Duty or Love?

What do you really believe? I’m not talking about to what you give your intellectual assent, but what you really believe. “In ordinary times,” mused Dorothy Sayers, “we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is.” We tend to shove that question to the background and give ourselves over to activities that help us put off the answer.

The question, “What do we believe?” is the title of one of Sayers’s insightful essays. She challenges us to look beyond the superficial answer and understand that “what we believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

You can say you believe in something, yet what you actually do in life tells others what you really believe in. The two may not be the same.

Being a Christian is not merely a duty; in fact, if that is how we view it, we are missing the very heart of the faith. Do we obey God because it is our duty or because we love to do so? There is a profound difference. Sayers points out that difference by dissecting the concept of “sacrifice” in our actions:

Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.

Ask yourself: if there is something you supremely want to do, do you count as self-sacrifice the difficulties encountered or the other possible activities cast aside? You do not.

The time when you deliberately say, “I must sacrifice this, that, or the other” is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love.

But as soon as your duty becomes your love the self-sacrifice is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.

As we examine our Christian walk, we need to clearly grasp this truth: duty is one thing; loving to do your duty is something else entirely.

Our goal is not simply to obey God, but to do so with an active desire to please Him, no longer counting it as some kind of sacrifice, but as a wonderful opportunity to show His love.

If that’s not where we are currently, we are to continue to do our duty. Yet wouldn’t it be much better to do whatever we do out of that heart of love? That is Christian maturity.

Lewis: Beyond Mere Moral Duty

In the C. S. Lewis course I’m currently teaching, we just completed reading and discussing his autobiography, Surprised By Joy. Although I hoped the students would be impacted by it, I was pleasantly surprised (by joy?) how much it seemed to impress them. Their observations went beyond simple repetition of facts; most felt that God was speaking to them personally through Lewis.

We’re now turning our attention to some of the key chapters in Mere Christianity. I’ll be looking forward to what they might say about passages such as the following:

C. S. Lewis 13If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to Nazi morality.

In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. . . .

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard . . . comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

While those statements may seem basic to some, they are a shock to others, and the way Lewis describes the concept helps to arrest one’s attention.

In an article the students won’t be reading, Lewis’s “The Novels of Charles Williams,” he goes beyond the basics and gets to the “meat” of what the morality of the Law entails:

Morality has spoiled literature often enough: we all remember what happened to some nineteenth-century novels. The truth is, it is very bad to reach the stage of thinking deeply and frequently about duty unless you are prepared to go a stage further.

The Law, as St. Paul first clearly explained, only takes you to the school gates. Morality exists to be transcended. We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.

That is what I seek for my students: that they go further in, past the duties of morality into the joy of being what God wants us to be. Of course, that’s what I seek also for my own life. It’s the goal for each of us.