Friday, February 20, 2009

A different angle on The Four Loves

I suspected when I wrote "The practical realities of love" that I would be interacting with C.S. Lewis before I was done with the topic. His book The Four Loves is one of the best-known Christian classics on the subject of love. I think the way he organizes the material is helpful but still lends itself to some specific misunderstandings. When we consider romantic love, friendship, or affection, each of these types of love applies to certain people and not others. There is nothing wrong with being a friend to one person but merely an acquaintance to another. When it comes to romantic love, it is positively good to have that kind of love uniquely for one other person and to leave out anyone else from that type of love. These types of love are defined mainly by the type of relationship to which they apply.

The previous post was partly written to move that conversation forward. I wanted to discuss love not so much in terms of the different types of relationships in our lives, but in terms of what the best love involves: what it does and what it attempts to do, its general approach toward the beloved. The core of the previous post was the three lines defining love not in terms of the depth or special qualities of any type of relationship, but in terms of what you might call love's agenda (though "agenda" is such a businesslike term that I preferred "practical realities"):

Love is determined to be a blessing to the beloved.
Love delights in the good found in the beloved.
Love desires fellowship with the beloved.

One of my most basic points is that this type of love applies to everyone we meet. It applies to everyone we know, everyone we speak with, to a romantic interest as well as to the clerk at the sandwich shop. There is no person we can meet to whom this agenda does not apply; God calls us to love all people in this way. This kind of love defines a Christian's interactions with the world.

The conclusion towards which I want to press this is that any of the other types of love named by Lewis – regardless of the category in which we classify that relationship – must contain those elements. Any type of human interaction in our life, whether it seems as a “relationship” to us or whether it does not, becomes less than it was intended to be if it does not contain those things. Rather than seeing different types of love with the core type of "love" changing for each type of relationship, instead we see the unchanging core of God's love applying the same love differently under varying circumstances. So while the type of relationship may vary from the most intimate lifelong treasure all the way to a one time conversation with the shopkeeper we may never meet again, a loving agenda remains fixed and constant in all our interactions with the world. A lesser love in any relationship is a distortion and a failure to love which robs both the people we meet and ourselves of the good we might have had in knowing each other even if for just a moment.

I also consider it axiomatic that we cannot dehumanize someone else without also dehumanizing ourselves. This divine love to which we are called humanizes the people we love in our eyes, and humanizes ourselves in the process of loving


Anastasia Theodoridis said...


Martin LaBar said...

Ouch: "this type of love applies to everyone we meet"

I suppose that it also applies to people we have never met, such as political leaders we are unhappy with, etc.

Oh, my. God help me.

Weekend Fisher said...

Y'know some of the stuff God says sounds so simple, but you try to get to the end of the depth of it and it just keeps going.

My own struggles tend to be with those closer at hand ... I'm so cynical about politics that I don't get too involved in it.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

sportzart! (949) 355-6381 said...

This shows us exactly why we need a Savior.

We have a tough enough time loving those we love...let alone strangers and our enemies.