Before there was Lewis’ radio talk on four different kinds of love, produced by the BBC in 1958 (the only audio that we have still remaining of Lewis himself), and the subsequent publishing of The Four Loves in 1960, we have a reference in his letters about his thoughts on love, based in the Scriptures.
In a letter to Mrs. Johnson dated Feb. 19, 1954, Lewis says, “Charity means love. It is called Agape in the N.T. to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storge (family affection) and Philia (friendship). So there are 4 kinds of ‘love’, all good in their proper place, but Agape is the best because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances… I can practise Agape to God, Angels, Man & Beast, to the good & the bad, the old & the young, the far and the near.”
He goes on to mention Paul’s passage in I Corinthians and how Jesus said that what we do for the least among us, we do for him. “Agape is all giving, not getting,” Lewis says. “Giving money is only one way of showing charity: to give time & toil is far better and (for most of us) harder.”
To give up ourselves is perhaps the most difficult. Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” It is this agape love that we are called to participate in, but as with Aslan, our safety is not promised, not as the world defines it. In 1958, when Lewis does have his thoughts fully down in The Four Loves, he offers helpful insights into love. Among them is the risk we take in loving. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” he says. “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.”
And the Christian life is one of paradox, caught in the assurance of God’s ever-presence and a constant stroke of varying vulnerability. We want to believe; we want to surrender; we want to love; we want to unpack ourselves and put on the whole armor of God. And then we return to his February 1954 letter. “Yes, I know one doesn’t even want to be cured of one’s pride,” Lewis says, as we return to his 1954 letter, “because it gives pleasure. But the pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch: but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard we shall want the pleasure of self-approval: but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither, but have everything else (God, our fellow-humans, animals, the garden & the sky) instead.