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.

The Season of Dryness

Dear Travelers,

Follow Jesus for any length of time and you will soon discover that He leads you through various seasons. He will lead you through seasons of growth in which you may experience either material or spiritual blessing or both simultaneously. He will lead you through seasons of sorrow through which you are taught to trust Him through trials and temptations as well as to grieve not as those who have no hope. He will lead you through seasons of vitality in which you are productive, fully in touch with the creative intelligence God has given you to glorify Him. During such times you may serve others energetically, marry and start a family, create a business or initiate some meaningful project.

Jesus will also lead you through seasons of pruning and even dryness. Whether it is the dark night of the soul, or a period of sustained, unnerving silence from God, these season will challenge your faith, try your soul and test your heart. Although unpleasant, at least pruning has as its goal a greater fruitfulness in the future. When you are pruned find comfort in texts such as Hebrews 12.11 which says,

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So despite the pain caused by pruning we have God’s assurance that, in the end, it will have a point.

In comparison, seasons of dryness leave us clueless as to the purpose of God. They are to all human appearance, and there is no other way to say it than to be blunt: pointless. A sustained season of dryness in which God is unnervingly silent is one of, if the most difficult, tests of our fidelity to the God of covenant. There is, however, a ray of hope; a beam of light along which we can track the sovereign hand of God and be comforted.

Think of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was then taken to Egypt where he was wrongly accused of sexual assault, imprisoned and forgotten for nearly twenty years.

Think of Moses. He fled Egypt only to end up tending sheep in Midian for 40-years. Forty-years! Shepherding is not easy work and Moses was not a young man when he began his apprenticeship.

Think of Jeremiah. His 40-year ministry as a prophet is famous for its stunning lack of success. Largely ignored by his countrymen, when he was taken seriously he was falsely accused of treason, left for dead in a cistern, rescued by a Gentile; then taken by force to Egypt all the while telling his countrymen, “Don’t go to Egypt!” Each man lived through a season of dryness. What is remarkable is that while each man had people break faith with them, they each refused to break faith with God.

Inasmuch as the reason for their faithfulness may have more to do with the character and sovereignty of God, this much is also true: each man trusted God to lead them through their season of dryness without having any assurance the drought would end. Their hope was in God, not in the end of the drought. In this sense they exemplify the psalmist who, when peering up into the perilous mountains declared his hope was in the LORD who created the mountains, indeed who created the earth and all that is in it.

David declared the same when he wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . . He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. . . .He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” It is during the season of dryness that our trust in future grace is given its severest test. It is when the ground of our soul is parched and hardened as tarmac we recall that the heart of faith is the determination to trust God in the present because of what He has already done for us in the past which then gives us hope He will provide for us in the future.

The dry season tests our resolve to thank God for giving us the ordinary means of what is needed to live each day: our daily bread in the form of food, clothing, shelter, health, and work. The dry season challenges us to look beyond the hills to see how God also provides for us our daily grace: salvation, the presence of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, faith, hope and love. While easy to ignore, we must never forget that all we have is a gift from God. His care extends into all areas of our need. Everything we need for life and godliness (a lifestyle of practicing what Jesus preaches) God has and will provide each and every day. The struggle on our end is to keep faith with Him because sometimes, from our side of eternity, God’s timing is a little off. His provision does not always arrive according to our timetable, as if He lived in a different time zone and has neglected to set His watch accordingly. It is then we must also learn to trust God for our daily guidance by asking Him to lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

What we often fail to realize is this: that when God chooses not to provide for a physical need (e.g., a prayer for healing is answered with a “No”) God then provides the grace, courage and inner resolve to carry on, to endure, to persevere and to keep faith regardless. Sometimes we must – make that – always we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And when that moment is realized; when the terrifyingly simple truth is revealed that God delivers us through the valley of the shadow rather than from the valley of the shadow we are confronted with a truly defining moment. Will we at that moment follow Jesus’ example and say, “Not my will, but Thy will be done” or not?

