What Is Love?

What is love? Valentine’s Day makes this a pertinent question.  My favorite writer on the subject didn’t get married until he was 58, and even then it was for charitable, not romantic, reasons. 

C. S. Lewis married Joy Gresham in a government office to provide her with British citizenship.  A few months later Joy was diagnosed with cancer, and her condition deteriorated rapidly.  Jack, as Lewis was known by his friends, chose to love and care for Joy.  The feeling between them grew, and nearly a year after the marriage of convenience there was a hospital wedding presided over by a clergyman from the Church of England.  “Till death do we part” was a potent reality.  Joy left the hospital to convalesce.  It was not until this point that she moved in with Jack.  God worked and Joy’s cancer went into remission.  Jack and Joy lived happily for three more years, until the cancer returned and she died.  Jack wept.

C. S. Lewis understood love as no one else whom I’ve read on the subject.  At first this understanding was philosophical and academic.  He wrote The Four Loves, a magnificent work describing the different types of love and their corresponding relationships.  Lewis used Greek words to define each love.  “Agape’ “ is God’s unconditional gift love, exemplified in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  “Philos” is the love between family and friends, called “the milk of human kindness” by Plato.  “Eros” is erotic or sexual love, designed by God to exist between one man and one woman for life.  Finally, “storge’ “ is what we would call “affection”.  It is found in each of the previous three loves, expressing itself appropriately in different relationships.

Lewis’s relationship with Joy demonstrated the truth of his philosophical approach to love. Follow the progression through these Four Loves. Lewis began by showing Joy Gresham God’s kind of love (agape’). His actions were not based on passion or feeling. His decision to marry was something he did for her benefit, not his own. When she became sicker, Lewis continued to show compassion by helping her. The friendship (philos) between Jack and Joy deepened, affection grew (storge’), feelings became stronger. Even though Joy was at the point of death, Jack wanted to marry her “in the eyes of God.” They had arrived at a point in their relationship where they wanted nothing and no one else but each other (eros). They lived together as man and wife and presumably enjoyed intimacy until Joy died.

What is love?  It is indeed a “many splendored thing,” but fundamentally love is a genuine concern for another person.  Love is the commitment to act in the best interest of the beloved, regardless of self-interest.  So, the next time you are attracted to someone, ask yourself:  is this really love?  Then don’t act on the basis of your desire or feeling.  Do what is right, and what is best, for the one you love.

Advertisements