Guest post by KG:
And with this, where a better book would begin, mine must end. I dare not proceed. God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love. Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting. Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there. And if I have only imagined it, is it a further delusion that even the imagining has at some moments made all other objects of desire—yes, even peace, to have no more fears—look like broken toys and faded flowers? Perhaps. Perhaps, for many of us, all experience merely defines, so to speak, the shape of that gap where our love of God ought to be. It is not enough. It is something. If we cannot "practise the presence of God," it is something to practise the absence of God, to become increasingly aware of our unawareness till we feel like men who should stand beside a great cataract and hear no noise, or like a man in a story who looks in a mirror and finds no face there, or a man in a dream who stretches out his hand to visible objects and gets no sensation of touch. To know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep. But for news of the fully waking world you must go to my betters.
This quote is found as the last paragraph to the last chapter of C. S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves. It is an unexpected statement that seems to be an open confession, the final word, of a man who has just finished giving a guided tour of what is meant by God’s command to love one another. It is, for sure, an odd way to end a book. I say it is an ‘open confession’ because Lewis’ stated reason for not taking us any further is this: “God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love.” Therefore he cannot be our guide taking us “further up and further in”.
There is something about Lewis’ admission that I have always liked. Admittedly, for me, there is a lot to like in Lewis’ writings. I need to explain. I am by no means a C.S. Lewis expert. The hyperactivity of my youth had not given me much time for interest in reading at all. But when God became a serious pursuit in my life I began reading in earnest. Apart from the Bible, providentially I began reading Lewis’ books. The reason was that on almost every page of most of the books I read I made discoveries that I have blessed God for these discoveries ever since. I have since found along the way of my Christian walk that I have lots of traveling companions. I am not alone in my appreciation of his work.
In regard to the quote under consideration, Lewis explains why he did not go any further than he went is not merely a matter that will be solved by a bit of academic insight. When he says that he fears he may have only tasted this love he goes on to clarify: “Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting. Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached.” At least part of what he seems to be saying is that though a person possesses a great deal of technical understanding of the meaning of ‘love’ both in the biblical and historical senses (which of course he has), it should not therefore be assumed that they are the right sort of person to tell us about what it means. In other words, just because it can be reached does not mean that it has been grasped.
The apostle John does not hold back when it comes to telling us about love. He simply points to Jesus: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 Beyond that, as if he has only partially defined love, John says that the fullest definition comes with an application, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In other words, part of the fuller definition of love is its exercise, both for God and for his children. According to John, loves practical expression is so much a part of its definition, he can go on to make a remarkable observation: “If we love one another God abides in us” (which is startling enough) “and his love is completed in us.” This is truly amazing. As if pointing to Jesus and his sacrifice for our good is not summary enough, it seems that love’s fullest and most complete meaning is found in its practice. We apparently play a part in the fuller description of the love God intends. Exegesis only tells part of the story. I suppose Lewis’ professed hesitancy to go any further into a description of the biblical meaning of love has something to do with the fact that in the end its fullest meaning is found in its expression in our lives. It seems the test of love is how the person expressing it actually relates to saints, scholars and, perhaps more so, how that person relates to rascals.
The real ‘bang for the buck’ for me in this final word to Lewis’ book on love however had little to do with the high calling of God’s love on us and more to do with what bubbled up in me when I read the quote. It should not be assumed that I am trying to finish Lewis’ thoughts after him. Nor that I am attempting to ‘psychoanalyze a dead man’. He says he dare not go any further because he may only be fleshing out his own imaginations rather than describing the complete truth about love as it is laid out in the bible. It was there that I saw not Lewis but myself. Here Lewis had acted on what he feared about himself. Despite his considerable academic strengths he knew he could very well lead himself into mistaking the ‘imagined’ for the ‘real’. Suddenly I saw myself and what I had not been humble enough to fear that I might discover in myself. Years in college and more than adequate grades, reading good books, preparing and delivering thousands of lectures, lessons and sermons, responding to skeptics and giving biblical counsel to saints in need had all led me into imagining that my grasp equaled my reach. In this Lewis quote God t-boned me. (It is because I am such a headstrong disciple God has on a number of occasions, in his sometimes severe mercy, gotten my attention in just this way. It is not unlike the word to king David, “Though art the man.”)
One of the many happy discoveries of following Jesus is that my God is both knowledgeable of my truest condition and dedicated to correcting it. The discovery that Lewis had no doubt made in his own life is no doubt what the apostle Paul had previously discovered about the believers around him. And as a result he passed on to us grateful saints who live now generations later: “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3:15) Yet another reason to give thanks to a God who is good in both his description and his expression.