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Mere Christianity - Book Three - Forgiveness

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Spirit/e—Mere Christianity

2009. 9. 27.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Three

 

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR

 

 

    7. Forgiveness




     I said in a previous  chapter  that  chastity was the most unpopular of
the Christian virtues. But I am not sure  I was  right  I believe  the one I
have to  talk of  today  is even more unpopular:  the Christian  rule, "Thou
shalt  love thy  neighbour  as thyself." Because  hi Christian  morals  "thy
neighbour" includes  "thy  enemy," and so we  come  up against this terrible
duty of forgiving our enemies. Every one says forgiveness is  a lovely idea,
until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to
mention the  subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.  It is not
that  people  think this too  high and  difficult a virtue: it is that  they
think it hateful and contemptible. "That sort of talk makes them sick," they
say. And half of you  already want to ask me, "I wonder how you'd feel about
forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?"


     So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells  me that I
must  not  deny my religion even  to  save myself from death  by torture,  I
wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying
to  tell  you in this book what I  could  do-I can do  precious  little-I am
telling  you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right  in
the  middle of it, I find "Forgive us our sins as we forgive  those that sin
against  us."  There  is  no  slightest   suggestion  that  we  are  offered
forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly dear  that if we do not
forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no  two  ways about it. What are
we to do?


     It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things
we can do to make  it easier. When you start mathematics  you  do  not begin
with the  calculus; you begin with simple  addition.  In the same way, if we
really want  (but all  depends on really wanting) to learn  how to  forgive,
perhaps  we  had better start  with something easier than  the  Gestapo. one
might start with forgiving one's husband or wife, or parents or children, or
the nearest N.C.O., for something they  have done or said in the last  week.
That will probably keep us  busy for the  moment. And secondly, we might try
to  understand exactly what loving  your neighbour as yourself means. I have
to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?


     Now that I come to think of it,  I have  not  exactly  got a feeling of
fondness or  affection for myself,  and  1 do  not  even always enjoy my own
society. So  apparently  "Love your neighbour"  does not mean  "feel fond of
him" or "find him attractive." I ought to have seen that before, because, of
course, you cannot feel  fond of a person  by  trying. Do 1  think  well  of
myself, think myself  a nice chap?  Well, I  am afraid  I  sometimes do (and
those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In
fact it,  is the  other  way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice,
but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does
not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an  enormous  relief.
For a good many people  imagine 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. Go  a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only
do  I not think myself a nice man, but I know that  I am a very nasty one. I
can  look  at  some  of the things I have done with horror and loathing.  So
apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.
Now that I come to think of it,  I remember Christian  teachers  telling  me
long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or,
as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.


     For  a  long  time I  used  to  think  this  a  silly,  straw-splitting
distinction:  how  could you hate what  a man did and  not hate the man? But
years later it  occurred to  me  that there was one man to whom  I  had been
doing  this all my  life-namely myself. However much  I might dislike my own
cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been
the  slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very  reason why I hated the
things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to
find  that I was  the  sort of  man  who  did  those  things.  Consequently,
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one  atom  the hatred we feel for
cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them.  Not one word of  what we have
said about them needs to be  unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the
same way in  which  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.


     The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story  of  filthy atrocities
in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story
might not be quite true, or not  quite so  bad as it was made out. Is  one's
first feeling, "Thank  God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it
a feeling of disappointment,  and even a determination to cling to the first
story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If
it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which,
if followed to the end, will  make us into devils. You see, one is beginning
to  wish  that black was a little  blacker. If we  give that wish  its head,
later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as
black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything-God and our friends and
ourselves  included-as bad, and not  be able to stop doing it:  we  shall be
fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.


     Now  a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No,
for  loving  myself does not  mean that  I ought not  to subject  myself  to
punishment-even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian
thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is,
therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian  judge to sentence
a  man  to death or  a Christian soldier  to  kill an enemy.  I always  have
thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and  long before the war, and I
still think so now that we are at peace. It  is no good quoting "Thou  shalt
not kill." There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word
to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in
all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same
distinction in  Hebrew. All killing is  not murder  any more than all sexual
intercourse is  adultery. When soldiers came to St.  John the Baptist asking
what to do, he never  remotely suggested that  they ought to leave the army:
nor  did  Christ  when  He met a  Roman  sergeant-major-what  they called  a
centurion. The idea of the knight-the Christian in arms for the defence of a
good cause-is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and
I can respect an honest pacifist, though  I think he is  entirely  mistaken.
What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism you get nowadays which
gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with
a long face  and as if you were  ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs
lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of  something they have
a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment  of courage- a kind
of gaity and wholeheartedness.


