How We Love
We are to love everyone as followers of Christ, however, it should be obvious that we are not to love everyone in the same way.
When I was a teenager, I remember the heady sense of purity I had in loving women. It was a love that was unpolluted by the tangled demands of the coming together of different genders. It seemed more simple; clear and clean. I thought my motives were completely unselfish, and was developing my own little code of chivalry. How could anything like this be wrong? People who thought lesbians were twisted somehow came across as ignorant – they just didn’t get it, they couldn’t get it.
Then I read this book by CS Lewis on love – The Four Loves, and what he pointed out served as a crowbar that pulled apart the little fortress I was building and revealed the hollows in the stones that I had thought were sturdy and on a solid foundation. (There were several other things I read and experienced that rocked this foundation, but The Four Loves was one of the main ones.) In this book, Lewis writes about the four words used in Ancient Greek that can be translated into English as “love.” They are eros, storge, philia and agape. Eros refers to “intimate love” or romantic love; storge to familial love; philia to the love between friends; and agape refers to “selfless love.” It is very common to mix and match these different meanings of love when we read Scripture, and then carry that over to our present-day understanding of what it means to love one another.
Lewis states in his introduction that when he began writing this book, he was well on his way to elaborating on how there are only two types of love, which he called “Gift-love” and “Need-love.” He was looking forward to elaborating on the good parts of the first and the shortcomings of the second, when he realized that this was an oversimplification. As he’s going through the reasons why he found this to be so, he relays his shock at the paradox that, in at least one sense it is when we are most needy that we come closest to God.
Man approaches God most nearly when he is on one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?
~ CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Introduction, pg. 14
He goes on to mention that it is important to note that there are two things which could be called “nearness to God.”
One is likeness to God. God has impressed some sort of likeness to Himself, I suppose, in all that He has made… But, secondly, there is what we may call nearness of approach. If this is what we mean, the states in which a man is “nearest” to God are those in which he is most surely and swiftly approaching his final union with God, vision of God and enjoyment of God. And as soon as we distinguish nearness-by-likeness and nearness-of approach, we see that they do not necessarily coincide. They may or may not.
~ CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Introduction, pg. 15 [Emp. mine.]
So, what does any of this have to do with how we love even other people in general, much less someone of the same gender?
Lewis points out, above, that we actually come closest, nearest to God when we are least like Him. And it is also possible to love someone like God would, and yet not be actually coming nearer to God in the process. It is possible for me to love another person, even with a love that seems filled with an abundance of excellent qualities, and yet not be growing closer in my approach to and relationship with Jesus. Lewis explains:
St. John’s saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (m. Denis de Rougemont) that “love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god”; which of course can be re-stated in the form “begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” This balance seems to man an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that the God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.
~ CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Introduction, pg. 17
That was the first ripple on the pond…the beginning of the wave of realization for me that it is actually possible for love to be a sin. For this love that I loved and felt was bringing me closer God in likeness wasn’t bringing me closer to Him in nearness of approach.
Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious…
Now it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best, natural condition; when they are what our grandfathers called “pure” or “noble.” This is especially obvious in the erotic sphere. A faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God. Merely animal or frivolous lust will not.
And this of course is what we ought to expect. Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible. It does not become plausible until there is in them a real resemblance to God, to Love Himself…
We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods…
~ CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Introduction, pg. 18-20
These words held up when I compared them with what the Lord has taught us in the Scriptures. (And I hope to get into that on the blog in upcoming posts.) It was really hard to come to grips with what this meant. It led to months and years of grieving, and I’ve written about a little of that in previous posts. It meant a great deal to have a place to go to process during this time, with the help of friends and counseling, etc. In dealing with the weight of these truths, I learned that closed doors do not obstruct open windows…
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.”
~ Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place
Ten Boom puts it so beautifully. The Lord calls us to forgo loving the same gender erotically – and actually anyone of the complimentary gender that we’re not married to – in order to love them eternally – as sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and friends.
Word on the street (and in the offices of several psychologists and psychiatrists) is that doing this will somehow damage an essential part of me. But a conscious decision to set aside one way of loving someone for another does not cause injury to my psyche, nor does it equate to self-hatred.
At the end of Part I of this series, I compared the difficulty in loving our enemies to the difficulty that someone like myself has had in loving someone of the complimentary gender. Some people would balk at that – thinking that the characteristics that comprise agape love are so different from those involved in erotic and romantic love. But I don’t think so – I don’t think that the qualitative is as different as one would think, nor that the qualitative effort it takes to do either is worlds apart. And I get a sense of putting eros on a pedestal above all other loves – even Love Himself – when that dismissal of eros as an exception to be made rather than as a type of love to be yielded to His direction comes to mind.
If you’d like to mull over these concepts further, I’d like to recommend that you read The Four Loves by CS Lewis to learn more as he writes about the differences and similarities between these types of loves, along with storge and philia. His further insights might be of some value.
You can find The Four Loves on Amazon.com:
Or ask for it at one of your local bookstores: