I finished reading The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis while riding a bus into downtown Seattle. I told you a month ago that I bought this book at Powell’s Books by a friend’s recommendation. It was a good read with plenty to think about on every page, so it takes some time even though it is only 141 pages. My strategy was to read a few pages at a time while eating breakfast, or riding the bus when I only had half a chapter to go.
If you’ve never heard of this book, C. S. Lewis describes and analyzes the four main categories of love that humans experience. He calls these: affection, friendship, eros, and charity.
- Affection generally applies to relationships like between parents and their children where the love is demonstrated as care and concern. In these relationships, affection is taken for granted and assumed to be something inherently deserved (a parent is expected to care for the child).
- Friendship is usually seen between members of the same gender, according to Lewis, and it forms because the friends find something in common that separates them from other people (like stamp collecting or the dream to start a petting zoo).
- While friendship is focused on some common outward direction, Lewis calls an inward-focused love “eros.” “When I spoke of Friends as side by side or shoulder to shoulder I was pointing a necessary contrast between their posture and that of the lovers whom we picture face to face,” Lewis writes. Romantic lovers share eros. When we talk about “falling in love,” we mean “eros.”
- Finally, there’s charity. Out of the four loves, Lewis says this is the only one that doesn’t come naturally. It instead comes directly by God’s grace to be either given or received.
Charity is probably the one love our culture commonly ignores beyond the rest. Listening to popular music and watching recent movies, it would seem as if we worshiped eros. Interestingly, Lewis says friendship is equal to eros and as necessary. Affection, too, is important. But above these, charity deserves the most notice, if only for its distinctiveness of coming directly from God.
God is compared to the roles of a Father, a Friend, and a Lover, but he actually shares charity with us instead of any of the other loves in our world. Often, he loves us in this way through other people. “In reality we all need at times, some of us at most times, that Charity from others which, being Love Himself in them, loves the unlovable,” says Lewis. “But this, though a sort of love we need, is not the sort we want. We want to be loved for our cleverness, beauty, generosity, fairness, usefulness.” So even though charity surpasses the other loves, and in fact, imitates the love of God himself, it’s still the one we neglect.
God is love, and Lewis says, “He communicates to men a share of His own Gift-love.” Charity seeks the good for a loved one that the loved one may not necessarily want or ask for, but it is no less good for the loved one. And with charity, we have the grace to love anyone even despite lacking anything that could make them deserving of love. “Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering,” says Lewis.
We also have grace to love God back. “There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His; and if it is already His what have you given?” says Lewis. “But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, we can, in that sense, also give them.” That’s what Christianity is all about, isn’t it? To be loved by God and to love him back?