C.S. Lewis on Giving

C. S. Lewis 5In his Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis lays out what he believes should be a measuring line for how Christians are to give to those in need. Here is his guideline:

Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality. . . . I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

Christian CharitiesIf our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.

So Christians are to be leaders in demonstrating selflessness in giving. However, Lewis also points out the ultimate goal in all this giving in another of his books, The Four Loves:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.

I think it’s important for Christians to comprehend that statement. It bleeds over into public policy. If we support programs that hand out funds to the needy, but those programs don’t successfully free a person from being one of the needy, but rather become traps that create a permanent underclass in society, we are not really living up to the Biblical standard. Compassion has to be wise; the goal should be freedom from want.

I have another Lewis quote I’d like to highlight today, and while it’s not on the same topic precisely, it does clearly explain what our attitude toward life as a whole ought to be. In an essay titled “Cross-Examination” in God in the Dock, Lewis reminds us,

The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.

May the Lord find us all at our posts, being faithful, regardless of whether today marks His return or whether we will go to Him before That Day.

Lewis on Friendship

C. S. Lewis abounded in friends, those with whom he could spend many hours enjoying their company. In one of his letters, he wrote, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” He also hinted at the value of friendship in an essay on Hamlet, when he said, “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

C. S. Lewis Quote on FriendshipHe expressed perhaps his most penetrating comments on true friendship in his book The Four Loves, where he gets to the heart of what is essential in a real friendship:

We picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead. That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.

Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.

Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.

We all need the kind of friends Lewis describes here, yet his analysis is accurate: there must be something the friendship is about. For Christians, their shared love of God should be the cornerstone of any friendship.

Lewis: God Didn’t Make a Toy World

C. S. Lewis 6Last Saturday, in my weekly C. S. Lewis post, I quoted him on the subject of free will. He had quite a lot to say on that doctrine, and I like what he has said. Therefore, I’m giving him a wide berth today by relating a passage from Mere Christianity that makes the point even more forcefully than the quote I used last week:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

. . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.

As grievous as sin is, ultimately it will be overshadowed by love when the Lord wraps up this current earthly existence and we move into a new phase. We can get glimpses of His love now, and those glimpses make it all worthwhile.

Lewis: A World of Free Beings by God’s Design

The age-old controversy over free will continues to plague us. I have very settled views on the matter. Some of what I believe on this is enunciated quite well by C. S. Lewis in a couple of his works. For instance, in The Problem of Pain, he zeroes in on the one who is truly accountable for evil entering into this world:

Man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.

This, of course, leads to a question:

Why Free Will

In one of his essays, “The Trouble with ‘X’ . . . ” he lays out the rationale for why God made us with choice:

God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. . . . He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.

I see that wisdom clearly. Thank God that He made us with the capacity to love and to have loving relationships with Him and other “free beings.”

Lewis on Forgiveness

C. S. Lewis can often take a Scriptural principle and, just by the shading of his words, help us see it in a new light. And he’s always very practical when doing so. On the difficulty of forgiving others, for instance, he reminds us why it is essential that we do so:

Forgiveness ScriptureTo forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.

Wisdom for today . . . and any day.

Lewis: Understanding Forgiveness

I like the way C. S. Lewis deals with sin and forgiveness in the following passages. First, he unfolds how people often, but erroneously, think of it:

If you had a perfect excuse you would not need forgiveness: if the whole of your action needs forgiveness then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness,” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. . . .

What we have to take to him is the inexcusable bit, the sin.

He then zeroes in on the heart of receiving forgiveness, and what must come first:

The demand that God should forgive such a man [one bent on evil] while he remains what he is, is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving. To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness.

Acknowledgment of sin and a genuine turning from sin—a.k.a., repentance—are prerequisites to forgiveness.

Repentance & Forgiveness

Lewis on Education: Go to the Sources

C. S. Lewis with BookNot all of C. S. Lewis’s writings are explicitly Christian, yet he brings a clarity to any subject that is drawn from his Christian convictions. One of his favorite subjects, naturally, was education, since he spent a lifetime teaching and tutoring students at Oxford and Cambridge. I find this particular Lewis commentary in an essay titled “On the Reading of Old Books,” to ring true. See if you agree.

I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.

The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books of Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

In my courses, particularly in the upper-level history courses, I try as much as possible to get students to read the documents from the era and what the people of each era actually said. I don’t avoid using interpretive books also, but I seek those books that are filled with the writings of the principal actors in the history. A good interaction between the historic agents and the modern commentators is a nice mix. I think we need both, yet Lewis is correct in emphasizing the originals. They are essential, so we can judge whether the modern analysts have understood those writings correctly.

This is called real education. We should try it more; students might like it.