Faces of Love-Agape

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As we discuss the two presentations of love in The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, we must consider the negative elements of love that Lewis’s presents in both books. Lewis emphasizes that “our imitation of God in this life…must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is Jesus…of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions…the Divine life operating under human conditions.”[1]  He says this to introduce the idea that “love begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” Recognizing this distinction is important to maintain the truth that “God is love” rather than moving toward, “love is God.”[2] As Lewis warns, any of the natural loves can become gods and seem to have the voice of God.

Lewis provides vivid and compelling examples of the complexity of love turned into gods through Orual’s relationships.  Orual’s demons were self-inflicted through her distorted sense of love. Because the gods were silent, she made Friendship, Need-love and in a distorted way, Eros became her gods.  As Ansit revealed, Orual devoured Bardia by demanding his presence through manipulation.  What Orual perceived as a Friendship, was a demon that destroyed her Friend.  In the encounter with Ansit, Orual is surprised to realize her feelings for Bardia are more than Friendship. She loved him, but selfishly. Although the Fox was Orual’s mentor, grandfather, and friend, Orual saw only that she needed him. She wanted him to herself with no regard for his welfare.  The same selfish, all consuming love causes her to rip Psyche’s happiness away.  Need-love dominated everything and destroyed her relationships until some were restored in the end of the story.

There is a striking similarity to both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces in that, the final pages describe Charity [Divine love]  In The Four Loves he returns to the scripture from John which states, “God is love.”[3] In the propositional narrative, Lewis argues that “God as the Creator of nature, implants in us both Gift-Loves and Need-Loves.”[4] Lewis describes the three methods of giving and receiving love as “Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even suffer for God; Appreciative love says: ‘We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.’[5] Lewis admits that “the three elements of love mix and succeed one another, moment by moment… none…except Need-love ever exists alone, for more than a few seconds.”[6]  According to Lewis, through Charity “natural love is taken up into, made the tuned instrument of, Love Himself.”[7]  Similarly, Lewis uses metaphors of caves, silent darkness, rocks, and light to describe Orual’s conversion experience. Orual wanted the God’s to answer her complaint. She wanted them to speak, but after she had voiced her complaint repeatedly, she realized, “The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered.”[8]  Through Orual’s experience, perhaps Lewis helps the reader understand the value of listening to those who doubt or are angry at God. 

Continuing the discussion of Divine love, Lewis argues in The Four Loves, “Thus God, admitted to the heart, transforms not only Gift-love but Need-love; not only our Need-love of Him but our Need-love of one another… natural loves are summoned to become modes of Charity while also remaining the natural loves they were.”[9] God transforms us but does not remove the natural loves. Instead, He changes us to instruments of His love.  The key phrase in Lewis’s statement is “admitted to the heart” not forced or coerced, but admitted. Lewis uses Orual’s elaborate vision illustrate God’s transforming grace. In the vision, Orual realizes that voicing her complaint and being heard is the long awaited answer to the riddle that plagues her.  By accepting the “answer,” she is transformed, her anger fades, and she sees her true self, much as God sees each of us because of Christ’s sacrifice. 

Supernatural Divine Appreciative is the one element of Divine love that Lewis briefly describes in The Four Loves, but he beautifully illustrates in the last pages of Till We Have Faces. In The Four Loves, Lewis writes, “He [God] can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural Appreciative love…here, not in our natural loves…lies the true centre of all human and angelic life. With this all things are possible.”[10] Lewis expresses his inadequacy in discussing this grandest of all loves because he has never “tasted this love.” However, in the last pages of Till We Have Faces, Lewis exquisitely captures Orual’s expression at the sight of Psyche, “Joy silenced me. And I thought I had now come to the highest, and to the most fullness of being which the human soul can contain.”[11] Just moments later Orual speaks of a greater love, “the earth and stars and sun, all that was or will be, existed for his sake. And he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is, was coming. The pillars on the far side of the pool flushed with his approach. I cast down my eyes.”[12]  Here, Lewis guides the reader into an incredible scene through the eyes of the heroine through perfectly chosen words and descriptions. We can almost “feel” him coming as Orual describes the approach, much like a song that evokes the emotion of indescribable beauty.   Once again, Lewis uses the imaginative form to say what he struggles to express propositionally.

When discussing Lewis’s presentations of love in both The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces, it is important to consider possible apologetic implications of Lewis’s use of propositional and imaginative form to address the subject of love. In the 21st century, we are competing with Social Media and other technology which is often overwhelming. When someone can “Google” any topic brought up in a conversation in real time, engagement becomes difficult.  For engagement to occur, Multiple tools are necessary. Just as Orual’s answer from the gods in Till We Have Faces was ultimately voicing her complaint without interruption, many skeptics have a “complaint” against God that we must hear before they will “hear” anything we say. Earlier, Orual fails to understand the miracle of Psyche’s rescue partially because there was “no answer” to her complaint.  She remains full of self-doubt and self-loathing and cannot see the beauty and wonder of Psyche’s new life and love.  During the initial encounter in the hidden palace Psyche wisely stopped the argument when she realized Orual could not understand.   Another skeptic who is struggling with Divine love may need Lewis’s propositional description that Divine love lifts us out of the natural loves and makes us an instrument of His love. Still another may respond best to a combination of rational and imaginative presentation.  Lewis skillfully demonstrates through these two books that there is no “one size fits all” method for describing love or God to a skeptic, and it is important for 21st-century apologists to acquire sufficient tools for the task.

While neither of these books are simple, the underlying message rings true. Love is a complex and multi-faceted subject that cannot be explained in short quotes found on Social Media.  Lewis provides a comprehensive look at the complexity of love through his propositional work, The Four Loves, and his imaginative work, Till We Have Faces.   While both books are engaging and relevant on their own merits, together they provide a more complete presentation of love.  Although these books were written before the Internet age, the metaphorical and descriptive language may succeed in grabbing the attention of those who describe love as love. Lewis’s captivating dialogue in Till We Have Faces mesmerizes even the most reluctant reader.  I can imagine my grandson reading this book with some sort of video game on his mind. The language of myth stimulates imagination which makes the introduction of the propositional descriptions of The Four Loves easier to convey.  In some sense, Till We Faces is like a metaphor of the thoughts presented in The Four Loves.  While Till We Faces primarily illustrates love becoming a god rather than God is love, it ends on the same note as The Four Loves, with a description of Divine love.  Lewis skillfully takes the reader deep inside love, leaving the noise of technology behind so we understand more fully what love is. Understanding love in all its complexity is the beginning for many who are blinded by the current culture. Perhaps the best lesson we can glean from Till We Have Faces is we cannot love God or anyone until we love ourselves.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 126.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 127.

[8] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 288.

[9] Lewis, The Four Loves, 133.

[10] Lewis, The Four Loves, 140.

[11] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 307.

[12] Ibid.