Kingdom Voices: C.S. Lewis??

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.

20 responses to this post.

  1. Okay, I have been pondering it all day and I had a response until I reread his words again. CS Lewis makes it sound more “cheery” than I had remembered reading a couple of hours ago related to killing an enemy …but what I was going to say, was that I wonder if would be a matter of feeling a sense of more satisfaction over feeling that one was right, in line with God’s will (stick with me …). Like when I am disciplining my children and they are in pain (physical or emotional). I dont love that they are in pain – but rather am on some level joyful that I know I am training my child in the way they should go. My “gaiety” is not in the fact they are hurting, but in the knowledge that I am doing the right thing. I can see an argument for being a soldier with a sense of satisfaction in the Israelite army of the Old Testament. They were sure of their purpose – and despite the brutality of their hand-to-hand combat, their was celebration in their victory ..not a mourning of lost souls.

    But THAT brings us to the whole other side of the argument now doesnt it …THEY knew that they were doing God’s will when they were killing entire nations. They were specifically instructed by God to do so. They were living out a purpose that did require certain “gaiety and wholeheartedness” in order to do fully.

    Where my brain starts smoking is when I start considering how that applies to here and NOW ..and does it? Like you implied, we are fighting a war with someone we see as an enemy – but how does God see it that way? Does God see America’s enemies the same as we do? Does he give us the same permission to go treat them as the Israelites did to their enemies?

    AND Because in NT Jesus says all that other stuff I just dont know if it does (or would ever?) apply to a situation like we find ourselves in as a nation …its simple to say, hard to imagine what a nation who followed those words would look like.


    • Courtney, I see what you are saying about the feelings of satisfaction on doing what you know to be right. I also completely agree with you that we are not in the same situation as the Israelites. And in this case, Matt. 5:38-48 seems to send Christians in a completely different direction than the martial Israelites.

      As to your thought about how Jesus’ words would apply to a nation, I would say, unequivocally, that THEY DON’T. I think as Americans, we get confused about that b/c we think of ourselves as a “Christian nation.” But make no mistake: Jesus is talking to His followers only, the citizens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that transcends any earthly nation. So when we read these words, our first thought should not be, “How do we apply these to our nation,” but, “how do these words apply to Christians within ANY nation”? And that brings us back to my question…what are Christians supposed to do with Matt. 5:38-48,..especially in a culture that, like most cultures, honors warriors who fight for the good of the nation? If Jesus meant those words, then they would mandate that Christians in any nation live in a radically counter cultural way.


  2. First, a small quibble: nobody called Lewis “Clive.” To his friends, he was always “Jack.” I think if he and you were to join me for a pint, we’d all be friends. So go with Jack. 🙂

    At the risk of oversimplifying, I would say that the Matthew passage is an instruction to Christians, meaning individuals indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore empowered to behave in ways that transcend their natural man–up to and including the point of martyrdom. I do not think that it has a thing to say about the proper foreign policy of a nation. Not only can a nation not be entirely “Christian,” I do not think it would be wise for a nation to embrace martyrdom. Which is exactly what you would get if our policy was one of turning the other cheek.

    As for “our nation’s enemies,” I know it is hard to draw distinctions sometimes. I think a Christian would be better able to fight in good conscience in a war of self-defense or righteous retribution, or in defense of the innocent (I’m thinking WWII, but even could see WWI, Gulf I, or Afghanistan) than in a war that has more questionable motives (Iraq may be the sexier choice, but I’m thinking of the Mexican-American War). It’s easier if your enemy is Hitler. And it is far from easy if your nation’s leader is Hitler.

