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The Four Loves

The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis


I want to read something that gets my mind thinking explicitly about Christianity. What better than a book about love? This is not a book for speed reading. It is designed to be read slowly, thinking along the way about the author’s points. Therefore, I have a lot to say on this book.

In the introduction, Lewis introduces two kinds of love, Need-Love and Gift-Love, and he talks about some of the challenges he faced during his initial attempts to write this book. At first he was planning only to talk about Need-Love versus Gift-Love. Obviously, he expanded to four loves. It is not clear to me yet how or why this happened.

First, Lewis talks about Need-Love. An example of this type is when a child is scared and runs to mom’s arms for comforting. We, as humans, need love. We need mom’s love. We need companionship, just like we need food. A man who believes that he does not need love is egotistic and sick. Just like a man who does not need food is sick. A feeling of not needing love is a sign of a bad spiritual condition, just as a feeling of not needing food is a bad medical sign. Need-Love may seem selfish at first. But it is not. Love is a necessity of life. However, one can indulge in too much Need-Love just like one can indulge in too much food. I don’t know how yet? But maybe this will become clear later?

After re-reading the introduction, I was able to get a more clear understanding of some of Lewis’s arguments. Let me try to re-articulate. We need God’s love. We are born lonely, and realize this immediately. Humans need God’s love. Our love for God is a Need-Love. The more that we recognize our need for God’s love, the closer we become like God. It is strange that we become more like God, only when we become less like God. We become more near to God when we become less like God. God is omnipotent, and we cry to him for help. By crying to God for help, we are recognizing more and more of God’s power, and simultaneously removing power from ourselves. Therefore, we willingly release our human power, and in doing so become more like God. The next point is that God is love, but love is not God. When love becomes a god, it becomes a demon. Too often, humans mistake love for God. Love on its own is not God. When love is at its highest, it seems to have a divine authority. We may act in love with no thought about the consequences. When we have this near-divine type of love, it is God-like, but we must not let it become God. Lewis said he will speak more on this later. When human love becomes a god, only evil is bred. Finally, Gift-Love is the type of love that prompts us to give money and gifts to other people. It is an admirable Christ-like quality, and it provides fulfillment, just like the prophets claim.

Likings and the Love for the Sub-Human

After reading the chapter, I now understand the chapter’s title. Lewis talks about the difference between “like” and “love.” Then, he talks about the love of nature and the love of one’s country. Nature and country are not human. Thus, I assume that the next four loves will talk about love towards other people.

We begin by looking at things that we “like.” If we like something, then that something gives us pleasure. There are two types of pleasure: Need-Pleasure and Appreciative-Pleasure. Need-Pleasure is the pleasure that we get from satisfying our thirst when we are thirsty. I’m thirsty so I take a drink of water. It gives me pleasure to satisfy my thirst. But after my drink, I no longer get pleasure from drinking water, until the time that I am thirsty again. It is easy to see how Need-Pleasure relates to Need-Love. Now, on towards Appreciative-Pleasure. Appreciative pleasures are things that we like, and the pleasure that they give use never fades. The pleasure of a cup of coffee or the smell of a damp forest. We don’t need these things, but when we experience them, they enhance our state of being. We like them. Once I have had a cup of coffee or smelled a fresh forest, my appreciation for those things does not go away, like the pleasure from drinking water goes away after my thirst is satisfied.

Like there is Appreciative-Pleasure, there is also Appreciative-Love. This type of love is non-personal, and Lewis discusses two types:

  1. Love of Nature

  2. Love of Country

Many of us claim that God reveals himself to us in nature. However, this is not exactly correct. We cannot use nature to define our religious beliefs, theologies, or our philosophies. We need teachers and schooling and texts to define those things. Nature does not teach us the qualities of God or how to accept salvation. The role that nature plays is to reinforce our beliefs. Nature confirms our ideas that we’ve acquired through human teachings. Nature helps us comprehend some of God’s qualities: what it means to fear, to see beauty, to be limitless, to be powerful. Through nature, we can begin to understand some of God’s qualities. I can begin to understand an immortal, all-loving, omnipotent God by observing the boundless expanses of space. I can learn what it means to fear God by looking down the face of a cliff, or what power means by observing and feeling the power of a wave on the sea shore. Nature itself is not God. But God’s truths are validated in nature.

The love of country can easily turn demonic. When country love becomes a god, it becomes a demon. Lewis does not want to talk about international ethics. Let’s start with love of home. We love the places, people, sights, sounds, and smells that were familiar during our childhood, and we would hate to see these items disappear. Next, let’s discuss our attitude towards our country’s past. This is really interesting! Histories should be passed-down and retold as stories. They should strengthen our hearts and our wills. They should excite us and make us eager to learn. Love of country is not established by reading drab textbooks full of historical facts and policy justifications. We love our country, despite its faults, and we think it is the best. Since our country is the best, we want other countries to be like us, and this quickly leads to demonic actions when we try to force our country’s establishments on other countries. Lewis concludes by extending love of country to schools, organizations, and regiments. The feelings of love that we have for a specific organization or religious group are also considered to be Love of Country.

