Monday, November 18, 2013

Books Like Whoa: The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (Jesus Corner)

Let's start with one of Jack's books that has impacted my thinking the most directly:



The Four Loves
by C.S. Lewis

This book was originally published in 1943. 

Unlike many of Jack's books, I did not read this one in the infancy of my faith. I read it once I well along the road... and I didn't technically read it. I listened to it. As it was narrated. By C.S. Lewis himself. Bam!

The Four Loves has profoundly impacted the way I think about many things: the purpose of parenthood, the nature of family, the beauty of friendship. But the passage that touches me most deeply comes near the end when Lewis describes the risks of love:


"In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10). Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one's heart to anything but God All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

Of course this is excellent sense. Don't put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don't spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as 'Careful! This might lead you to suffering.'

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground - because the security (so to speak) is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife of a Friend - if it comes to that, would you choose a dog- in this spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves, before one thus calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love himself than this.

I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St. Augustine's Christendom than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up. It is closer to Stoic 'apathy' or neo-Platonic mysticism than to charity. We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he 'loved.' St. Paul has a higher authority with us that St. Augustine- St. Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that he ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died (Phil 2:27). 

Even if it were granted that insurances against heartbreak were our highest wisdom, does God Himself offer them? Apparently not. Christ comes at last to say, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?'

There is no escape along the lines St. Augustine suggests. Nor along any other lines. There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. 

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason 'I knew thee that thou wert a hard man.' Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it." (pp. 120-22)

This passage pierces my soul, because it speaks to my own condition so pointedly. I want to keep my heart locked up. I don't want to gamble. I don't want to risk my love and sanity for the sake of others. It would be easy to pass off that kind of safety-first approach as holy work of saving my heart for God, but Lewis will not allow that kind of hypocrisy. The life of Christ, if nothing else, is one of reckless love.

This is a beautiful, small book that is a great entry point for Lewis' work, for those who have not yet delved into his oeuvre... it's also one that hold up to rereading. I reread it at least once a year, and I never fail to be touched and challenged by it. 

Rating:

7 - I will have to seriously reevaluate any friendship or romantic interest that does not like this book: a favorite 

No comments:

Post a Comment