I want you to know, I am resisting the temptation to turn this blog into a steady stream of CS Lewis quotes. Really though, I am falling in love with Mere Christianity all over again. He is a master of brevity, logic, wit, and wisdom. His humility and humor, coupled with candor and keen insight, give him this winsome way of speaking hard-to-hear words without apology, and his complete lack of appealing to sentiment or emotionalism is so refreshing.
In other words, he isn’t trying to make me cry or conjure up some feeling or experience, he’s simply presenting the plain truth of Christianity, and allowing me the space to make an intelligent decision on whether or not I will follow this Jesus Christ with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.
I do. I do want to. And this means also agreeing to perhaps the most difficult of Christ’s commands:
The call to love our enemies.
When something’s repeated, we do well to pay attention. Thursday morning I had read aloud to the kids from Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Then, that afternoon, when I stepped on the treadmill and opened Mere Christianity, CS Lewis spoke on the same subject. I paid attention. Several things I observed, about what this does and doesn’t mean.
Loving means, first of all, forgiveness
There is no use talking about loving our enemies until we have forgiven them. Love is impossible while grudges are held. Only as forgiveness flows freely can we hope to let love flow as well. I don’t think we have a real grasp on how profoundly difficult real forgiveness is. I have a hunch that most of us hold onto more little grudges than we care to admit. At least I think I do. Last summer, when I went through an extensive exercise on forgiveness, I was surprised how many things the Holy Spirit brought to mind. It was kind of embarrassing, but freeing too.
Loving doesn’t mean a feeling of fondness.
We have got ourselves on the horn of a ridiculous dilemma because we’ve redefined love as something overly emotional. If we “fall” in love our out of love, how have we any hope of loving someone detestable? Lewis writes,
” Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” … That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagining that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. … Hate the sin and not the sinner.”
Loving our enemy means hating his or her wrongdoing in the same way we hate ours.
This is what really brought clarity and conviction for me. Do we feel a little tiny bit of gladness when someone we despise does something despicable? Trump-haters: Do you gloat just a little bit when he says something stupid or unwise? Obama-haters: Did you love it, just a little, when he does something else worth criticizing? Do you forward jokes or memes that ridicule, belittle, or rejoice in someone’s faults?
Do I find myself just a little bit happy when that person I don’t care for does something that validates my feelings of ill-will?
“Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. But it does want us to hate them in the same way that we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”
Loving our enemies doesn’t mean they are never punished.
Here is where Lewis helped me with something I’ve been chewing on for months. Does loving our enemies mean we never report a crime? Does it mean we never fight in a war? Where do individual responses differ from governmental ones? Does turning the other cheek mean that if someone bombs our west coast we invite them to bomb our east coast too? Of course that last one’s ludicrous, but how do we navigate. He goes into a passage on pacifism and makes some clear and helpful distinctions, then says,
“Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment. … Remember, we Christians think that man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. … We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.”
The bottom line is, if we are to love our neighbor (including our enemy) as ourself, then we will despise the evil done while still hoping for redemption. Love never gives up hope. Love never secretly rejoices in wrong-doing. Love yearns for wrongs to be righted and evil to be thwarted. Love rejoices in the truth.
Well, this has gotten far too long and we’ve not even scratched the surface. But hopefully at least the mention of the topic will get our gears turning and let God go to work on those hidden places of our hearts. Let’s RESOLVE to love our neighbors, and enemies, a little more this year. Thanks for reading.