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Volume 13, Issue 5: Husbandry

The Four Loves

Douglas Wilson

C.S. Lewis was at his shrewd best when he wrote The Four Loves. In that book he addresses affection, friendship, eros, and charity. This classification was built off four different words in the Greek language for "love," three of which we find in Scripture. Now the only place where all four loves may lawfully meet is in marriage, and this is consequently why this book should be read and reread by every husband. The book contains a world of marital edification.

An ethical divide runs through the middle of each of the four loves. In other words, each can be rendered obediently, and each can be twisted and abused. It is not enough to simply "have" the love in question; it is necessary to understand the nature of these loves which one has, and then to apply that knowledge in all wisdom.
Affection is the love we have for the familiar, simply because it is familiar. "Affection almost slinks or seeps through our lives. It lives with humble, un-dress, private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog's tail on the kitchen floor, the sound of a sewing machine . . ."1
Affection can even be coupled with dislike—all that is necessary is predictable familiarity. Affection takes things for granted—it shines at taking things for granted—and this sharply distinguishes it from eros. A man and woman cannot live together without developing a whole series of interdependent affections for one another. When we live together, our emotional lives get tangled up, and this is as it ought to be. It is a design feature.
Friendship stands shoulder to shoulder. "Friends hardly ever talk about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest."2 Friendship needs a third thing, outside the friendship. And here is where the book is filled with wonderful insights about these loves; Lewis goes far beyond mere definition. "That is why those pathetic people who simply `want friends' can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends."3
In marriage, friendship arises from the common interests, some of them fundamental, like bringing up the children, and some of them peculiar to the particular interests of the husband and wife in question—such as music or gardening or books. In every healthy marriage (biblically defined), friendship is a thriving reality.
Eros is not the same as mere sexual appetite. "Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved."4 Lewis refers to the lustful man who says he wants a woman, but strictly speaking, a woman is the last thing he wants. "He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus."5 When a man approaches marriage with the idea that his wife will satisfy his sexual urges, and this is all he thinks about it, it will not be long before he (and sadly, she) discover that this is not the case.
But high-flying eros is not an automatic means to marital happiness either. Eros can be the foundation of adultery, motivated by more complicated forces than just sexual lust, but it is adultery nonetheless.
Charity is the rendering which Lewis gives to the word agape. Many Christians assume that this kind of love is automatically good, but John tells us not to render agape love to the world, or the things of the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Put bluntly, lust can be a type of agape love, depending on how and where it is rendered. Agape demands sacrifice, and the melancholy history of our race shows that men can sacrifice to idols.
Even here, Lewis is tremendously helpful, as well as practical. In discussing charity, he says that it is "dangerous to press upon a man the duty of getting beyond earthly love when his real difficulty lies in getting so far."6 Many husbands need to be schooled in the biblical duties which attend affection, friendship, and erotic love. As he is, he may one day be surprised to discover that the school mistress, the woman standing patiently behind his shoulder as he sought to learn these lessons, is named Charity.
The heart of all proper agape love is to love God in this way. And when a man does so, he discovers that love grows as it is given away. Not only is this the case, but other forms of love grow, as this form of love is given away. A man who loves Jesus Christ more than he loves his wife is by no means short-changing his wife. "By loving Him more than them, we shall love them more than we now do."7

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