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.