Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 7 (Forgiveness)

The Greatest Commandment

In this chapter Lewis outlines the only virtue that, in his mind, may be harder than chastity--forgiveness. Lewis states that, at the heart of this issue is the greatest commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself".  It is this notion of loving the enemy, along with society's misunderstanding of what love actually IS, that makes this one of the hardest virtues.

We must understand what love is, and may do so by understanding what it means to love ourselves.  Then we can understand how to forgive our enemies.

In Christianity we are told that we must love our enemies as we love ourselves, so what does that mean?  How do I love myself?  Well, first we can rule out love as a feeling of fondness or affection, because even when we don't like ourselves, we still love ourselves, and we cannot feel a "fondness" for someone merely by trying.  Secondly, we can rule out thinking highly of ourselves, because often we don't, and we still love ourselves.  We sin and feel guilt and hate what we do, but we do not necessarily hate ourselves.  It's the same with our enemies, it is ok to hate what they did, but not themselves.  Additionally, this means we don't have to like what they do to us.

In fact, Lewis states bluntly that loving our neighbors and ourselves means one thing: "willing the good".  We must feel about our enemies as we feel about ourselves--we hate what we/they do, and sincerely wish for them to become better people, and even wish heaven for them.

What does this mean for forgiveness?  Forgiveness is an act of love, and thus an act of the will.  We can forgive and still be just, punishing the person for their act, but not unduly and only with a hope for conversion.  Finally, to forgive does not mean to forget, but it means choosing to move beyond the act and will that the other person may strive to be better.

Forgiveness is hard, but we are mandated to do so out of love.  In forgiving we are forgiven, and perhaps when we see ourselves as sinners able to be forgiven, we are more likely to love others as well.