Will I, can I trust God when I do not understand why or what both the reason and the point is of the drought. Will I, can I  trust God so completely that I will yield to Him and say as Jesus did, “Not my will, but Thy will be done”? Will I, can I choose to yield to the Master Potter or complain and remain in that state of complaint a lump of uncooperative, recalcitrant clay?

The heart of faith is the determination to trust God in the present because of what He has already done for us in the past which then gives us hope He will provide for us in the future.

In the nearly 40-years I have walked with Jesus, He has lead me through a variety of seasons, including several extended seasons of dry and arid silence. And this is what I have learned is best: Trust in His sovereign albeit unseen hand. He will not always keep silence. And do not neglect to pray, especially to pray then like this, “Our Father in heaven. . . .Give us this day our daily bread,. . . .” To pray like this is to ask also for our daily grace and our daily guidance. It is to trust that God will give us this day everything we need for this day. It is to trust in the LORD, our Father in heaven who knows what we need before we ask and is wise enough to give it us when He knows it is best for us to receive it.

In nearly 40-years of walking with Jesus here is something else I have learned: no drought lasts forever. The clouds of God’s gracious, life-giving rain are seeded with trust/obedience in His future grace.

You think about that.

Keep Your Head Up

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

—Joshua 1.7 [ESV]

Dear Travelers,

I was six-years-old when I learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels. My father gave me one simple, cardinal word of instruction before my first training wheel-less ride, “Keep your head up, Mike.” Then he gave me a push and sent me pedaling down the street toward a future of adventure and discovery. It was a wobbly start, but, remembering my father’s instruction, I lifted my chin and my head came up. Almost immediately, the wobbling stopped and I rode smoothly straight down the middle of the street.

I kept my head up for about half a block. Inexplicably, at the halfway point, I looked down at the front tire. And as soon as I dropped my head I swerved to the right, hit the curb and crashed. My maiden voyage, albeit thrilling was brief. As I rubbed my bruised elbows and knees, I pleaded my father to put the training wheels back on. He refused. “You’re old enough to ride without them,” he said. He encouraged me to try again, repeating his cardinal piece of instruction, “Just keep your head up, Mike. If you keep your head up, you won’t fall.”

Several falls later, but determined not to give up, the tumblers all fell into place and the combination to my liberation from training wheels was complete. Trusting my father’s advice, I kept my head up and my balance improved. The training wheels gave me confidence to ride a “two-wheeler,” but in the end they were an intermediate step to help with the transition from riding with them to riding without them.

With Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land, the LORD exhorted Joshua “be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.” Additionally, the LORD exhorted Joshua, ”Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” For Joshua to be obedient he had to keep his head up. The Law would act as “training wheels” insuring he would not swerve to the right or to the left.

Careful observance of the Law will keep you on the straight and narrow. The LORD exhorted Joshua to be meticulous about being careful to do according to all the law that Moses, the servant of the LORD commanded him. Ultimately, however, the chief ministry of the Law consists in constantly reminding all who try to keep it that they are following God with training wheels on their heart, their mind and their soul.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

—Galatians 3.23-24 [ESV]

Enter Jesus as author and pioneer of the New Covenant. His sinless perfection as the Son of God guaranteed His perfect obedience to the Law. His perfect obedience to the Law guaranteed the perfection of His death as the propitiation, (the atoning sacrifice) for our sin. His obedience to the Law is the basis for our justification by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2.8-10). His resurrection from the dead is the confirmation of God’s acceptance of His death on our behalf. Before Jesus came we were captive to the Law. Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the Law, keeping it when we could not, He has given us a new law to follow—a new commandment wherein we are to love one another as He has loved us (John 13.34).

This new commandment gives us the freedom to discover the depth and the riches of God’s glory. This freedom, like learning to ride a bicycle without training is a bit risky, but the risk is worth it. In truth, there is no risk since the perfection of Jesus guarantees that our faith will be rewarded. All that we must do can be summed up in the counsel my father gave me, “Keep your head up.” And if we should we fall, His Spirit is there to pick us up and get us started once again.

You think about that.