Doctrine: There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. ~George MacDonald~
I have written before about “true love.” If you haven’t read those blogs you can certainly read this one and be fine without the others. But, if you’re interested in the prior, please click here.
True Love and How to Get It: Part Three
I was reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis this week (for probably the third or fourth time) and was particularly impacted, on this particular read-through by chapter 11. It might be easy to get confused by the title of this book without knowing what it’s about. The title however was chosen as an antithesis to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. C.S. Lewis’s title is a play on Blake’s title and makes the point that no such marriage is possible. That in fact, at some point in all of our lives (and in God’s over-arching plan) there will be nothing less than a final great divorce between heaven and hell.
George MacDonald, Lewis’s primary inspiratory and muse said:
No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it—no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.
And, it is upon this that I will begin my thoughts.
True love IS heaven. God IS love. And, not only is He the definition of love and the embodiment of love, but He is the teacher, author, and example of perfect, true love. We cannot even begin to conceive of true love without loving its Author.
So, taking George MacDonald’s words, we might make any number of translations using the word love.
- There is no true love with a little of selfishness in it…
- There is no true love with a little lust in it…
- There is no true love with a little illegality in it…
- There is no true love with a little immorality in it…
And so on.
As selfishness, lust, criminality, and immorality (among other things) are all pieces of hell, we cannot ever expect to find true romantic love, true motherly love, true fatherly love, true friendship love, etc., if we are determined to arrive at and achieve such with a “little of hell,” in whatever type of form it may take in our particular lives.
Society would argue that all love is good. And, perhaps they might be right, in a manner of speaking. But, I would correct them by saying, “All love starts out good, but it may not end up good;” and George MacDonald and Lewis would, I believe, back me up. And my reasoning is that because God is the source of true enduring love (of all kinds), any exercise of love that does not lead us to love Him and convert us to follow Him, is essentially polluted. Polluted love is love that is attempting to be true while also fettered with a bit of hell. And as such, that polluted love cannot last. It cannot endure, and it will in fact eventually be shaken by some hellish variable. Polluted love cannot achieve a fullness because it loses power when is ceases to lead us to the source of true love—God. It ceases, in fact, to be love at all and begin to be a form of eventual hell.
Moroni 7:13-14 instructs us very clearly:
…that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every [love] which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
Alma 41:10 reminds us that, “wickedness never was happiness.”
Doctrine and Covenants 132:5, 13-14
For all who will have a blessing, [or love], at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing [or love], and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.
For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.
True love is, in other words, the only real love; and anything else becomes merely a temporary state of mind. Which, because of its temporary-ness and lack of “real-ness” is why it is eventually lost or corrupted and becomes hellish. This descent into hellishness may take minutes or years, but it will happen, if it is not real and true.
George MacDonald, as C.S. Lewis’s Teacher, in The Great Divorce says:
Hell is a state of mine-ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind-is in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is a reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis observes a ghost who is visiting sort of a place between heaven and hell. It’s like a ghost on a “holiday from hell.” This ghost is a woman, who in her mortal life lost a son to death. And, her idea of motherly love (in both life and now in death) has ended up being an obsessive, selfish love. She, who believes she has loved truly, is deceived in her ideas of true love.
In this in-between place, a messenger of sorts, a Bright Person, comes to teach her so that if she is willing to re-educate herself on what true love is and accept it, she can go on to heaven and be with her son again.
ONE OF the most painful meetings we witnessed was between a woman’s Ghost and a Bright Spirit who had apparently been her brother. They must have met only a moment before we ran across them, for the Ghost was just saying in a tone of unconcealed disappointment, “Oh … Reginald! It’s you, is it?”
“Yes, dear,” said the Spirit. “I know you expected someone else. Can you … I hope you can be a little glad to see even me; for the present.”
“I did think Michael would have come,” said the Ghost; and then, almost fiercely, “He is here, of course?”
“He’s there-far up in the mountains.”
“Why hasn’t he come to meet me? Didn’t he know?”
“My dear (don’t worry, it will all come right presently) it wouldn’t have done. Not yet. He wouldn’t be able to see or hear you as you are at present. You’d be totally invisible to Michael. But we’ll soon build you up.”
“I should have thought if you can see me, my own son could!”
“It doesn’t always happen like that. You see, I have specialised in this sort of work.”
“Oh, it’s work, is it?” snapped the Ghost. Then, after a pause, “Well. When am I going to be allowed to see him?”
“There’s no question of being allowed, Pam. As soon as it’s possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit.”
“How?” said the Ghost. The monosyllable was hard and a little threatening.
“I’m afraid the first step is a hard one,” said the Spirit. “But after that you’ll go on like a house on fire. You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.”
“Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing? This is hardly the moment… and from you, of all people. Well, never mind. I’ll do whatever’s necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy. I’m quite ready.”
“But, Pam, do think! Don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.”
It’s interesting to note the point the Bright Person makes. Love for anyone should lead us to love God “for His own sake.” True love is not to love God as a means only to get to love the people we want to be with. True love is to love God first. Then, and only then, can our love for others become unselfish, chaste, legal (in both the mortal and eternal sense), and eternal.
We so often cast off our love of God in an attempt to save our relationships with others, only to find that they never flourish. Some relationships may die, initially, when we decide to love God first. But, we will find that in the long run, they will rekindle or transform into something far greater than the quality of relationship/love we initially tried to save—by casting God aside.
The account continues:
“You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.”
“You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer. No, listen, Pam! He also loves. He also has suffered. He also has waited a long time.”
“If He loved me He’d let me see my boy. If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn’t going to say anything about that. But it’s pretty hard to forgive, you know.”
“But He had to take Michael away. Partly for Michael’s sake. . . .”
“I’m sure I did my best to make Michael happy. I gave up my whole life….”
“Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. Sometimes this conversion can be done while the instinctive love is still gratified. But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac. (Ask your daughter, or your husband. Ask your own mother. You haven’t once thought of her.) The only remedy was to take away its object. It was a case for surgery. When that first kind of love was thwarted, then there was just a chance that in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow.”
“This is all nonsense-cruel and wicked nonsense. What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature.”
“Pam, Pam-no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.“
“My love for Michael would never have gone bad. Not if we’d lived together for millions of years.”
“You are mistaken. And you must know. Haven’t you met-down there-mothers who have their sons with them, in Hell? Does their love make them happy?”
“If you mean people like the Guthrie woman and her dreadful Bobby, of course not. I hope you’re not suggesting. … If I had Michael I’d be perfectly happy, even in that town. I wouldn’t be always talking about him till everyone hated the sound of his name, which is what Winifred Guthrie does about her brat. I wouldn’t quarrel with people for not taking enough notice of him and then be furiously jealous if they did. I wouldn’t go about whining and complaining that he wasn’t nice to me. Because, of course, he would be nice. Don’t you dare to suggest that Michael could ever become like the Guthrie boy. There are some things I won’t stand.”
“What you have seen in the Guthries is what natural affection turns to in the end if it will not be converted.”
“It’s a lie. A wicked, cruel lie. How could anyone love their son more than I did? Haven’t I lived only for his memory all these years?”
“That was rather a mistake, Pam. In your heart of hearts you know it was.”
“What was a mistake?”
“All that ten years’ ritual of grief. Keeping his room exactly as he’d left it: keeping anniversaries: refusing to leave that house though Dick and Muriel were both wretched there.”
“Of course they didn’t care. I know that. I soon learned to expect no real sympathy from them.”
“You’re wrong. No man ever felt his son’s death more than Dick. Not many girls loved their brothers better than Muriel. It wasn’t against Michael they revolted: it was against you-against having their whole life dominated by the tyranny of the past: and not really even Michael’s past, but your past.”
“You are heartless. Everyone is heartless. The past was all I had.”
“It was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with a sorrow. It was Egyptian-like embalming a dead body.”
“Oh, of course. I’m wrong. Everything I say or do is wrong, according to you.”
“But of course!” said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled. “That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.”
It’s again interesting to see Pam trying to prove her true love by her obsessive actions. And yet, her actions showed her lack of love toward her husband and daughter. She obsessed about her lost son, Michael. Obsession is not love. It is destructive to both the obsessor and the object of the obsession. Both die under its influence. It leads a person to make an idol of the obsessed which they place before God and never reach Him, or the love of Him at all.
The account continues:
“How dare you laugh about it? Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don’t care about all your rules and regulations. I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.”
“He will be, Pam. Everything will be yours. God himself will be yours. But not that way. Nothing can be yours by nature.”
“What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?”
“And where is your own body now? Didn’t you know that Nature draws to an end? Look! The sun is coming, over the mountains there: it will be up any moment now.”
“Michael is mine.”
“How yours? You didn’t make him. Nature made him to grow in your body without your will. Even against your will . . . you sometimes forget that you didn’t intend to have a baby then at all. Michael was originally an Accident.”
“Who told you that?” said the Ghost: and then, recovering itself, “It’s a lie. It’s not true. And it’s no business of yours. I hate your religion and I hate and despise your God. I believe in a God of Love.”
“And yet, Pam, you have no love at this moment for your own mother or for me.”
“Oh, I see! That’s the trouble, is it? Really, Reginald! The idea of your being hurt because . . .”
