In his introduction toThe Four Loves, C. S. Lewis tells us that he originally intended to make a hard distinction between "Gift-love" and "Need-love." The first he perceived as selfless and godly, the second as weak and self-absorbed, and he intended to write the book as a series of praises for Gift-love and criticisms of Need-love.
As the project progressed, however, he realized that man's love for God is nearly always partly (and often exclusively) a form of Need-love. Man depends on God for everything, and because God created the world to depend on Him for its sustenance, human beings themselves need God for their spiritual existence and well-being.
Lewis identifies four types of love (surprise!)—affection, friendship, erotic love, and charity. These aren't necessarily to be thought of as good, better, best, bestest; rather, the first three are intimately related, while the fourth provides meaning and context for all other forms of love.
But what is charity? It's a word that we don't encounter often these days outside the King James Version of the Bible. Charity is essentially transcendent love, the love of God, the love that all others point to and which completes all the others. It is the highest form of love, but Lewis is quick to point out that it doesn't thereby negate the "lesser" forms.
If anything, charity makes affection, friendship, and erotic love more themselves. It moves them beyond ends in themselves to means toward the supreme end of everything: God himself. Not only does it ennoble all loves, charity ennobles us and makes us more truly human by restoring us to our rightful relationship with the God who created us.
The Four Loves addresses the dangers and misconceptions of love as well as its virtues and positive attributes. As so often elsewhere, Lewis states the obvious in startling ways, like when he says the only place to be safe from love besides Heaven is Hell. If you're looking for bland sentimentality and romanticism, look elsewhere: this is pure honesty.
Our culture has enslaved itself to lies about love. It equates erotic love with charity, charity with affection, and friendship with all of them, thus producing people who truly fit in nowhere and are unable to find satisfaction for the very real need for love that permeates every soul. Lewis points us to the God of love, and bids us look no further for true love. Highly recommended!
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