In the beginning paragraphs of The Four Loves, Lewis provides a good distinction between nearness by likeness and nearness by approach when it comes to our relationship with God. On the one hand, we are near to God because we are all made in his image. He gives us life and our distinctiveness. We can’t change or alter our likeness to Him. “God has impressed some sort of likeness to Himself, I suppose, in all that He has made,” Lewis says. “Space and time, in their own fashion, mirror His greatness; all life, His fecundity; animal life, His activity. Man has a more important likeness than these by being rational. Angels, we believe, have likenesses which Man lacks: immortality and intuitive knowledge. In that way all men, whether good or bad, all angels including those that fell, are more like God than the animals are. Their natures are in this sense ‘nearer’ to the Divine Nature.”
Nearness by approach is altogether different. It’s not passive; it must be instigated and acted upon. Lewis provides a picture to help us. He asks us to imagine we’re on a mountainside looking down at the village where we live. If the side of the mountain weren’t dreadfully steep, we’d be home in no time, but we’re unable to make the climb down. In a sense, we’re very close, but if we stay in the same spot, just looking down, we’ll never make it home. We have to take the winding path down and around. With every step we take, we are moving closer to home.
“What is near Him by likeness is never, by that fact alone, going to be any nearer,” Lewis says. “But nearness of approach is, by definition, increasing nearness. And whereas the likeness is given to us—and can be received with or without thanks, can be used or abused—the approach, however initiated and supported by Grace, is something we must do. Creatures are made in their varying ways images of God without their own collaboration or even consent. It is not so that they become sons of God. And the likeness they receive by sonship is not that of images or portraits. It is in one way more than likeness, for it is unison or unity with God in will; but this is consistent with all the differences we have been considering.”
Lewis continues: “Hence, as a better writer has said, our imitation of God in this life—that is, our willed imitation as distinct from any of the likenesses which He has impressed upon our natures or states—must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions.”
As we concentrate, meditate, and pray into this Lenten season, let’s be conscious of our nearness by approach. It may mean that we combine our study and prayer with reaching out to our neighbor, serving at church, and other actions that give hands and feet to the Gospel.