Safety in Love?
The idea for the title came from a striking line in Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, which reads, “The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”1
The only safe place from the danger of love is Hell. Lewis’ thoughts might bring to mind my previous post, where we looked at the connection between a focus on self and Hell. The key idea we considered was that when I take God’s place at the center of the universe, my perspective on the world becomes warped. Because I cannot see reality clearly, I continue to believe the lie that the world revolves around me. As a result, I attempt to extend my kingdom rather than God’s kingdom. These ideas flowed from a statement in Sheldon’s Vaunaken’s A Severe Mercy:
We saw self as the ultimate danger to love, which it is; we didn’t see it as the ultimate evil of hell, which it also is.2
If we take Vanauken at his word, love and hell would seem to be polar opposites. Apparently, our view of self will either feed love or hell—but not both. Is this suggestion accurate? Is there truth to Lady Antebellum’s advice to use our hearts as a compass?3 Honestly, I would love it (pun unintended) if this were so. If following love provides the way to find the good, true, and beautiful, then life just got easier. After all, I’d have an internal point of reference from which to evaluate life decisions.
It’s at this point, though, that a red flag goes up. An internal point of reference? That sounds suspiciously like the focus on self that characterizes Hell. Lewis also sees this tendency and reminds us that, “The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less than that: but also no more—proximities of likeness which in one instance may help, and in another may hinder, proximity of approach.”4 That is, our loves can resemble God’s love, but this does not guarantee that they will actually help us live like Christ. As Lewis points out elsewhere, the statement God is love does not work in reverse. We get into trouble when we say that love is god.5
If our love then is to be an image of God’s love, what will that look like? The potential answers to this question are many, but I would suggest one facet as a good starting point: sacrifice. Paul explains and calls us to emulate Christ’s sacrificial love when he writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)6 Christ presents the challenge a bit more bluntly when he reminds us that, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
Sacrifice, humility, losing life—none of these would have been where I would have consistently ended up if I was following my loves. But that consistent willingness to sacrifice ourselves for God and others is part of what makes love, love. Lewis famously puts it this way:
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.7
And now we have come full circle. Hell would have me look to myself for all direction and meaning. It will even attempt to co-opt my natural loves into becoming a stand in, should I not be comfortable with saying that I’m at the center of the universe. What it misses though, is that love is centered on sharing and giving up myself. There is no room for me to follow those demands merely when I feel like it.
How should we apply and live out these thoughts? My hunch is that it will look a bit different for each of us. However, I think there is a principle here to point us in the right direction. If love opposes Hell’s call to focus on self, then perhaps we can begin by asking where my life centers on me. Odds are, the answer to that question will also be the next area where we can focus on loving those around us. It won’t be easy, and it will most likely hurt—but we weren’t called to an easy and pain free life. We are called to follow Christ.
Is there an area of your life where you could increase your focus on others? What would this look like?
How do we recognize whether our loves are pushing us closer to God, or trying to be gods themselves?
2. Sheldon Vanauken. A Severe Mercy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992). 37.
3. Lady Antebellum. Compass. Capitol Records Nashville, 2013.
4. Lewis. The Four Loves. 9.
5. Ibid. 6-7.
6. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
7. Lewis. The Four Loves. 121.