Below is one of my favorite passages from the last chapter of C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. I see this chapter as the crown of the entire book; it’s the breadth and length and height and depth that Lewis has been working towards as he describes our experiences of love, both natural and Divine.
One of the most profound and convicting insights from this chapter is the idea that we all have elements that are unlovable (though some of us might be better at hiding them). As Christians, God supernaturally transforms our loves, giving us the ability to love that which repulses us. In Him, we are enabled to “love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.” In other words, He gives us the ability to love as Jesus loved the “sinners and tax collectors”.
Lewis writes that “in reality, we all need at times, some of us most times, that Charity from others which, being Love Himself in them, loves” that which is unlovable in us. Yet, although we need this kind of love from others, it is not really the sort of love we want. Why?
“We want to be loved for our cleverness, beauty, generosity, fairness, usefulness. The first hint that anyone is offering us the highest love is a terrible shock … how difficult it is to receive, and to go on receiving, from others a love that does not depend on our own attraction.”
Still, it must be acknowledged that “we are all receiving Charity” for “there is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved.” Lewis continues that when “admitted to the human heart,” God “transforms” our need-love for Him and our need-love for one another, as well. We are made to need this love from each other. This is the challenge to both our pride and our trust in Him.
I have experienced this pride firsthand and I know how excruciatingly difficult it is to be the recipient of unearned, unasked for love from another person. It’s profoundly humbling. In my opinion, we want to have earned such love because, in the end, we want to think we have some sort of control over it.
I also know from experience that if I can somehow muster enough courage to swallow the false pride and accept their gift of love, it will be tremendously healing, too. Much easier said than done, unfortunately. If we do, if we relinquish all hopes of some sort of control, a “glorious tumble” awaits us, even if it lasts but one glorious moment.
For this tangled absurdity of a need, even a need-love, which never fully acknowledges its own neediness, grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence.
We become “jolly beggars.”
The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced. And he is not sorry at all for the innocent need that is inherent in his creaturely condition.
For all the time this illusion to which nature clings as her last treasure, this pretense that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy.
We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet – or one foot – or one toe – on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf.
The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because we know them to be (in another sense) not “ours.”
Let us surrender ourselves to that “glorious tumble” and trust. Yes, we might get hurt in the process. Yes, we will be humbled into accepting love we did not earn. But, as Lewis wrote earlier in the book,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
If only we’d let loose of the (false) foothold to which we cling and trust Him. Trust Him in receiving unearned love and trust Him in giving that kind of love despite the vulnerability it produces in us. So how can we possibly do this when our wills are so weak and flimsy? How can we release ourselves into the “glorious tumble” of His love?
Paul answers this in his letter to the Ephesians,
” … I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3