Lately I’ve been rereading C.S. Lewis’s chapter on “Charity” from his book The Four Loves. In it he says that “We want to be loved for our cleverness, beauty, generosity, fairness, usefulness. The first hint that anyone is offering us the highest love of all is a terrible shock.”
There is much that is not naturally lovable in us; there is much that is unlovable in us. This is a shock to American sensitivities, drinking in the narrative that says, “Just be you. Be true to yourself. Look into your heart. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks.”
Be as true to yourself as you want, you are going to fail someone, to hurt them, to be cruel and arrogant. And when you do, you hope to God that they don’t walk out on you, that they give you another chance, that they somehow forgive you. You know they can’t overlook what you’ve done. So the only way forward is if they don’t ignore the unlovable in you and somehow love you still.
Or, perhaps, the shock comes from the other direction. Someone breaks a promise to you or lies or gossips about you. A person you’re trying to help does the unlovable and turns on you, fights against you, rejects you. You want to turn around, walk away, pronouncing, “That’s it! You’re guilty for the last time. I’m done.” But you don’t quit, because love won’t let you.
But is our love naturally able to do this on its own? Or does our love need a higher love, not only to help, but to transform it?
What kind of love is this that forgives and covers an offense time after time? What kind of love is this that weeps but resolves to smile and try again? What kind of love is this that absorbs pain willingly and is unwilling to retaliate? What kind of love gives of itself without any assurance that it won’t be rejected as before?
This is a love that is beyond our love. Yet, although beyond us, it’s a love that also comes down to us. It’s a supernatural love, belonging not to a life force or to a “higher power” but to Another, to a Person. There is a God who is love, who loves this way, who loves us this way.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Ours is a story not of being good enough, but of being bad enough. Bad enough for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to die for. The greatest display of love ever made or seen was on the cross in his taking both the place of sinners and their judgement for their sin under the wrath of God. The love which all other loves are derived from, aspire to, are a reflection of or a longing for is the sacrificial living and dying of Jesus.
We were naturally unlovable, yet God loved us still. He didn’t ignore our sin. Rather, he was “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He was patient to the point of death.
There on the cross the only beloved Son of God, Jesus, was both unlovable and unloved. God looked upon him and, forsaking him, turned away from him. Jesus took our sin, becoming unlovable, so that we might receive his righteousness and become lovable in the sight and arms of God. There’s no way to prove your lovable enough to merit God’s love. There’s no way to fully comprehend nor describe the free and unmerited love of God for us in Christ. We weren’t loved because we were naturally lovable; despite being naturally unlovable we were loved.
The power of God’s love for you, when received as the sinner you truly are, transforms you into being and becoming lovable — who you truly are created to be in Christ—to be “Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). You are being conformed by Love Himself into the image of Love Himself. As a result, you can love like him, in him, through him, because of him, and for him.
So, yes, we are naturally unlovable. There is something in each of us that should cause God, if not for his love, to turn away from us. And those we love, like us, are also unlovable in many ways. There is something in each of them that should cause us, if not for God’s love, to turn away from them.
We live in a day and culture where we naturally want to love the lovable and be lovable. But this love is naturally short-lived and in the end often hates the unlovable. We serve a higher, deeper, wider kind of love, an eternal love belonging to and proceeding from God Himself. This Love lowers itself to love the most undesirable and serve the most undeserving of all. It will never ask from us anything which it has not already given to us, nor anything which it has not already done for us.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)