"If you asked twenty good men [people] today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has a lot to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself." C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 2001 Harper Collins San Francisco p. 25-25 - The opening words of the sermon.
I find myself in more and more conversations where this statement by Lewis is most relevant. Many in our time believe the Christian faith to be about denying people things. We deny them fun, approval, attention, even heaven itself. We withhold and withdraw. We become a people who hold on to God’s love as though it were a possession not an action.
Aristotle defined a prodigal as one who has wasted their substance. We see this clearly in Luke 15. The flip side of that same coin is the story of the elder brother. It seems that the religious problem is not in wasting our substance but in withholding it. This is one of Jesus’ points. You can be outside of what God desires for humanity by wasting what you have. You can also be outside of it by withholding your resources from others.
In this time of Lent, it is especially significant that we understand that our abstinence is all about securing “good things” for others. When we “give up” our time, our energies, our safety, our ‘fill-in-the-blank’, we do it with an eye to what we can do for others. I can lower my grocery bill by clipping coupons. Does it result in greater generosity?
Love, like Faith, is a verb, not a possession. It is an action to be taken, not a commodity to collect. Let’s consider how to “do good things” in this season that leads up to Easter, so that others will give glory to God.