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Articol de Valentin Teodorescu
5) Charity (agape)
5.1 The insufficiency of the natural loves
As we saw until now, natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else – which Lewis consider to be the whole Christian life in one particular relation – must „come to help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet”.
He considers that the natural loves are similar to a garden. A garden „will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns”. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does these things to it. When God planted the garden of our nature and caused the flowering, fruiting loves to grow there, He set our wills to „dress” them. Compared with the loves, our will is dry and cold. And until God’s grace comes down, like the rain and the sunshine, we shall use this tool (the will) to little purpose. But its laborious- and largely negative – services are indispensable.
Until now we saw that the loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God, by the fact that they cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise without God’s help: Affection can be distorted „when it becomes a need-love that demands affection in turn, as a right, and thus producing hatred”; Or when, in „living for others”, makes their lives unbearable. Friendship can be distorted when the shared interest is evil; or produces arrogance and isolation when the group becomes an „inner ring”. Eros is like Love Himself, in a reflected form; and therefore more liable than the other loves to corruption, to becoming a sort of religion; the god Eros dies or becomes a demon unless he obeys God.
The conclusion is that, even for their own sake, the loves must submit to God if they are to remain the things they want to be: Affection needs a real disinterested charity for the other if it wants to avoid becoming obsessive. Friendship needs to have charity also as a guarantee that the shared interest will not become egoist and evil, and that it will not produce arrogance and isolation, hurting and neglecting the others. Eros needs charity if he wants to keep his promises, especially when the selfishness appear, or when one or both partners become, at least in some respects, unattractive or unworthy of love.
What is interesting is the fact that when God enters to rule a human heart, though sometimes He removes certain of its native authorities, He often continues others in their offices, by subjecting their authority to His and in that way giving them for the first time a firm foundation. „When God arrives (and only then) the half-gods can remain”
5.2 God as rival to our loves; vulnerability vs. escapism
However, there will be some ca~ will have to choose between God and our affection (especially when these affection relate us to partners who don’t accept God’s authority). As we saw before, the great danger is not that of loving them too much, as it is of loving them idolatrously.
One method of dissuading us from inordinate love would be that of Augustine. After describing the desolation in which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him, Augustine concludes that „it is better to give our hearts to anything but God, because otherwise our loves may lead us to suffering”.
Lewis rejects this way of thinking. Although to his nature that idea seems convenient, not so it seems to his conscience. For him, that appeal is „thousand miles away from Christ”, because His teaching „was never meant to confirm our congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities”. He doubts that there is anything that pleases Christ less. If the prudence and security had been our motivations in life, we would have never started to love God. In this prudential spirit we would have never chosen a friend or a wife. Eros, even the lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love himself than this.
God offers no insurance against heart-break: Christ Himself comes at the end to say „Why hast thou forsaken me?” The conclusion is that „there is no safe investment”. To love at all is to be vulnerable. „Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Wrap it carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; lock it up in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket it will change; it will become unbreakable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” We-shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting and offering them to Him. „If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”
Jane Studdock, before her conversion, reflects very well this withdrawal from love and the vulnerability associated with love: ” Even when she had discovered that she was going to marry Mark, the thought, ‘but I am still going to keep up my own life’, had arisen at once and had never been absent from her mind. Some resentment against love itself, and therefore against Mark, for thus invading her life, remained. She was very vividly aware how much a woman gives up in getting married. This fear of being invaded was her deepest ground not to have a child. One had one’s own life to live.”
On the other side, both Orual and Psyche, the main personages from Till We Have Faces suffer brokenness because they lo ve much. But their sufferance will make them in the end more beautiful and more mature.
And who else can say more than Lewis himself that love makes you vulnerable? Whoever reads the first chapter from A Grief Observed „knows how much he knows about the sufferance in love.
As we already saw, if Lewis is totally for the idea of accepting the risk of loving, in the same time he warns us against the idolatry in love. And he specifies that the danger is not to love someone too much, but „to love somebody too much in proportion to our love for God”.
Of course, he understands that this thought can trouble some people – who maybe are Christians, but cannot feel towards God so warm a sensible emotion as they feel for the earthly Beloved. But Lewis-considers that the question ”Who do we e love more: God or the Beloved?” is not a question about comparative intensity of two feelings. The real question is: whom do we serve, or choose, or put first? It is a problem of will rather than feeling. And we must turn down or disqualify even our nearest and dearest when they come between ourselves and our obedience to God. However, generally, the love for another person will not interfere with our love for God, if both agree that God comes first; But when God is seen as a treat by one person, that person may be eaten by jealousy and hatred.
