Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 3, Chapter 7 : Christian Behavior (Forgiveness) | Summary



Lewis addresses the "terrible duty of forgiving our enemies." Many people feel outrage when asked to forgive wartime enemies. Christianity, however, mandates we forgive our enemies, as this is the only way God can forgive us. The basis of forgiveness is the Golden Rule injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself. This necessitates that we distinguish between the sinner and the sin: we can hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Christianity forbids murder, but it does not forbid killing in the name of justice. Forgiveness doesn't mean we withhold due punishment. It means we maintain love for the person being punished, even if their punishment is death. Lewis is no pacifist and in fact finds the taking up of "arms for the defense of a good cause" to be "one of the great Christian ideas." Young Christian soldiers, says Lewis, are denied their rightful experience of "gaiety and wholeheartedness" by the modern pose that war is a necessary evil that should be conducted with a sense of shame. Lewis reiterates that God judges not our acts themselves but the purity of our motives.

As imperfect as we are, God loves us. Understanding this truth is the basis of learning to love ourselves and others.


Lewis has built the motif of war throughout the text through his choice of metaphors (the universe is in the midst of a civil war between God and Satan, and humanity is fighting on the wrong side). He has also made allusions to World War I and the ongoing war in Europe, and he has made statements such as "Christianity is a fighting religion" (Book 2, Chapter 1). Now, in the chapter on forgiveness, Lewis reveals that he is enamored with the concept of war. One senses a tone of nostalgia for his own days as a youth in the trenches. For Lewis the experience of a soldier is properly one of "gaiety and wholeheartedness." His claim that "war is a dreadful thing" is negated by his immediate assertion that pacifists are wrong.

This depiction of war as something of a grand old time is no doubt intended to have the effect of building morale among Lewis's listeners. For nine months the Blitz had wreaked unprecedented destruction on Britain, and the war was still ongoing. Lewis's position might seem flippant in light of the extraordinary losses his listeners had no doubt suffered. One might also consider that his war bravado is intended to keep his listeners from feeling the full impact of their grief until the war was over and they could afford to do so. But the crux of Lewis's prowar position is none other than Christianity itself. War is an expression of the virtue of justice. To not go to war for a righteous cause is therefore unjust. Because war can be just, it is in alignment with God's will. And that, after all, is Lewis's moral standard. God has no problem with war; he is engaged in one himself, according to Lewis's metaphor.

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