     I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served
in  the  first  world  war, I  and some young  German had killed  each other
simultaneously  and  found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot
imagine that  either of  us  would  have  felt any  resentment or  even  any
embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.


     I imagine  somebody will say,  "Well,  if one is allowed to condemn the
enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him,  what difference is left between
Christian morality and the ordinary  view?" All the difference in the world.
Remember,  we Christians think  man  lives  for ever. 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 a
hellish creature.  We may kill if  necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy
hating. 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.  I do  not mean that
anyone can decide this moment  that he will never feel it any more. That  is
not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after
day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit  it on the head. It is
hard work, but the attempt is not impossible. Even  while we kill and punish
we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves- to wish that
he were not bad. to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in
fact, to wish his good.  That  is what is meant  in the Bible by loving him:
wishing his good, jot feeling fond of him nor  saving he  is nice when he is
not.


     I admit that  this means loving people who have nothing  lovable  about
them. But then, has oneself anything  lovable about  it? You love  it simply
because it is yourself, God  intends  us to love all selves in the same  way
and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out on our
own case to show us  how it works. We have then to go on and apply  the rule
to all the other selves. Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that
is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have,
but just because we  are  the things  called  selves.  For  really there  is
nothing  else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such
a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco. ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A discussion of forgiveness and its difficult relative: loving your enemies.

  1. One of the most terrible duties of Christianity is ...
  2. What are the two things we can do to make loving our enemies easier?
  3. How did Lewis come to accept the straw-splitting distinction of hating what a man did and not hating the man himself?
  4. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him?
  5. In Lewis' mind, why is the command 'Though shalt not Kill' not a moratorium against fighting in war or the death penalty?
  6. Is giving up hatred as hard for you as giving up beer or tobacco?

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Editor's note: this is one of the best treatments of forgiveness I've ever seen. I highly recommend John Eldridge's discussion in Wild At Heart to compliment the material that Lewis presents. Lewis gives us a complete 'why' for forgiveness, but Eldredge presents a fantastic 'how to' forgive.]

"Every one says forgiveness is a lovily idea, until they have something to forgive...."

"I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find, 'Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.' There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. Is is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. there are no two ways about it. What are we to do?"

  • Start simple:
    • for give your sister, brother, wife, husband, parents, children, classmates or roommates for something they have done or said in the last week. (that should keep us busy for a little while.)
    • try to understand what loving our neighbor as yourself means. how do we love ourselves?

How we love ourselves:

  • it's not that we feel especially fond of ourselves
  • it's not that we particularly often enjoy the company of ourselves.
  • "So apparently 'Love your neighbor' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive.'
  • Interestingly, we cannot make ourselves fond of a person by trying.
  • We don't love ourselves because we think we are particularly nice, but instead think of ourselves as nice because we love ourselves, so loving our neighbors doesn't mean we think of them as nice.
  • We can look at our own actions, thoughts, choices and see them as repugnant without hating ourselves, so "apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do." (that's good news!)

Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life - namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which 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.

Here's a test:

  • you hear a rumor about some terrible thing someone has done.
  • later, you find out that it wasn't nearly as bad as the original report.
  • if we cling to the hatred because the person really is that terrible, and would have done such horrible stuff if he'd had the chance, we're setting ourselves up to "be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred."

Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him?

  • No! Lewis gives the example of what a Christian should do if he had committed a murder - submit to authority, submit to the death penalty.
  • It is okay for a Christian to sentence a murderer to the death penalty. This is not in conflict with Christianity.
  • It is not in conflict with Christianity for a Christian soldier to kill an enemy in combat.
  • 'kill' and 'murder' are very different words. The same is true in Greek and Hebrew. "All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery."
  • Jesus did not command the centurion to leave the Roman army. John the Baptist did not command the soldiers who came to him to abandon their duty. The same is true for us.

"We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. 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. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible. Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

I admit that this means loving people who have nothing loveable about them. But then, has oneself anything loveable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God tends us to love all selves in the same way and for the me reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves. Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves. For really there is nothing else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt 

http://www.opendiscipleship.org/Mere_Christianity_leaders_notes

http://www.gordy-stith.com/Mere%20Christianity/mere_christianity_study_guide.htm