4 Pictures of God's Love
With what can we compare God’s love? C.S. Lewis gives four insightful analogies to picture God’s love.
God’s Love Is More Than Kindness
Before looking at the four analogies, we do well to begin where Lewis begins, explaining that God’s love does not equal “kindness.” Lewis wrote this in the 1940’s, but it might be more true than ever today:
“By Love, in this context most of us mean kindness…Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…There is kindness in love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous [meaning, ‘equal terms’], and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to it’s object…It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than kindness.” (The Problem of Pain, 31-33).
God’s love is (and must be, as we’ll see) more than mere kindness. These illustrations below give a robust glory to God’s love and particularly prove that God's love will take us as we are, but will not just leave us as we are.
Here are the four analogies, in escalating order:
1. An Artist’s Love for a Work of Art
First, God’s love towards us is like an artist’s love for their masterpiece. They labor intensively because they value the creation. Lewis writes,
“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which he will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’ Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even thought it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose asking was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love, but less.” (The Problem of Pain, 34-35).
2. An Owner’s Love for a Pet
Second, God’s love toward us has similarities to a person’s love for their pet. This might seem degrading at first, but the point is that a person goes out of their way to groom, train, and discipline the pet for the pet’s betterment. Lewis explains:
“In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the ‘goodness’ of man: bu the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts. (The Problem of Pain, 36).
Insightful, isn’t it? Lewis then continues on this point:
“We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love, but for less.” (The Problem of Pain, 36).
3. A Father’s Love for a Child
Third, God’s love towards us is comparable to a Father’s love for their child. This is obviously a very biblical idea. But Lewis takes it to show that God’s love in this sense too isn’t mere kindness, but cares deeply about who we are. He writes,
“Love between father and son, in this symbol, means essentially authoritative love on the one side, and obedience love on the other. The father uses his authority to make the son into the sort of human being he, rightly, and in his superior wisdom, wants him to be. Even in our own days, though a man might say it, he could mean nothing by saying, ‘I love my son but don’t care how great a blackguard he is provided he has a good time.’” (The Problem of Pain, 37).
God’s fatherly love isn’t just a feeling of love; it takes action. It must. When a parent cares about their child, it isn’t only in emotion, but action—in care for who they are.
4. A Man’s Love for a Woman
Fourth, and Lewis argues greatest of all, God’s love is comparable to a man’s romantic love for a woman. And again, it isn’t merely a feeling; it’s a love where God loves his people so much, that deeply he wants their good. Lewis explains,
“The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasize is that Love, in its own nature demands the perfecting of the beloved; that that the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care…Love may, indeed, love the beloved when he beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” (The Problem of Pain, 38-39).
“You Asked for a Loving God: You Have One”
God’s love isn’t mere kindness. His love is more robust, wonderful, caring, beautiful than that:
“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one.”
We desire a loving God: we have one. Asking him to not be less involved in our lives, less caring about who we are or what we do, less serious, is not asking for more love, but less.
Lewis, then, brilliantly summarizes and concludes:
[God is] not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to happy in your own way, nor the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes…God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more we are embarrasses by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.” (The Problem of Pain, 39, 47).
Not senile benevolence. Not cold philanthropy. Not mere comfort.
Persistent, provident, precise—perfect love.
God loves us this much.