“Lord love you!” said the Spirit with a great laugh. “You needn’t bother about that! Don’t you know that you can’t hurt anyone in this country?” The Ghost was silent and open-mouthed for a moment; more wilted, I thought, by this reassurance than by anything else that had been said.
Pam’s (the Ghost’s) next tactic is to make God the problem by saying He isn’t a god of love if He doesn’t let her have Michael on her terms. Because He’s IS love, she feels God shouldn’t have terms for the eternal relationship with her son that she so desires. She forgets of course that her kind of love is not true and thus would only continue to drive away those she so desires to have. Such love cannot, and will not ever be, a part of heaven. Only by submitting to God’s terms of love, true love, could Pam ever even begin to hope to have her loved ones, especially Michael, forever.
We so often do this in our lives. We demand God allow us to love whom and how we wish on our terms which may, or may not, be very close to His terms. Then, when such relationships struggle we either blame the other person or God. We rarely take the time to look at ourselves and evaluate the terms upon which we were trying to retain the love we sought. We rarely see where we were determined to keep a little hell in our heaven.
The account continues with Lewis having a discussion with his Teacher (George MacDonald) about this discussion between Pam (the Ghost) and her Bright Person (her brother Reginald):
“Come. We will go a bit further,” said my Teacher, laying his hand on my arm.
“Why did you bring me away, Sir?” said I when we had passed out of earshot of this unhappy Ghost.
“It might take a long while, that conversation,” said my Teacher. “And ye have heard enough to see what the choice is.”
“Is there any hope for her, Sir?”
“Aye, there’s some. What she calls her love for her son has turned into a poor, prickly, astringent sort of thing. But there’s still a wee spark of something that’s not just her self in it. That might be blown into a flame.”
“Then some natural feelings are really better than others-I mean, are a better starting-point for the real thing?”
“Better and worse. There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.“
“I don’t know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they’d say I believed in total depravity: they’d say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They’d call me . . .”
“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.
“But could one dare-could one have the face-to go to a bereaved mother, in her misery -when one’s not bereaved oneself? . . .”
“No, no. Son, that’s no office of yours. You’re not a good enough man for that. When your own heart’s been broken it will be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what’s been unsaid among you this many a vear: that love, as mortals understand the word, isn’t enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.”
“The saying is almost too hard for us.”
“Ah, but it’s cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester.”
“Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart’s affections.”
“I doubt if he knew clearly what he meant. But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.
This part, where Lewis is pondering and evaluating what he saw (between Pam, the Ghost, and Reginald, her Bright Person) with help from his Teacher, is very interesting. Where we all might be want to condemn lust above misguided natural loves, MacDonald shows that, the higher a natural love the easier we find it to justify as true, or pure. How many people justify away their chastity by the high nature of being in love because it is, often, such a high level of natural affection. And yet, by itself is it not true or pure once it goes on for its own sake instead of for God’s sake.
MacDonald says, very clearly that it is difficult to justify lust and call it godly, or make a religion out of it. And, even today with lust being more acceptable, I don’t think anyone still dares call it “godly,” though they may worship it, to an extent. But, today we dare to call fornication (of all kinds and between all genders) and adultery forms of true love, as if following one’s heart or seemingly innate/natural attraction is what makes something pure or true. That we often feel high forms of love is certain, but ultimately, if we pursue them selfishly, illegally, lustfully, or immorally, they cannot be true, and they will not last. They will be shaken.
Pam (the Ghost) loved selfishly and obsessively. Thus, her “love,” which she felt was true, was not. And, it did not lead to peace, joy, or a love of God (much less an increased love for the rest of her family). Pam was miserable in life and her love never resembled charity, or even self-sacrifice. It was always obsession and resentful longing, and even, I suspect, manipulative pity or a spiritual temper tantrum. Thus, by its fruits, it was clear that it was not true love. And, it could not endure. Pam could not have Michael “forever,” if she insisted on persisting in that type of false love. The requirement to “have Michael,” was that she first learn to love God so that her love for Michael might be purified and perfected.
The same goes for all kinds of love: romantic, familial, friend, etc. If it does not lead us to love God first, then it ultimately will fail and will not endure. And, if we do not come to love God more than anyone else, then we will never be able to love those around us (in any type of relationship) as we could, and should, in the long run. And thus, it will not endure.
It is not coincidence then that the first and great commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:37-38); because then, and only then, can we learn to love our neighbor, spouse, father, mother, children, friends, and others as ourselves.
Note: I highly recommend reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Not only is it incredibly short, not only is it a religious classic, but it will open your eyes and provide ample opportunity for you to be taught from on high on more matters than true love.