Probably a good example which can illustrate these ideas is the allegory of the Ghost hunted by his inordinate and obsessive affections, embodied in a Lizard (from The Great Divorce):
Only after the Ghost accepts that the Angel should kill the Lizard could he become a beautiful Spirit, and the Lizard becomes a wonderful stallion. The conclusion is that „lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which arise when lust has been killed”. The „killing” means here not / the annihilation of our affections, as their submission to God. And sometimes this submission is very similar to a killing …
5.3 The love of God
After Lewis made these clarification – regarding the priority of our love for God over our natural loves, and insufficiency of our human loves – he discusses the last love, Charity (agape). Charity is in fact the solution for the insufficiency of the earthly loves. But, as we will see, charity is a supernatural love. We receive this love as a gift from God. And for this reason, we must understand firstly who is the Giver. In that way Lewis begin his „last steep ascent” of his book – The Four Loves –, with God.
God is love. That is the definition of the Apostle John. And God’s love is by definition a Gift-Love. In God „there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give”. His love was the motivation of his creation. God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. And He creates the Universe, already foreseeing „the buzzing cloud of the flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the medial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.” His love is so great that He gave Himself totally to us.
And His love is different from the Gift-loves He has built into our natures.
These human Gift-loves never quite simply seek the good of the loved object for the object’s own sake. They are biased „in favor of those goods they can themselves bestow, or those which they like be st themselves, or those which fit in with the preconceived picture of the life they want the object to lead”. This situation can be seen anywhere: in the love of a parent toward his children, in the love of a lover toward his beloved, and even in the friendship.
But the Divine Gift-love is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved. The human natural Gift-love is always directed to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable, objects to which Affection or Eros or a shared point of view attracts him, or perhaps to those whose helplessness is of an appealing kind. But Divine Gift-love „loves what is naturally not lovable: lepers, enemies, criminals, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.”
5.4 Our Gift-Charity (the Divine Gift-love in us) toward others and toward God
When God enters in someone’s life, He begins to communicate to this person a share from His own Gift-love. As we saw, this Gift-love (Charity) is different from our natural Gift-loves. In that way, we start to love the others like God (and with God), only for their own sake – and even if they are naturally not lovable. We begin also to love the enemies, the morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.
Lewis showed us in the previous chapters of his book (The Four Loves) why our natural Affections (for example our natural loves toward our brothers, children or parents) and our Eros (the love toward our beloved or spouse), are not enough.
Now he st arts to show us the solution for these loves to function „properly”: Charity, the Divine Love in us. As we saw, it is easy to love the other when we are interested in him, when he is lovable, when we need and admire him. Our natural Gift-love functions then very easy. But what happens when the lapses appear (especially as a result of our sinfulness)?
We saw that sometimes the routine and the sin can lessen, or worse than that, destroy or distort our loves. But the divine Gift-live in us will love the other even if they would seem to us less lovable; or even if we would find in them things that cannot be naturally loved. And will help us to restore our natural loves. Because, as we will see in what follows later, when we give, we receive back more than we gave. We „enter then in Joy”.
Finally, by a high paradox- says Lewis –, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself. There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His. But since it is obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts from God, we can – in that sense –, also give them to Him. „What is His by right and would not exist for a moment if it ceased to be His, He has made ours in such that we can freely offer it back to Him”.
From Lewis’ personages, Psyche probably more than anyone else – being in fact a Christ-like image –, shows toward God and others this Gift-Charity. Always she gives, and to anybody – no matter if good or evil; in fact she gives herself for her selfish people until the supreme sacrifice.
5.5 Our Need-Charity toward God and toward others
It is easy to understand that the Gift-love which comes to us by Grace should be called Charity (agape); but it is more difficult to understand also how can a Need-love come to us by Grace, and how can this Need-love be called also Charity. Because when we think to Charity (agape), we have by definition in our mind the idea of giving.
But Lewis argues convincingly that God bestows also two other gifts: a supernatural Need-love of Himself and a supernatural Need-love of one another.
By affirming the existence of the first love – the supernatural Need-love for God in us- Lewis does not try to reject the fact that there is in us also a natural Need-love for us from Creation (as Pascal would say: there is in each of us a void which only God can fill). But he says that Grace gives us- by the supernatural Need-love – the full recognition, the glad acceptance of this natural Need.
