We hear often that love is patient and kind, not envious or prideful. We hear that human love is a reflection of divine love. We hear that God is love. But how do we understand its work in our lives, its perils and rewards? Here, the incomparable C. S. Lewis examines human love in four forms: affection, the most basic, general, and emotive; friendship, the most rare, least jealous, and, in being freely chosen, perhaps the most profound; Eros, passionate love that can run counter to happiness and poses real danger; charity, the greatest, most spiritual, and least selfish. Proper love is a risk, but to bar oneself from it–to deny love–is a damning choice. Love is a need and a gift; love brings joy and laughter. We must seek to be awakened and so to find an Appreciative love through which “all things are possible.”
169 pages, with a reading time of ~2.75 hours (42,321 words), and first published in 1960. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
John B Jul 29, 2017
“God is love,” says St. John. When I first tried to write this book I thought that his maxim would provide me with a very plain highroad through the whole subject. I thought I should be able to say that human loves deserved to be called loves at all just in so far as they resembled that Love which is God. The first distinction I made was therefore between what I called Gift-love and Need-love. The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing; of the second, that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms.
There was no doubt which was more like Love Himself. Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.
And what, on the other hand, can be less like anything we believe of God’s life than Need-love? He lacks nothing, but our Need-love, as Plato saw, is “the son of Poverty”. It is the accurate reflection in consciousness of our actual nature. We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.
I was looking forward to writing some fairly easy panegyrics on the first sort of love and disparagements of the second. And much of what I was going to say still seems to me to be true. I still think that if all we mean by our love is a craving to be loved, we are in a very deplorable state. But I would not now say (with my master, MacDonald) that if we mean only this craving we are mistaking for love something that is not love at all. I cannot now deny the name love to Need-love. Every time I have tried to think the thing out along those lines I have ended in puzzles and contradictions. The reality is more complicated than I supposed.
First of all, we do violence to most languages, including our own, if we do not call Need-love “love”. Of course language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience. If you begin by flouting it, it has a way of avenging itself later on. We had better not follow Humpty Dumpty in making words mean whatever we please.
Secondly, we must be cautious about calling Need-love “mere selfishness”. Mere is always a dangerous word. No doubt Need-love, like all our impulses, can be selfishly indulged. A tyrannous and gluttonous demand for affection can be a horrible thing. But in ordinary life no one calls a child selfish because it turns for comfort to its mother; nor an adult who turns to his fellow “for company”. Those, whether children or adults, who do so least are not usually the most selfless. Where Need-love is felt there may be reasons for denying or totally mortifying it; but not to feel it is in general the mark of the cold egoist. Since we do in reality need one another (“it is not good for man to be alone”), then the failure of this need to appear as Need-love in consciousness–in other words, the illusory feeling that it is good for us to be alone–is a bad spiritual symptom; just as lack of appetite is a bad medical symptom because men do really need food.