Mere Christianity 16: Charity

Earlier Lewis talked about the cardinal virtues:  prudence, temperance, justice, and courage.  Now Lewis turns to the theological virtues:  faith, hope, and charity.  In this chapter Lewis talks about charity.

One of the greatest misconceptions which most people have about charity is that is simply giving to the poor–that is, what most would call “charitable giving” or “almsgiving”.  While this is one of the most obvious manifestations of charity, it is not charity and not to be confused with charity.

Another misconception is that charity consists of the natural liking or affection which we feel toward certain people in our lives.  This is not charity, though it is a help toward charity.  After all, it is a whole lot easier to be charitable toward people we like than toward people we don’t like.  The only time this gets to be a problem is if our natural liking for one person causes us to be uncharitable toward another, or if it causes us to indulge that person in ways that are not good for him or her in the long run (such as the mother who spoils her child rotten, or the wife who enables her husband’s alcoholic behavior).

Though natural liking is a help to charity, it is not necessary.  If you do not like a person, don’t sit around trying to make yourself like him or her.  Just act as if you did.  Eventually your feelings will catch up with your actions; if you are charitable toward people you do not like, eventually you will find yourself liking them a little more.

Some Christian writers use the term charity to refer to God’s love for us or our love for God.  But what if you don’t love God?  Same as before–act as if you did.

Lewis closes out this chapter with a beautiful description of how God’s love for us is a much safer thing to talk about than our love for Him.

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.  Nobody can always have devout feelings:  and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.  Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.  If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.”  He will give us feelings of love if He pleases.  We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.  But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.