How much of our love for others is really only mercenary self-interest? How dependent are we upon the feeling of happiness that sometimes accompanies our love?
I thought of these questions as I was reading Leviticus 19 today, which—lucky me, given my current sermon series—is a profoundly challenging elaboration on the Ten Commandments. Among other things, the chapter includes the Great Commandment of Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It also commands us to love the alien residing among us as we love ourselves in v. 34.
I was reading Leviticus 19 in The C.S. Lewis Bible, which included this reflection on the connection between love and feelings from a letter Lewis wrote in 1944. My favorite sentence: “It is the self you really are and not its reflection in consciousness that matters most.”
Certainly I cannot love my neighbour properly till I love God… On the other hand we have no power to make ourselves love God. The only way is absolute obedience to Him, total surrender. He will give us the “feeling” if He pleases. But both when He does and when He does not, we shall gradually learn that feeling is not the important thing. There is something in us deeper than feeling, deeper even than conscious will. It is rather being… Of course it is good, as you say, to “realise” that the source of all our good feelings is God… But “realisation” depends on faculties that fail us when we are tired or when we try to use them too often, so we can’t depend on it. It is the self you really are and not its reflection in consciousness that matters most.
May I take what is really the closest parallel? No child is begotten without pleasure. But the pleasure is not the cause of life—it is a symptom, something that happens when life is in fact being transmitted. In the same way “feeling love” is only the echo in consciousness of the real thing which lies deeper.†
† C.S. Lewis, “Love One Another” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 126.