The lack of this attitude can be seen in the self-righteous Ghost (from The Great Divorce), who refuses the grace of God, because he does not want (or rather doesn’t support) any charity; he just wants his rights.
Again, the presence of this supernatural Need-love toward God can be seen in Psyche: „the sweetest thing in all my life – says she – has been the longing to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all beauty is coming from”.
But God transforms also our Need-love for one another, giving us a supernatural Need-love too.
This Need-Charity is subtle and interesting.
We all need at times that Gift-Charity from others which – being Love Himself in them – love the unlovable. But this, though a sort of love we need, it is not the sort we want. We want to be loved for our cleverness, beauty, generosity, fairness, usefulness. The first hint that anyone is offering us the highest love of all is a terrible shock. It is very difficult to receive from others a love that does not depend on our own attraction.
However, Lewis considers that there is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children – says Lewis – may be sure that at some times – and perhaps at all times in respect of some particular habit – they are receiving Charity; are loved not because they are lovable, but because Love himself is in those who love them.
To have the supernatural Need-Charity toward others – about which Lewis is speaking here – means for someone to be able to accept with „joy, shameless and gratitude” the others’ Charity toward him.
Lewis ends his book with the observation that the Divine Love in us does not substitute itself for what is natural in us ; our natural loves (Affection, Friendship, Eros), should not be substituted by Charity. Rather they are summoned to become modes of Charity „while also remaining the natural loves they are”.
As God becomes Man in Christ „Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the Manhood into God”, so here Charity ” does not dwindle into merely natural love, but natural love is taken up into, made the obedient instrument of Love Himself”.
Thus, our natural loves can become ways in which God’s love is revealed in us, and through us, to the world.
„All the activities of Affection, Friendship and Eros can in a favored hour become the works of the glad and shameless and grateful Need-love, or of the selfless, officious Gift-lov e, which are both Charity. In everything we do: a drink together, idle chat, a game, a walk, the act of Venus, we should seek not our own.”
Unfortunately, in reality that happens only „in a favored hour”, not all times. Probably no fallen man could live all times so perfect as it should. Yet „the law that our loves must be transformed is inexorable”.
One of the great lessons we understand reading Lewis is that we should never enter in love – in any kind of love – without God, without Christ. Because what we realize is the fact that we cannot trust ourselves, or our partners, given the deep selfishness, self protection and self-sufficiency existent in our sinful natures. But if Christ is in us, and in our partners, and above our relationships, we could have all courage to love; because in Him, everything becomes possible and beautiful. Only when we build upon Him, the True Rock, the house of our life resists. And if we obey Him, following His example, we enter in Joy.
In Desiring God John Piper said that in loving others, in seeking their joy by enjoying them, we love in fact ourselves (by an interesting kind of „pragmatism of affection”). Because when we give joy, we receive more joy in return.
That is the experience about which Lewis speaks in many places, the experience of Heaven, of the Eternal Joy. In heaven there is no ownership. Each soul w ill be there eternally engaged in giving away to all the rest that which it receives. There will be in the end a kind of eternal holy game, in which „every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it”. There will be, as in the end of Perelandra, an Eternal Dance, an eternal, happy and perfect union between distincts, on the model of Holy Trinity (and together with the Holy Trinity). It will be the Dance of Love Himself.
And one of the most astonishing facts is that we can enter even from Earth in this Eternal Dance, when we learn how to always give and receive with grace and selflessness.
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- Hannay, Margaret P. C.S. Lewis. New York; Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1981.
- Keener, Craig. Paul, Women & Wives. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992 .
- Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
- Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
- Lewis, C.S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996 .
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- Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. HarperSanFrancisco: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001.
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- Piper, John, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Portland: Multnomah Pr, 1986.
 M.P.Hannay, C.S.Lewis, 221-223.
 Lewis, The Four Loves, 119.
 Ibidem, 121, 122.
 Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 72-73.
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), 3-6.
 Lewis, The Four Loves, 122- 124.
 M.P. Hannay, C.S. Lewis, 223.
 Lewis, The Great Divorce, 97- 115.
 Lewis, The Four Loves, 125.
 Ibidem, 127.
 lbidem, 128.
 Lewis, The Great Divorce, 25-31.
 Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 75, 76.
 Lewis, Th e Four Loves, 131-133.
 Ibidem, 133, 134.
 Ibidem, 134.
 David Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 111.
 Lewis, C.S . The Problem of Pain, ( HarperSanfrancisco, 2001), 158.