    I will say this, though–even accepting all the chatter about the military-industrial-complex, evil and self-serving politicians, and so forth, ours is a nation which has TRIED to be on the side of right, almost all of the time. Even during our imperialist era, we were not out conquering colonies by force, and despite all the hollering about “blood for oil,” we haven’t stolen a drop, nor occupied a square foot of ground. We turn ourselves inside out over issues like waterboarding and Gitmo, and rightly so. But with all that as backdrop, I don’t think we really have to ask ourselves whether we should treat our enemies like the OT Hebrews did. If anything, most of our “errors” would seem to be on the side of being humane to the point of naivete.

    I’ll also say that this is not at all a new question–Augustine covered “just war” theory over a millenium ago. And even Jesus ordered his disciples to bring two swords to Gethsemane (yet then fixed the damage one of them caused).

    Also, don’t forget the other big thing Lewis keeps coming back to in MC. So many things that we think are a big deal may not be, while some stuff we think of as small may make indelible marks on our souls. In that same chapter, Lewis imagines two soldiers in opposite armies striking one another down, both while doing their duty bravely, and then meeting in paradise… and laughing about it. If I can put words in his mouth (ink in his pen?), I might go so far as to say that in that context, the killing of each other might be far less of a blot on the soul than either of them shirking his duty, being a coward, or being disloyal to his cause.


    • Larry, I totally forgot about the Jack, thing! Well, I guess I gave away the fact that Lewis and I were not actually friends in real life like I would have loved:).

      You say, “At the risk of oversimplifying, I would say that the Matthew passage is an instruction to Christians, meaning individuals indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore empowered to behave in ways that transcend their natural man–up to and including the point of martyrdom. I do not think that it has a thing to say about the proper foreign policy of a nation.”

      I completely agree with all of that. I do not think that this post has absolutely anything to do with America or any other nation. Instead, it has to do with how a citizen in the kingdom of God is to behave with his or her life. So…given the words Jesus says in Matt. 5:38-48, how can a citizen of the kingdom of God kill his enemies in good conscience, no matter how legitimate they are as enemies? It doesn’t matter if his nation is “better” than other nations. To me, that is completely beside the point. The point is, we are to live our lives in complete submission to Jesus’ words…and His words seem pretty clear here.

      Of course, to argue from the other side (I’m serious about not wanting to be a straight up pacifist), why stop at “no killing”? Jesus says not even to resist an evil person. So if I’m walking down the street and someone tries to snatch my purse, should I try to hold onto it? If someone attacks me, should I put up my hands in defense? It sounds ridiculous, but what IS Jesus saying here?

      Switching BACK to my first side, even though these verses sound completely counter-intuitive, many early Christians did not see it that way. Remember that guy who was running from his persecutors, and one fell in the lake, and he went back to help him? (I know you know this.) THAT guy seemed to read the Sermon on the Mount pretty much at face value.

      He still died pretty horribly.

      And yet, we still remember him…


  3. I know..I was waiting for Larry to come out in harsh defense of you bashing “Clive/Jack” …if anything would get his dander up it would be that! 😉

    I think its hard for us to grasp the eternal ramifications of such a command – for a second I think I get it and then it goes away…

    But I think that it fits into the eternal perspective to not respond to an enemy – it fits into a perspective that places earthly bodies, physical possessions, worldly reputations, riches, etc at such a relative low compared to that of God’s glory and his eternal purposes.

    Part of the eternal perspective calls us to have such a loose grasp on all of those things ..even life. Our need to react to an enemy has everything to do with a threat on those things. Where we to let go of all those ties, as much as we can as a physical being – would we have any true enemies at all?

    I can imagine a person (not me, mind you) being so loosely tied to their possessions, their reputation, their wealth that they were willing to suppress their urge to fight back when it is taken from them. I can imagine a person so detached from these physical things, so eternally focused that all that is of no value whatsoever ..even to point of not protecting their own life.

    I can imagine that.

    What I struggle with is what if someone tries to relieve my children, or someone else I love of the same things. If an enemy attacks me, I can imagine being able to submit in a ridiculous way to them for the sake of the Kingdom. But the same thing being done to my kids? That I cannot imagine for myself.


