One of the best books in my library is Virtue and Vice by CS Lewis, which is like a tiny dictionary containing his writings on different words and phrases. My “love your enemies” project has been ongoing for awhile, (Confessions of a Sin-a-holic, 5 Practical Ways to Love Your Enemies) there has been both progress and regression, and in my unpacking and organizing I ran across this book and flipped through till my eyes landed on this:
LOVE YOUR ENEMY.
“I imagine somebody will say, ‘Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?’ All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature.
We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.
Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves–to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.“
Ah, Clive. How do you always hit me right in the middle of my sin nature? It is so easy to think that loving my enemies means trying to like them when that isn’t the case, maybe that will come at some point but it isn’t the focus of what I’m trying to do. The point is to get the “feeling of resentment.. that wants to get one’s own back” to die. The point is to scrub the corners of my soul clean of the bitterness that webs in there faster than my kitchen gets dust bunnies.
I flip a few pages earlier and read this:
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”
FORGIVING VS. EXCUSING.
“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites…“
That, right there! Too often I am trying to find the will to excuse people rather than forgiving them, and really when you think about it forgiveness is the easier thing. It is easier to wrap my brain around the fact that I am acknowledging the offense and deciding to move on than to try to pretend that the offense isn’t there and doesn’t affect my feeling toward them.
I probably already quoted my mom at some point saying, “just imagine the blood of Jesus dripping down their forehead.” I’m finding that is quite true, and really one of the best reminders to me. I cannot hold someone’s offense over them and withhold my love from them without living in complete hypocrisy to the truth that Jesus forgives me far worse. If he can let it go, not only let it go but love me fiercely in spite of it, surely I can bring my heart into submission too.
FORGIVING THY NEIGHBOR.
“I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it.”