Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Charity is Selfish?

Today, when we hear the word “charity,” we think of United Way, the Salvation Army, philanthropy, giving to the need and the poor, what used to called “alms” a hundred years ago. The meaning of the word has changed over time; the Biblical meaning is, C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, is something more like “love, in the Christian sense.”

He’s not talking about love as an emotion or feeling. “It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.”

I have to think about that: charity as a state of the will, a state of determination, of doing.

One key to Lewis’ description is that phrase that is easy to overlook, “which we have naturally about ourselves.” When we want to do something that we want to do, we will move heaven and earth to get it done.

Well, I do, anyway. Ask my wife.

That act of selfishness is closer to what the Biblical definition of charity actually is – having that same capacity for others that you have for yourself. This sounds something akin to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love others as much as you love yourself.

Ever practical, Lewis asks, what do you do when you don’t love someone? What happens when people can’t find any feeling in themselves to love others, or love God?

His answer: Act as if you do. “Don’t manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.”


His point is that in the very act (and the emphasis is on “act”) of doing, we will find the way. Sometimes – perhaps more than sometimes – this kind of love, this “charity,” is what faith is about, faith in serving others, in serving God and changing our own hearts.

And this was a short chapter – a little over four pages.

Jason Stasyzen and Sarah Salter have been leading us in a discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To see more posts on the chapter entitled “Charity,” please visit Sarah’s blog, Living Between the Lines.


Rob said...

Hi Glynn,

Action first, and then emotions will follow, is a good approach to getting out of passivity. Happy to read more of CS Lewis. We're here in the Russian countryside where I just posted before you in Authentic Blogger.

Rob MacDonald
American Russia Observations

Maureen said...

Can you imagine a world that responded to Lewis's question by taking his advice?

Kelly Sauer said...

This is always a tough approach for me - it is the opposite in my life. God inevitably moves in my heart before I can act. I'm beginning to believe that I may be the exception to this rule CS Lewis suggests.

Paul tells the Romans to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Jesus says that "if you love me you will obey my commandments" - not as a proof of love, but as a natural result and heart response to it.

We don't often consider "will" as "desire" - I like how you touched on that here - but desire is at the root of every action we pursue. I'm not sure we can ever really "do first" before our emotions follow.

Charity - real charity - as you've described it here seems rather to be entirely dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit on a heart, transforming our will (desire) to God's will (desire).

And thinking about it, I wonder if we think we started it by our own actions, we grow too much space for pride?

Cheryl said...

I confess I've not read the complete works of Lewis. In fact, I think I've only skimmed the Screwtape Letters. Maybe it's time I make a commitment to read one every other month... You've got me thinking, always, Glynn.

jasonS said...

A densely packed 4 pages for sure. I loved this and wish so many more people would realize this (I'm definitely included in this at times). We don't have to feel it to act, but that runs so contrary to our culture right now. Besides what you've mentioned here, I thought about in marriages where someone just says I don't feel love for my spouse anymore. We can stir up that love by acting on it instead of calling it quits. Anyway, thought-provoking stuff. Thanks as always, Glynn.

nance marie said...

it's true. we don't always go on our own feelings of what we want. this is very much like looking past our self to God it may be easier to see what God is calling us to do. And sometimes we are to do things that we don't understand if we are just looking at ourself and our own feelings. But if we are relating with God, and God tells us to do something... Well, let me put it this way. There are times i have wanted my children to listen to what i was telling them to do, and i did not want to explain why, at the time, i want them to do it.
That did not make any sense to them, and with time of the essence and importance in having them do it at the time, they stood there asking why they were to do it ..or...saying that they did not feel like doing it. I think that most of the time we are like children in that we want to understand why, and we want to feel like doing what we are told to do.. and we never grow out of this wanting to know the whole plan before we take a step.

it is faith.
giving up one's selfishness, in each first step of trust; and finding one's real self in the walking, with God.

Helen said...

Yes, his chapters are short in this book (most of them, anyway), and I am glad. I don't think I could absorb more than a few pages of his wisdom at a time!
I like the way he insists that love is action, not a feeling. It's harder to work up the right feeling than it is just to do something!