Have you ever been in love?
I can still remember the first time: the excitement; the skip in the heart when your eyes catch sight of the Beloved, the deep sense of contentment at being constantly in each other’s company; the belief that you would do anything – give even your life – for this other person. The corrective to these emotions is an underlying insecurity, manifested in the agonising wait for an email or phonecall; the urgent, grieving pain of jealousy in the chest. Lewis would call this ‘Need-love’, which, with its opposite number ‘Gift-love’, he illustrates thus: ‘Need-love says of a woman “I cannot live without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection.’
When we are in love, our emotions can know the full spectrum of highs and lows in the course of a day. No longer are we completely in control of our own mood; that is an authority we hand over to the Beloved, a free gift, the instant we hand over our heart. Before, perhaps our emotions were relatively stable; now, somebody else operates the dial, and can turn the temperature up or down without our consent, intentionally or otherwise, as we sweat and shiver.
This phenomenon is not unique to romantic love. The love we feel for our friends, or members of our family, although different in nature, can affect us similarly. It seems there is a pattern: we care; we get hurt. Parenthood is possibly one of the most intense, powerful, and fierce manifestations of love. To create life and watch it make its own way in the world must leave the parent in a very precarious emotional state. Elizabeth Stone, the author of A Boy I Once knew – itself a revealing book on affection – captured something of this in a quote which I have never forgotten: ‘Making the decision to have a child … is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.’ Perhaps love should come labelled with a health warning. ‘Of all arguments against love’, said Lewis, ‘none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”’
To recall another famous quotation on love, this time from the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’ Lewis counts four: Storge (affection), Phileo (friendship), Eros (romance), and Charity (unconditional love), and discusses them in his 1960 classic book The Four Loves. Ultimately, he says, the three ‘natural’ loves of affection, friendship, and eros, find expression in Charity: ‘We must try to relate the human activities called “loves” to that Love which is God.’
For Lewis, God as Love is the highest form of unconditional love:
‘In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the conception of what I can only call a “managerial” God; a Being whose function or nature is to “run” a universe, who stands to it as a headmaster to a school … God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them … This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.’