Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review Monday {The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis}

What is love? How do people define it, and How does God reveal it?

C.S. Lewis tackles these big questions in this philosophical nonfiction. I highly recommend it, but you'll have to set aside a chunk of time - it's no afternoon-on-the-beach read. Best digested in small portions, this classic work from the great theologian and diversified word-smith will challenge your long-held notions about friendship, romance, and God from the first page to the last. You may find his style of writing in The Four Loves, as well as all of his theological works, formal and scholarly, but his familiar addressing of the reader breaks that down a bit, as if you were having coffee with the professor while turning the pages.

photo credit: Orange Donkey

In his introduction, Lewis argues for the distinction between Gift-Love and Need-Love, with both as necessary and playing different roles in different relationships - which is where the four loves, Affection, Friendship, Romance (or Eros), and Charity come in.  Gift-Love, he claims, is similar to when a parent is loving a child by meeting his needs, or a husband works to provide for his family. Compared to when God loves us - He give to us, and when we love Him, it is very often the Need that draws us to His grace, peace, provision, and hope. And we are not to be shamed for filling any of these giving or needing types of loves. Both are necessary, and one is not greater than the other in us, as demonstrated in this quote:
It would be a bold and silly creature that came before its Creator with the boast "I'm no beggar. I love you disinterestedly." Those who come nearest to a Gift-love for God will next moment, even at the very same moment, be beating their breasts with the publican and laying their indigence before the only real Giver. And God will have it so. He addresses our Need-love: "Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden," or, in the Old Testament, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it."
Another distinguishing paradox Lewis noted is that while God is Love, we must not be deceived into making Love our god, in which case, it would then become a demonic idol. He quoted M. Denis de Rourgemont more succinctly as saying, "love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god."

The first category of love addressed is Affection, or the most common, basic, humble satisfaction that comes from being together with another. It can be mixed among the other loves, but doesn't need to be. I like his explanation and can relate to this:
But Affection has its own criteria. Its objects have to be familiar. We can sometimes point to the very day and hour when we fell in love or began a new friendship. I doubt if we ever catch Affection beginning. To become aware of it is to become aware that it has already been going on for some time.
The second love, Friendship, Lewis claims, is the rarest form because it is least necessary for survival. And, also, perhaps because it is the form that comes with several dangers, namely inadvertent elitism (or the appearance thereof to outsiders), and misunderstandings of homosexuality (since our present post-modern society does not condone forms of previously accepted, same-gender affection such as kissing or embracing, as they had in the ancient world). But Friendship, he argues, is the least jealous of the four Loves (as long as all who are involved are kindred souls), and also the least biological (though not altogether un-biologically useful). To me the most striking element of Friendship Lewis points out would be:
In a circle of Friends, each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself ... It is an affair of disentangled, or stripped minds. Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.
And also:
 It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

As much as I adored and agreed with those points there, I abhorred and disagreed with his claim that men and women (particularly among groups) cannot be Friends. In an uncharacteristically sexist rant, Lewis claims that women only converse in "endless prattling 'Jolly' [which] replaces the intercourse of minds," and quotes one women, therefore stereotyping all women as having her equally manipulative agenda, as saying, "Never let two men sit together or they'll get talking about some subject and then there'll be no fun."

Do you ever have those moments when you wish you could go back in time and apply duct tape to someone's (or your own) mouth so she wouldn't just go ahead and ruin it all for everyone? Yea - that's me with this gal. Ugh. That Lewis draws his conclusions about women and mixed friendships from her infuriates me, so it's a good thing I like pretty much all of the rest of the book and his other writings, preventing me from dismissing him altogether on this one.

Lewis redeemed himself (or shall I say, Christ redeems him) in the Eros chapter, and especially this distinction between it and mere sexual desire, which he calls Venus:
Sexual desire [Venus], without Eros wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved.

He also offers this particular distinction of Venus, which points to our current societal problem of human trafficking and prostitution from the perspective of demand:
...we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he 'wants a woman'. Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. [emphasis mine]
The author makes a convincing argument that just as Eros is not all about sex, so it is neither all about happiness:
For it is the very mark of Eros that when he is in us we had rather share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on other terms.
Finally, Lewis addresses Charity as the final, and crucial element of all Love.  This love from God, through God, by God and in God alone is truly what makes the other loves viable in the human heart. We must permit God to love us first, and also put Him first among our Beloveds, lest [oh gosh - I really have been reading quite a few classics lately] we make Love our god rather than Jesus Christ Himself.   Nonetheless, the risk of loving another and getting hurt is still worth the Charity in us God intends. We were made to love God and other people, regardless of the peril we face in doing so.
The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. ... If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.
This post has been full of quotes, so I'll offer only one more about Charity - as initiated by God through the Cross, and as demonstrated as our model of loving Him back, as well as extending love to others who may or may not be deemed "worthy" of any of our love:
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing...the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against  the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves. [emphasis mine]

Shew! Is it worth the read after all that? Oh yes! I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of deep-thinking analysis on this element which makes us above all human, as described and eloquently detailed in The Four Loves. I highly recommend it to anyone curious about feelings, actions, words, and theories about love and God. You won't regret the hours it takes to sort through this short book and its delightfully profound insights. If your soul has muscles, this book is a weight machine for your soul. When you finish, you will feel the vitality of strength pulsing through you. Even if you don't agree with all of his arguments, Lewis does what only few writers can: he takes the truth which has only been in the recesses of your thoughts, makes it his too, and then displays it on the page with woven words and paragraphs.

Happy Reading, Friends!  I LOVE you. *wink*


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