  4. Nice to know I’m so… predictable. 🙂


    • Seriously, if I did not know THAT, I could not call you my friend:). Although, you still haven’t addressed Matt. 5:38-48. I’ve also been following a discussion thread on pacifism elsewhere, and none of the non-pacifists there will touch it, either. I guess I can see why, but still…

      And also? You need to blog. How am I supposed to know anything about politics if you don’t tell me??


  5. Posted by mcafeess on November 22, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I’m teaching a class on Sunday mornings right now called the “Upside-Down Kingdom.” I’m using the Sermon on the Mount as my text, and one of my favorite sources is Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy.” It’s one of those books many have heard of but not a lot seem to have read. Kim…it’s a must read. MUST.

    Anyway, I’ll take a stab at this.

    I first would say, “Who said Lewis’ words and those of Christ have to jive?” CS Lewis is a brilliant man, as is were many before him. But as you know, none of them were always right all the time. It is perfectly acceptable, and maybe “expectable,” for men to be right in one paragraph and then wrong in the next. Oh, that we might find the exception to the rule…and at the same time, we already have.

    The passage you refer to is the one where those who study the Sermon on the Mount (SM from now on) finally seem to give up in exasperation or sink into the pit of grinding legalism. But here is the key: most feel this way because they feel Jesus is laying down laws about what they HAVE to do regardless of what else may be at issue. (There was much plagiarism in that passage–just know I am referring back to Willard).

    Much of this changes when we realize these are illustrations of what a kingdom person will do in such situations. So long as it is ONLY personal injury, there will be occasions when kingdom persons will not act accordingly, but I think the instances would be rare. When we begin to talk about defending others, however, we move to a context that is different than what we see in Matthew 5. And so, alas, we come back to that old fiend…context. Are we talking contextually about simply personal injury, or are we to also encompass that of national defense and preservation?

    As kingdom people, we must decide what to do in given circumstances. We are always responsible before God to do what is appropriate. If, by turning the other cheek, it will result in my being dead, I must consider this larger context. Much more than my personal pain and humiliation is involved.

    “In every concrete situation, we have to ask ourseleves, not ‘Did I do the specific things in Jesus’ illustrations?’ but ‘Am I being the kind of person Jesus’ illustrations are illustrations of?'” (Willard)

    Oh, and by the way…Willard, like Lews, and myself, reserves the right to be wrong.


    • Love it, Sean. Thanks for chiming in.

      I totally agree about Lewis not having to be (and NOT being) perfect. I think I was subconsciously responding to several comments on the other thread I was following that basically said, “Lewis has already answered this for us.” Ummm, no, I don’t think he has. He has given AN answer, but I’m not sure he has laid the subject to rest.

      Anyway, I will definitely have to read The Divine Conspiracy. Somehow, the way you contextualized the passage into personal injury seemed less like a cop-out than when I’ve heard other people do it. I give Willard full credit for the success of your nuanced view:).

      Good thoughts, Sean. They give me some good stuff to think about!


  6. I’ll blog soon. I had some good email exchanges with Greg that sucked the life out of a couple of incomplete blog posts. Maybe over this weekend I’ll take it up again.


  7. Posted by Tim on March 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Kim, thanks for linking to this one from today’s post. Better late than never for me to read this!

    I don’t explain away the Sermon on the Mount, but I do look at it in context. It’s an Old Covenant sermon. Matthew gives us this chronology. Jesus picked up John’s theme (Matthew 3:1-2) and carried it on (Matthew 4:12&17). The very next thing we see is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which I think is a three chapter expansion on the theme of “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

    If you take the forgiveness verses in Matthew 6 as an example, they tell us that we are only forgiven as much as we forgive others. We know that’s not true under the New Covenant. In fact, there are a ton of things I’ve never forgiven others for yet Christ has forgiven me completely without a single sin left to pay for. (Ephesians 1:7.) Under the New Covenant we forgive not in order to be forgiven, but instead because Christ first forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32.)

