Charity

This is another installment of our discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis over at www.challies.com. I'm tackling a couple of these sections individually because they are so rich.

From Humility Lewis moves on to the first of the three “Theological” virtues: charity (faith and hope being the other two). As he says: “Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’. It certainly makes sense to have addressed humility first, having just learned that the prideful heart has no room in it for the love of others. So, by way of definition and explanation, Lewis has this to say about the Christian kind of love which “does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people…Christian love (or charity) for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection. We ‘like’ or are ‘fond of’ some people, and not of others….Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be ‘charitable’ towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections – to ‘like’ people as much as we can…not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. ”
And it gets even better: “…though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ you neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” This comes as very hopeful news to one like me, who was told once by a friend, very matter-of-factly and without cruel intent, “You’re not exactly the warmest person on the planet” – and that was after I was saved and had become a thousand times warmer than I once was! I must say I was initially a bit suspect of advice that sounds like what my husband refers to as the “fake it ‘til you feel it” philosophy. In the wrong hands it could lead to plain old hypocrisy (and I’ve been known to have the wrong hands!), but I think if it’s done with a prayerful heart of obedience to God’s word, then it is fine advice indeed. After all, what are the alternatives? Never talk to a person until you can generate warm feelings for them? Treat them as badly as you feel like it at the moment – for the sake of "honesty"? No, that would never do. So, in the end, I agree with Lewis: treat people the way you would want to be treated, with love and kindness – and pray that God will grace you with the warm-hearted affection you desire, along with the humility of heart to not keep thinking so highly of yourself that you still find yourself looking down upon others. Then one can hope for this splendid result: “The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.”

Comments

jeri said…
I love these insights. My mind and energies have been too scattered (which definitely needs to be remedied)to post anything of my own on Reading the Classics but I sure have enjoyed your offerings. I shall try to do better, too. I was impressed and affected in much the same way as you by this chapter. On loving others and treating them as the Lord would have us to, I've had one of Edwards' resolves rattling around in my brain the past week or so--"Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as providence orders it. I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty, and my sin."
Laurie M. said…
Jeri,
Edwards had a bit to do with me deciding to make New Year Resolutions this year. His resolutions are so lofty and he accomplished so much. Maybe it was because He aimed so high, and trusted God for grace to keep going. One thing for certain, he believed in "redeeming the time".

BTW, you sure did surprise me with your post today! I hope things settle down a bit for you soon.
ke4juh said…
What I find really ironic is when I know somebody is treating me the way they would want to be treated but it is the very way I don't want to be treated. We are all different; some people are just plain sappy-sweet and confuse that with being warm, others come off as cold even when they mean well and then there are those that are really cold - interestingly they don’t usually come off as cold since they need to be liked so they can manipulate. It’s really circular. One thing I know is that it confuses people when you are nice to them and expect nothing in return, some even get mad.
God bless
-jim
Laurie M. said…
Jim,

For the sake of staying on task with Lewis I refrained from saying a few things I've learned from experience, a bit like what you've mentioned. I was actually thinking of posting about it further at some point. Treating people kindly definitely does not guarantee a positive outcome, or as you said, neither does treating them as I would like to be treated. And, tough a pill as it's been for me to swallow, there are people who don't want my kindness, or anything else to do with me. then the challenge is to resist the urge to become bitter. That's one aspect of loving others Lewis did not address that I would have found helpful.
haithabu said…
I think Lewis's point is not so much that others will like you better; it's more that you'll like them better.

"the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on.....”

I find Lewis's words true in my own experience.

Some principles I have found useful for showing kindness in a way that is most likely to be appreciated are:

1) Kindness should be combined with respect for the person. Respect includes not being intrusive but being sensitive to the needs of the person at that point in time, including their need for privacy or space.

2) It should be motivated by unconditional love without expectations of gratitude. After all, I'm doing this for the Lord, right?

3) Kindness can take different forms beyong being obviously nice or doing overt favours.
Laurie M. said…
Haithabu

Yes, I get that. I agree with Lewis and have found the principle to be generally true, but also know that it's not surefire. My thought is more of a side note, that challenges can arise to this -that loving others and reaching out to them sometimes leads to bad reactions on their part which makes it a greater challenge to like them. But then, as Lewis has said, not liking someone does not excuse me from loving them and hoping and seeking all the good for them that I would hope for myself, it just makes it more difficult. One thing I don't recall if Lewis mentioned, which I find helpful, is to pray for the person (as well as my own negative attitude).
haithabu said…
Well, Jesus does say to pray for those who despitefully use you.

One thing that helps me do this is when I try to look through the hard shell some have to the vulnerable and needy person underneath. (Ie, try to see them as Jesus sees them.)

Once I put those spectacles on, the compassion seems to flow more naturally.

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