment, partly out of concern not to offend, and partly out of the fear of loss. Whatever the reason, it is when cast in the light of Charity’s glory, that we see flaws heretofore unseen in the natural loves.

The following statement is the clearest expression of Lewis’s theology of love:

“We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential.” (126)

The self-sufficiency of God is what sets His love apart from the natural loves. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them” (127). One characteristic of God’s love is grace.

When He created us, God gave us the capacity to love Him, to exploit Him, and even to reject Him. This is grace. Yet create us He did and in creating us, God implanted in us “both Gift-loves and Need-loves.” The Gift-loves are natural images of Himself. By possessing them we reveal the likeness of God whether or not we make any approach toward Him. The Need-loves, by contrast bear no resemblance at all to the Love which is God. They are rather opposites; not as evil is the opposite of good, but as that which is formed is the opposite of the mold from which it is made.

However, God does more than implant within us Gift-loves. He also implants within us a bit of His own Gift-love. This “Divine Gift-love…is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved” (128).

“ … natural Gift-love is always directed to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable—objects to which Affection or Eros or a shared point of view attracts him, or, failing that, to the grateful and the deserving, or perhaps to those whose helplessness is of a winning and appealing kind. But Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable.” (128)

Divine Gift-love is indiscriminate as to what and whom it loves. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it loves without regard for personal gain. In the very best sense of the phrase, Divine Gift-love loves for love’s sake. The lover loves because it is the nature of the lover to do so.

There is one more characteristic of Divine Gift-love God bestows upon us. It is that He enables us to express Gift-love toward God the giver. This must be so or how else can we answer the call to obey the greatest commandment, “love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is when we yield ourselves entirely to God that we present to Him our whole self.

More importantly, when we love God with everything we have, we are enabled and empowered to love the unlovable, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the prisoner. To love “the least of these” requires the Divine Gift-love that comes from God by grace. It is not surprising that this form of Divine Gift-love should be called Charity. For when Charity bids us to love in this manner we love God by loving others.

The premise by which Lewis wrote The Four Loves is best summed up in the oft quoted statement, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date” (137). This statement, often taken out of context, applies first to the natural loves – Affection, Friendship, and Eros – before it applies to anything else. The natural loves, since they are natural, are not eternal. Therefore, they are eternally out of date. They are destined for decay unless they are transformed into expressions of Charity.

Separated from Charity, the Love which is Eternal, the natural loves promise what they cannot deliver. They create a desire which they cannot ultimately satisfy. Thus to pursue them is to chase after that which is eternally out of date. Given his knowledge of mythology, Lewis compares the natural loves to gods run amok. When the gods run amok they meddle in human affairs unconcerned about the consequences their meddling will have. Thus when Affection, Friendship, and Eros become gods they become demons. There is too much of the mortal in them, but just enough of the divine to masquerade as gods, not to bless, but to tempt, deceive and mislead into ruin.

By contrast, Charity is unnatural and therefore is, in the best sense, super-human. Charity is love not of this earth. Charity comes to us from God. It intrudes into our lives for the sole purpose of making us aware that the longings, the cravings created by the natural loves can be satisfied, but not by any love that is natural.

In the end, The Four Loves is a philosophical proof of the inadequacy of the natural loves to bring us near to God. Only Charity can do that. It was not Affection, not Friendship, and not Eros that John, the gospel-writer and Beloved Apostle, says motivated God to send His Son to earth to die. It was Love. It was Charity.

Here Lewis must have the last word: “There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husband, or children, may be sure that at some times—and perhaps at all time in respect of some one particular trait or habit—they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them” (140).

You think about that.

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