Love #1: Affection

This is the first human love. Affection is a combination of Need-Love and Gift-Love. Lewis uses the example of a mother and a child. The mother’s care, such as feeding and cleaning the child, are acts of Gift-Love towards the child. However, the child is receiving Need-Love. It needs the mom’s care to survive. From the perspective of the mother, she is gifting her car. She does not need to give it. From the child’s perspective, it needs mom’s care to survive. This is paradoxical.

Affection extends beyond the parent-child relationship. Affection is the type of love that exists between any two people, regardless of age, sex, or compatibility. Siblings have Affection for one another. Affection may exist between two people who are dissimilar in all aspects but learn to respect one another for each other’s unique intelligence and personality. This is different from the other types of love. In Friendship and Eros, there are similarities and chemistry between the two people. For Affection, there may be no similarities. Affection is the most humble of all the loves. It does not seek public display.

Then, Lewis talks about how Affection can be perverted. I think it is useful to not only understand what love is but also what love is not. We all need Affection. Affection confirms that I, as a human being, am valuable to society. When I develop traits and characteristics that are not attractive, then other people will begin to disassociate with me. I will not receive Affection. In this way, Affection reinforces positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors. The person who does not receive Affection may attempt to obnoxiously gain that Affection by becoming more overbearing and intolerable. In this way, the outcast becomes more and more alienated from society and deprived of Affection.

Affection can cause jealousy. I like the example here of two brothers. It need not be brothers; it can be any two siblings since sex is irrelevant. When one sibling decides to pursue a higher activity or goal, the other sibling is left behind. The advancing sibling spends his time on his new interest, such as religion or reading. The second sibling feels left behind. A parent may claim that the interest is “nonsense” or that “it may soon pass.” There is Affection between the siblings due to their shared experiences. When these experiences are no longer shared, jealousy arises.

Lewis also talks about the perversion of Affection towards an animal. I like this, because he talks about how we all desire to be a beast at times, to escape the complexities and stresses of life. Our intelligence, although a great gift, causes us to worry and stress. Sometimes, we wish to be like a beast, which only lives for the day. Beasts do not worry about tomorrow. Since we have this desire, we enjoy the company of beasts, such as dogs. However, when we prefer to be with animals over human companionship, then we have forgotten the true purpose of a pet and perverted Affection.

Finally, the last example of a perverted Affection is an overbearing mother. A mother who dotes on her children long after they require her motherly care. Mom wants to continue providing Gift-Love for her children. This makes her feel needed. However, children are supposed to mature into adults, so that they no longer need their mother’s care. A mother who does not realize this truth, and accept that her Gift-Love is no longer needed by the child, then perverts love. Her love motivates all of her actions. She lives to love. Love is her god. Love is her demon. When love becomes God, it becomes a demon.

Love #2: Friendship

I have been fascinated with the idea of “Love” for a long time now. It’s a powerful thing, love is. Maybe that’s why it is so fascinating. I see that love has power, and I do not understand it. Things that seem valuable, and I do not comprehend, are things that I want to study. Love is one of those things.

Friendship is arguably the most powerful of all the loves. It is perhaps the hardest to acquire, but once gained, hides nothing. Friendship does not care about a man’s social class, intelligence, income, or education. It cares only about the shared truth that formed the friendship. It seeks to bring other people in. Where there is power in 2 minds, there is even more power in 3, 4, or 5 minds. Friendship is a bearing of personalities, whereas Eros is a bearing of bodies. Lewis compares Friendship to the Love of angels. It is angelic love. But if man is to eat the bread of angels, he must work ever so more diligently to protect his humility.

The shared truth, or common interest, of Friendship, causes the friends to be isolated. They share something that others do not. This isolation is an inherent part of Friendship, but it can cause the friends to elevate themselves to a higher plane, thus excluding all others. It is easy to be prideful when on a higher plane or in an aristocracy. Friendship opens our eyes and reveals to us the intelligence and outstanding aspect of other people in the Friendship. Through these bonds, great things can be accomplished. A group of friends is responsible for founding mathematics, writing enlightening novels, founding Ford Motor Company. Friendship is powerful, and needed for advancing humanity. Of course with power, there is the risk of pride. It can easily be seen that Friendship can perverted, as a result of pride. Whereas minds may combine to accomplish some monumental task that advances humanity, minds can also merge in Friendship to promote demonic activities, such as genocide.

Friendship, as far as I can tell based on what I read, is only between same sexes. Men and men. Women and women. By inserting a woman into a group of male friends, the friends attempt to integrate the woman, and by trying to include her, they ruin the very thing that founded the friendship. Similarly with women. Women are meant to talk about “women” things with other women. Men simply do not understand. There is a reason that the sexes regard each other as funny. To me, women are funny. I laugh at the things they talk about and the things that they form friendships over. I do not understand. Similarly, women laugh at the dullness of male bonds.

