This is the fourth in a new series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.
What is love? Believers and non-believers alike have tried to answer the age-old question, often to little avail. As a Christian, I knew all the right catchphrases: “God is Love,” “Jesus loves you,” “Love is patient, love is kind…”, and so on. But even with these Biblical truths, it can be easy to feel lost. What do these phrases actually mean? Can’t we just look to Taylor Swift songs? How does God’s word translate from abstract concepts to real life?
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis offers the reader philosophical, literary, and Christian perspectives on four different kinds of love, which he calls Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Lewis neither ranks one against another nor presents any of the “loves” as mutually exclusive, but rather, dedicates intense thought to each and shows how God can be present (or misused) in each form.
Lewis starts by describing Affection, which he relates to the love of a mother for her child, or love between old friends. It’s common, comfortable, and familiar– Lewis calls it “the humblest love” (44). Most importantly, affection doesn’t discriminate: a mother will (hopefully) love her child regardless of how he/she looks or behaves, and old friends can learn enjoy each other’s company not from shared interests, but rather, a shared history. Lewis thus calls us to love the “unlovable” with Affection, which expects little in return and can be built on almost any foundation given enough intentionality and time.
Lewis also discusses Friendship. While some may hesitate to compare love between friends to romantic love, or even consider it “a love at all,” Lewis reasons that Friendship is in fact one of the most powerful, even unnatural forms of love (69). Friendship also serves to open our eyes to a bigger world– while Lovers “are normally face to face, absorbed in each other,” Lewis writes, friends love each other by standing “side by side” (73).
Friends are united by “seeing the same truth” (78). Thus, it is only natural that the earliest Christians banded together through it. One must be wary of Friendship, however, when it confines one’s worldview rather than expanding it. Because of their shared interests, friends may come to accept certain behaviors and beliefs as “indisputable,” when in reality, they are harmful or unwholesome. This can create Outsiders and social rifts that may be detrimental to not only the Church, but also society as a whole.
Lewis then moves on to romantic love, or Eros, and spends much of the third chapter dissecting popular interpretations of this form of love. For example, while culture and media often want us to take romantic love extremely seriously, Lewis questions this order. Love is to be fun, even comedic– Lewis references comedies in literature, and even crude sexual jokes that poke fun at romance. The connection between Eros and humor is innate, and when romantic love is taken too seriously, it loses a part of itself. Eros is a gift from God, but Lewis also reminds the reader to not find “an absolute in the flesh” (114). Rather, God allows man to feel devotion to a partner so that he may begin to understand the kind of unity that He desires with the Church.
Lewis ends his work with his thoughts on Charity, or the love of God. All loves eventually point towards this source, Lewis writes, as each of the loves on their own are “not self-sufficient” (133). The love of God is inherently different from all other forms of love. God, “who needs nothing,” loves “wholly superfluous creatures” for the sole purpose of loving and perfecting them (144). God cannot, in fact, be spoken of in the context of love– rather, love should be spoken of in the context of God.
However, the other loves often pose as rivals to Charity in our hearts, rather than bringing glory it. At the end of his book, Lewis calls us to remember the traits found in the love we may experience— selflessness, limitlessness, devotion— and relate them “more precisely” to the source, rather than making them the things that distract us from God (143).
The Four Loves was my first book by C. S. Lewis, and after reading it, I think I’ve become a bit of a fan. He writes with clarity and wisdom, which helps a lot with the integration of secular and non-secular modes of thinking. His tone is also soft and unassuming, which makes any references to God or Christianity seem natural, rather than forced. Overall, The Four Loves is one of those books you’ll probably quote a bunch of times after reading, even if you don’t exactly remember where those quotes came from. It’d be a great read for anyone who’s interested in learning about love, thinking about it from multiple perspectives, or simply enjoying a well-written book by an intelligent, reasonable person. C. S. Lewis is considered a Christian author, but his work is certainly not limited in its scope, and can be appreciated by people from all walks of life.
The Four Loves is available in most Christian bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Four-Loves-C-S-Lewis/dp/0156329301/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472177619&sr=1-1&keywords=four+loves