Ah, love. December is the most popular month for wedding engagements—at least that’s what I’ve been told. Because I’m not yet married, you might find my theology of love to be discredited. Lack of experience and knowledge, etc. But I think C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Today marks 50 years of celebrating his life because it is on this day 50 years prior that he was welcomed by Love himself into an eternity of self-forgetful loving, living amongst friends whom he loved, and alongside a woman he loved on earth—and surely loves more fully now. C.S. Lewis authored a well-known (less-read) book entitled The Four Loves. In his book he discusses different relationships humans have and the love revealed in them:
- AFFECTION: family, take-for-granted, have-to-love-them, can’t-be-rid-of-them, -type of love.
- EROTICISM: spousal, romantic, erotic, reciprocal, physical, face-to-face, -type of love.
- FRIENDSHIP: un-biological, goal-focused, dialogical, shoulder-to-shoulder, -type of love.
- CHARITY: self-giving, un-demanding, elected, -type of love.
A summary, though tempting is not my intent today. Nor a list of the most insightful things he says. Instead, read the book yourself. Rather, I want to propose a correction of my own view of love, and maybe yours as well—of the four, I have experience in three (and a half).
Common (mis)Understandings of Love
There are two common misunderstandings of what love is—one by the loved of God and one by lovers of others.
False Love of Others. “Do what makes you happy,” “Comment on this post if you love me,” “I loved you until you stabbed me in the back, [profanity],” “Sometimes it’s just the memories you miss, not the person,” “Let them go, if they love you, they’ll come back,” and on… and on… and on… One benefit social media brings is the recognition of maturity: back when we were teenagers, we were social thespians and our world was as small as high school grounds; but we are no longer there—hopefully. The sad reality is that the drama doesn’t end when the digits reach 20: it won’t take long listening to popular radio before the artist cries about how their love has betrayed them, about the way their lover makes them feel, about revenge, regret, despair, anger, happiness, one night, a whole life, or a thousand years. And of course there’s the new track with some of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard including, “But last night I feel like probably ended all that/ Cause by now she woulda sent a text in all caps/ Then another one tryna take it all back/ Saying f*** you, I miss you or I hate you so much/ Cause girls only say ‘hate you’ to the guys that they love’ and 'I never cheated (I mean, maybe once, twice).'"
It doesn’t take a sociologist to recognize that expectations of love aren’t being met. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the expectations are for undemanding, unremitting pleasure. It doesn’t take a pessimist to see its impossibility in a fallen world with depraved humans.
False Love by the Loved of God. On the face, this false conception is multitudes more admirable: instead of being entirely focused on what the other person can give me. It sources its definition in the love of God for humanity: entirely undeserved, continually loving—even when wronged. In essence, it’s exactly what the former persons long for—as evidenced in once-CCM artist become pop star Katy Perry’s song “Unconditionally.” It is common for Christians to define love as ‘pursuing the good of another at my own expense.’ It is common to imply and explain that ‘love hurts’ and ‘true love sacrifices all of my desires for the good of another.’
Sometimes! But not always. And if it was always, we’re in for a distressing sort of eternity: when and where our desire is out of joint with the good of another. Christian, do you mean to tell me that my desires cannot be for the good of another? Do you mean to tell me that love isn’t pleasurable? I would say you’ve forgotten there is something greater than grace. I’d say you’ve forgotten God’s intra-trinitarian love. I’d say you’ve forgotten what the new creation will be like.
Back to Lewis… and Others
C.S. Lewis recognizes that to love at all is to tempt pain; if you fear pain, wrap your heart safe and secure and hide it from everyone at all costs. Lewis experienced that pain deeply. But he also recognized the temporary threat and sensation of pain is worth the joy that comes before, after, and all through it. You see, love is only self-denial when our selves are contrary to love. “Deny yourself, and take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus spoke. But what if your self already had the beam on your back, walking to Golgotha? What if your desire was for the glory of God and the good of others—would love then be not doing what you want? That makes no sense. John Piper collapses desire and worship when he says, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” Is love madness? Shakespeare seems think that love without prodigality is not love at all, and that love should not be tempered—only received by another. Love accepts the grace of God, and offers it to others… but one day, in the eternal day, will there be need for grace? Or will you be loved perfectly and love perfectly? Will you have selfish desires or selfless desires or self-forgetful desires? The point of this post is to say that one day they will all be the same…
Without regard to yourself [self-forgetful] you will give of yourself [selfless] and experience the greatest joy [selfish.]
As you prepare for eternity today, may your affective love find joy in desiring good for family, and having the good realized; may your erotic love find joy in desiring good for your lover, and having the good realized; may your friendly love find joy in desiring good for your friend, and having the good realized; may your charitable love find joy in desiring good for your recipient, and having the good realized.
Blend desire with perfection.