What about Friendship between sexes? A man and a woman may start as Friends, but inevitably this will lead to Eros. It may take 30 minutes, or it may take days. But by nature, this type of Friendship is designed by God to lead to Eros. Friendship is a gift from God. It reveals to us the beauty in other people. It opens our eyes. In Friendship, God has laid before us a magnificent feast, and we are the guests.

Love #3: Eros

This chapter was difficult. First, my mind kept wandering to personal and work related things. Second, Lewis makes many references that I do not understand. One that I did understand was his reference to John Milton. It feels good to understand this. I had to look up many other references such as the poet Lucretius, King Cophetua, Shavian Romanticism, and Charles Williams.

The main thing that Lewis does is clarify the difference between Eros and Venus. Venus refers to the physical act of sex only, in its bestial form. Venus desires only the satisfaction that a woman offers through her sexuality; it does not desire the woman as a whole. On the other hand, Eros desires the woman, simply for being who she is. Eros is an overwhelming desire to “eat” the woman, to be with, not just physically, to merge with her.

Eventually Eros will lead to Venus. The sexual aspect is one part of Eros. Lewis muses about the joke of Eros and Venus. It’s a divine joke that uses something as clumsy as the human body and mixes that clumsiness with something as divine as Eros. I also like how he describes Eros as two lovers that laugh at each other. In Venus, there is no laughter. In Venus, the lovers perform their ritual but do not share glances with each other in bed. In Eros, the lovers laugh at one another. They giggle at the foolishness that brings them together. In public, they think only of one another, and laugh at the comedy of their beloved.

Of all the loves, Eros it the most God-like. God tells us to love our neighbor as he loves the church. Through Eros, we get a glimpse of this divine love, via the love for our beloved. We struggle to sustain Eros with one person. God succeeds to love billions of people. God’s attributes continue to boggle my mind! For humanity, Eros is fickle. This is clear by the unfortunate fact that we see so many divorces. There will be times in a marriage where Eros ceases, and only Venus is present. This is ok for a short time. But it takes humility, grace, and Charity (discussed in the next chapter) to resolve. Finally, Eros like the other loves can become a god, and in becoming a god, thus becomes a demon. When lovers worship Eros, they use it as an excuse. They say, “Love made me do it.” That’s an excuse that places love as god. In Eros, lovers will do anything to be with one another, make any sacrifice. When Eros is idolized as god, God himself is not worshipped appropriately, and love is perverted.

Love #4: Charity

Let me start at the end of this chapter. We do not know exactly what God’s love looks like. We know only that our natural human loves must be elevated to more divine love, to more God-like love. We know that our love must improve, but we don’t know how it should change. I know that something is wrong, but I do not know what that wrong thing is, and consequently I do not know how to improve it. There is a gap between where my current love for God is and where it should be. The first step in filling that gap is recognizing that the gap exists.

And I start with these statements because while reading the chapter, I quickly realized that Lewis’s understanding of God’s love supersedes my own. I did not feel like I could relate to all his statements. The “ah-ha” moments were not as plentiful as during the other chapters, which demonstrates that the gap between my loves and God’s love is greater that Lewis’s gap. I have much to learn about Love. Now that I’ve admitted to understand very little, let me try to explain what I think I do understood.

Humans tend gardens. I understand gardens. We prune and work them so that they can display their true goodness. Without our efforts, gardens would become unruly and cease to fulfill their fullest potentials. In the same way, God prunes people. He does this out of love, so that we can embody our best selves. The best thing that we can hope for is to elevate our natural loves to comparable God-love. I think that’s the big theme of this chapter. God’s love is Charity.

I like the section where Lewis talks about lovelessness. He says that it is better to love lawlessly than to purposefully avoid loving at all. It is tempting to shield our hearts against love, because we know that there might be much pain. To avoid the pain and brokenness that might be associated with love, we are tempted to not love. But sometimes, God speaks to us by breaking our hearts. If God needs to break our hearts to speak, then so be it.

After re-reading the chapter, I think that my overall understanding of the theme is correct. Lewis’s goal is to explain how our human loves can be more like God’s love. However, Lewis admits that since we cannot possibly fully comprehend God’s love, this chapter may fail to be wholly useful. He explains different types of love:

  • Divine Gift-Love from God

  • Divine Gift-Love to God

  • Divine Gift-Love to one another

  • Divine Need-Love for God

  • Divine Need-Love for one another

Charity is Divine Love! I had to read and re-read many times for this to finally click in my brain. But I get it now! Charity loves what cannot be loved naturally. It loves the most disgusting, unattractive, dirty, parasitic parts. That is Charity. That is Divine Love. That is God’s Love. We must seek to transform our natural loves into Charity.

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