Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.
YouTube has something amazing in relation to this week’s reading: the man himself delivering the radio address upon which the chapter is based. Check out The Four Loves (‘Storge’ or ‘Affection’) (or you can read the transcript). You should at least listen to a few minutes if you’ve never heard the voice of Lewis before.
In this chapter, Lewis discusses the type of love described by the Greek word storge (στοργή). In English we would talk about affection or fondness. Interestingly (at least to me), this Greek word appears only in the negative in the New Testament. In both Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3 the word astorgos (ἄστοργος) is rendered by various translations as “heartless” or “unloving” or “without natural affection.” When your English translation of the New Testament contains the word affection it is probably representing splangxnon (σπλαγχηνον) instead. This doesn’t affect what Lewis says in the slightest. I just find it interesting.
On to what Lewis actually said.
The first thing that stood out to me was a pithy phrase: “They seal up the very fountain for which they are thirsty.” (page 769)
Lewis is speaking about people whose craving for affection is so intense that they push away the people around them. It’s something I’ve seen before, but the imagery Lewis uses is so evocative that it made me realize afresh how tragic it is. More than that, it made me pause and reflect on whether there are any areas of my life in which I am pursuing something so ineptly that I make success less likely with every attempt I make.
The next bit that stood out to me came near the end of the chapter. Lewis makes a point about our tendency to treat affection gone bad as a psychological problem.
I do not think we shall see things more clearly by classifying all these malefical states of Affection as pathological. No doubt there are really pathological conditions which make the temptation to these states abnormally hard or even impossible to resist for particular people. Send those people to the doctors by all means. But I believe that everyone who is honest with himself will admit that he has felt these temptations. Their occurrence is not a disease; or if it is, the name of that disease is Being a Fallen Man. In ordinary people the yielding to them—and who does not sometimes yield?—is not disease, but sin. Spiritual direction will here help us more than medical treatment. Medicine labours to restore “natural” structure or “normal” function. But greed, egoism, self-deception and self-pity are not unnatural or abnormal in the same sense as astigmatism or a floating kidney. For who, in Heaven’s name, would describe as natural or normal the man from whom these failings were wholly absent? “Natural,” if you like, in a quite different sense; archnatural, unfallen. We have seen only one such Man. And He was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed, popular citizen. You can’t really be very well “adjusted” to your world if it says you “have a devil” and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood. (page 778)
As others have said, we live in a therapeutic age. We are conditioned to assume negative thoughts and emotions are psychological problems, but that’s not always true. I remember a quote from Carl Elliott that hit me like a thunderbolt when I was in grad school.
On Prozac, Sisyphus might well push the boulder back up the mountain with more enthusiasm and more creativity. I do not want to deny the benefits of psychoactive medication. I just want to point out that Sisyphus is not a patient with a mental health problem. To see him as a patient with a mental health problem is to ignore certain larger aspects of his predicament connected to boulders, mountains, and eternity. (UPDATE: I forget where I first saw this quote — I thought it was from The Atlantic in an article called “The Pursuit of Happiness”, but it was published too late for that to be the case)
Sometimes negative thoughts and feelings are natural (one might even say healthy) responses to our situation, sometimes they are mistaken but not especially harmful, sometimes they are sinful, and sometimes they are the result of psychological problems. Be open to the full range of possibilities.
Before winding this down, I’d like to highlight one more of Lewis’s insights. Early in the chapter as bit of an aside, Lewis says
The rivalry between all natural loves and the love of God is something a Christian dare not forget. God is the great Rival, the ultimate object of human jealousy; that beauty, terrible as the Gorgon’s, which may at any moment steal from me—or it seems like stealing to me—my wife’s or husband’s or daughter’s heart. The bitterness of some unbelief, though disguised even from those who feel it as anti-clericalism or hatred of superstition, is really due to this. (page 767–768, emphasis added)
Some of your friends who are angry about religion are angry because they are jealous. Your friend is bent — perhaps without even realizing it — because someone’s love for God has created distance between them and your friend. If you’re ever talking about God with someone and you can hear anger in their voice, bear this insight in mind. It might help explain what’s going on.
I’m loving the Lewis readings so far. Next week: the love between friends.
P.S. If, perchance, you are behind on your readings then just skip ahead. Start keeping up now — you can always go back and read the parts you missed later.