The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Reviewed by Joshua Stilwell
My relationship with books is similar to relationships with people. I have a pleasant, casual relationship with most of the books I’ve read. They’re nice and we “get along” just fine, but when it comes right down to it, we’re not that close. There are a few books that I’m not on speaking terms with. But let’s not talk about them. Then there is that small collection of books that have become close friends and comrades. They’ve strengthened me in hard times, encouraged me in sad times, and pleased me in good times.
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis is one such book. I disagree with Lewis on many issues and yet he remains one of my favorite authors, largely because of his logical yet relatable style and his incredible grasp of human nature. Both of those qualities are on grand display in The Four Loves.
In typical Lewis fashion, the author spends the first chapter establishing his foundational premises. No one can split hairs like Professor Lewis. He distinguishes between “likes” and “loves”, “need-love” and “gift-love”, “natural love” and “supernatural love”. Though it requires some concentration, the principles articulated in that first chapter will give you pillars upon which to build your view of love.
In the next three chapters, Lewis takes us on a journey into the depths of the three “natural loves” – Affection, Friendship, and Eros (romance). These three loves are common to all people and yet as I read each chapter I was struck by how little I really knew of their inner-workings. I was also struck by how different they are. It seems almost bizarre that in English we put them all under the single heading of “love”.
In each of these chapters, Lewis shows how beautiful and wonderful each of the natural loves can be. But there’s also a severe warning attached to each. Lewis powerfully demonstrates how easy it is to idolize these natural loves. And the moment we idolize them, we turn them into monsters that devour our humanity and rob our joy. When I get to the end of the fourth chapter, I feel a sense of desperation and helplessness as I realize the selfishness that is at the root of so much of what I’ve dared to call “love”.
But just as I’m about to despair, Lewis turns our attention to a fourth love, one that is not natural but divine, pure gift-love, unpolluted by selfishness: Charity (agape). This is the love that God has for us. In this chapter, Lewis shows us how Charity rescues the other loves and allows us to imitate the love that God has shown for us. I always finish reading The Four Loves worshipping God for His incredible, matchless love that far surpasses all my petty attempts at love.
The reason I’m continually drawn back to The Four Loves is because of the incredible light it sheds on human relationships. But mainly, because it reminds me of the overwhelming greatness of God’s “charity” toward me. This book will expose your soul but leave you feeling that it was worth it.
The Four Loves and many other great titles are available in the library of Bethany Baptist Church