The writer who left the largest impact on the life of C.S. Lewis’ is someone that is little known to most people. When Lewis meets his heavenly guide in the book The Great Divorce it is George MacDonald. Lewis describes his happening upon MacDonald’s Phantastes as a significant point in his journey from atheism to Christianity. For those that are able to read and connect with MacDonald’s writing there is rich treasure to be found therein.
One such treasure is found in Phantastes. The main character Anodos has been traveling through Fairy Land when he comes to a cottage of an old woman. There are four doors in this house which take him to various places. Through one such door he discovers, as he watches unobserved, that the woman he has fallen in love with through his random encounters of her in Fairy Land has already committed her love to a knight he knows to be a better and more noble man then him. He returns to the old woman’s cottage with the pain that comes from losing one you love in love. As he collapses into the old woman’s arms she sings him this song:
O light of dead and of dying days!
O Love; in thy moony maze
O’er the pathless peaks of snow.
But what is left for the cold gray soul,
That moans like a wounded dove?
One wine is left in the broken bowl—
‘Tis—To love, and love, and love.
Better to sit at the water’s birth
Than a sea of waves to win;
To live in the love that floweth forth,
Than the love that cometh in.
Be thy heart a well of love, my child,
Flowing, and free, and sure;
For a cistern of love, though undefiled,
Keeps not the spirit pure.
In the Lewis book The Four Loves we find this same theme:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Both men see that the nature of love is to be vulnerable. To love is to make possible the breaking of your heart. If this risk is not taken then it is not really love. When we look at God’s love we see the same thing. God created human beings knowing that they would rebel. He knew all of the horrible things that we would do in our long history. He even knew that it would require the sacrifice of His only Son. In creating us as objects of His love God was setting Himself up to have His heart broken over and over again. He could have confined it to the members of the Trinity, but in His choice to extend His love outside of Himself He left safe love behind. If you read through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, especially the book of Hosea, you will see a God who is painfully hurt by the unrequited love of his chosen people.
Now it comes to us. Everyone has felt the sting of a broken friendship. You have extended yourself and in the break your heart has been trampled. The same is true of romantic relationships which have fallen apart and marriages which end in divorce. Our first desire is to curl up into a defensive ball and guard our love. Perhaps this is most true in my generation which fears intimacy for the pain which can come from it. We have been let down so many times that we are afraid to love anything or anyone. We plan our exit strategy even before we arrive. The only problem is that when we do so our love begins to die. Unless love flows out it becomes stagnant.
The love of God extends itself, is willing to be hurt, willing to be taken advantage of. To love with God’s love is to love in this way. It is only by God’s strength that we can love like this because it is so difficult, so counter to our natural reactions. But unless we want our love to harden it must be pouring out in to someone or better yet several someones who may let us down.