    So my take on passages like the Sermon on the Mount is that – while they are instructive – they are not prescriptive; for we are not under law but under grace. (John 1:17 and Galatians 2:21 & 5:4.)

    Sorry this got a bit long-winded, Kim. You really got me thinking on this one.



    • Hmmm, Tim. I will have to think about that more. I understand that we are under grace, but I don’t really know how that would change the application of Jesus’ teaching. And I do follow your argument for situating the Sermon into a larger discourse, but I don’t know that I’m ready to dismiss it as “Old Covenant.” It’s not that what you say doesn’t make sense. It’s just that I need to think about it some more…

      Thanks for your input, and for making me think!


      • Posted by Tim on March 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

        “The Naked Gospel” by Andrew Farley covers this well. He digs deep into Scripture, and ties in some historic theology as well. Plus he’s a good writer, so that’s a bonus.



  8. So I’m like a year late t the party but on the off chance that somebody is perusing in the future, I think I’ll add my two cents.

    Originally I was pretty messed up about the trusty ol’ C.S. not being a pacifist. Its hard to disagree with one of our modern theological champions. So what contributes to Jack’s views? I think there are a number of things that add to it. First, I think his essay “Why I am not a Pacifist” really gives some insight to his views. One of them is violence is more pragmatic sometimes. While I think that this view robs God some chances to show off, its true that there are some things that humanity can only accomplish by shooting each other. Second, the man lived during two world wars in England. That has to significantly affect his worldview on things like nationalism. Lastly, we can’t treat things Lewis says about pacifism like things that people such as Mark Driscoll say about nonviolence. When Driscoll calls me a sissy for not wanting to fight, he does not recognize my intelligence, assumes I must be a coward, and tells me my picture of Jesus is incorrect. When Lewis rags on Pacifism, he is much more generous. He recognizes that I can be a sincere, intelligent, God-fearing Christian and a Pacifist. Also, there was a major political movement in Britain that was most likely populated with both radical Christians and lazy cowards.

    As a side note, there are some great arguments for Augustine’s Just War. A major one is that John the Baptist told soldiers how to be godly soldiers rather than telling them to quit the military.


    • Thanks for jumping in, Ben! Yeah, I kind of have this theory that our views on pacifism/just war are shaped by whatever wars we happen to live through. I developed this theory while reading a book on just war called Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition. It seemed like on the modern front, most of the major Christian thinkers the author mentioned (such as Lewis and Niebuhr) were alive during WW2, while most of the pacifists he referenced came of age during Vietnam. Maybe there’s nothing to that theory, but I definitely think that personal background is a factor in forming those type of views.

      The author brought up the John the Baptist thing several times, although, to be honest, I didn’t find that as compelling as he seemed to. John’s view was more limited than Jesus’, and perhaps more practical for that reason. For instance, he said to share (if you have two cloaks, give to him who has none), while Jesus simply says to give what you have away (and sometimes tells specific people to give it ALL). My point is that Jesus’ teachings took another step.

      But I’m getting off the topic of your response. I agree that Lewis is not hateful or dismissive, and comparing him to Mark Driscoll makes that point nicely. Also, I do generally appreciate Lewis’ pragmatism, even though I don’t wholly share in it.

      Anyway, thanks for adding your two cents!


      • I just came across this verse today, and I wanted to put it here, since it seems pertinent to the argument about John’s teachings. In Luke 7:28, Jesus talks about John and says, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” I have always found that verse confusing, but in light of this discussion, I think it could be concluded that John’s teachings did not fully reflect the reality of the kingdom of God, since that reality had not arrived yet. Just a thought…


        • Posted by Tim on March 26, 2012 at 9:37 am

          That’s how I read that verse too, Kim. I think Jesus was saying that under the New Covenant even the most lowly person is more glorified than the greatest could be under the Old Covenant.


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