This is part one of a multi-part review of The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.
The Four Loves: Introduction
In Lewis’ book on the kinds and nature of love he starts the book by distinguishing between Need-love (like a small child for its mother) and Gift-love (like a man working to leave a legacy for his family which he may never see). Lewis had hoped to write the whole book based on this distinction saying essentially that Need-love is bad and Gift-love is good and Christian. What he found, though, was that this is impossible (7).
Lewis points out that while it is true that the Christian’s spiritual health is gauged by his love for God, “Gift-love” for God is the exception. He uses the story of the publican and the Pharisee from Luke’s gospel to make the point. The observation holds, it’s when the Pharisee assumes that his gifts to God, even his grace inspired gifts (he thanks God for making him good) put God in his debt, that he finds himself unjustified before God. Offering God purely “disinterested love” is impossible because spiritual growth includes a growing “awareness that our whole being is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty, yet cluttered, crying out for Him… (9).”
Lewis makes one more very valuable distinction in the chapter. He distinguishes between likeness to God (by nature) and nearness to God by approach. Likeness to God, by nature, is something which every created thing shares to one degree or another. Rocks have being, animals have life, angels have intellect, will, and immorality, mankind has will, rationality, and so-on. Nearness to God by approach is the intentional conforming of the human will to the divine will. Likeness to God is a fact of nature, Lewis observes and can be received with thanksgiving or not acknowledged at all. Nearness to God by approach is what grace enabled creatures must do (11). This is similar to what I’ve written elsewhere about positional vs progressive elements in the Christian life. One of the best observations Lewis makes in the book is that since human beings have the incarnation to look to, “our imitation of God…must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions. (11)”