When I first read Mere Christianity right out of college, it kind of became like a second Bible to me. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and it did so much to bolster my faith. Thus, when I was paging through it looking for a specific quote for another post, I was not surprised to come across one of Lewis’ marvelous passages. It has been years since I read Mere Christianity in its entirety, but I immediately remembered this passage in which Lewis explains, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I thought that it would make a great addition to the “Kingdom Voices” section of my blog. There is a great paragraph before this one, setting the whole thing up, but it gets a little long, so I’ll skip to the best part:
“…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” (105-106).
I just love Lewis’ point there. It is so obvious and true, and it provides a very helpful way to understand the idea of, “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
Lewis, however, goes on from there to discuss the idea that loving a person does not mean not punishing them. I don’t have a problem there. I mean, I discipline my children all the time out of genuine love for them and a concern for their soul. He continues,
“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…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…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“ (107).
I have a couple of problems with this. For one thing, the picture of the jolly soldier, merrily dispatching [the people his government tells him are] his enemies in emulation of the crusading knights of yore just doesn’t resonate with me. Honestly, “gaity” in the act of killing enemies seems more sociopathic than virtuous, but maybe that’s just me. More than that, though, I wish Lewis had not stopped with “love your enemies,” and “thou shalt not kill,” and explained some of those even more vexing red letters. Take, for example, these words from Matthew 5:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
How do Lewis’ words jive with Jesus’ words? Seriously, how? I really want to know, because frankly, I don’t want to be a pacifist, and I don’t want to take the non-resistance route with my enemies. To be honest, I think the idea of ‘”an eye for an eye” is pretty just. But what in heaven’s name do you do with these words, out of the mouth of our Lord, that seem not to be so down with the crusading knights of yore?
Oh, and the quote I was looking for? I found it a few pages before this whole debacle, where Lewis addresses the equally outlandish teaching of forgiving one’s enemies. Confronted with the unreasonableness of a Jew forgiving a Nazi, Lewis refuses to back down from the teaching of Jesus, stating, “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‘” (104). See Clive, I feel the same way about Matthew 5:38-48. I’m just telling you what Jesus said. I did not invent it.
So here is my conundrum: I love C.S. Lewis, and I really want to think of Him as a voice for God’s kingdom. But I don’t know what to do with him here.
So how do YOU explain
away Matthew 5:38-48? And honestly, I’m a little annoyed with Lewis, so could you save him for me?
Quotes taken from:
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York, MacMillan Publishing, 1960.