C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, argues that love and kindness are not the same. I think his distinction is immensely helpful and quite important. He says that there is a kindness in love, "but love and kindness are not coterminous. Kindness, when it is separated from the other elements that are present in true love, is indifferent to its object. Kindness (alone) does not truly care if the object becomes good or bad providing it escapes suffering. Many parents, for example, believe that they love their children but what they actually give them is the type of kindness Lewis speaks of, a kindness that is absent real love. Simply put, they spoil them with this type of kindness.
Lewis argued that when we truly love someone we will always show more than this type of kindness. We are even willing to allow those we love to suffer if it will benefit them in the long term. Writes Lewis, "You asked for a loving God; you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the world, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes."
Moderns have confused these two and Christians are as guilty as most. This is one major reason why we do not love our neighbor, and the people of God, as we should. "Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God, Everyone who loves knows God and has been born of God" (1 John 4:7).
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C. S. Lewis seems to be defining kindness as potentially problematic because it seeks to alleviate suffering and increase comfort whether that is beneficial to its object or not.
I don’t think everyone defines kindness that way but from a conceptual point of view I think it’s important to recognize that increasing comfort is not always the best thing you can do for another person.
On the other hand, I find that some conservative Christians make way too much of this distinction and use it to excuse any amount of unkindness on the basis that “I’m doing what’s best for you”.
I find this very presumptuous.
When Jesus defined what ‘love your neighbor’ meant, his example of love involved helping someone *who knew exactly what his needs were*. So the person offering help was not interfering in an unwanted way. He was offering what the injured person knew he needed and was asking for. And in fact in this case, the help did increase the injured person’s comfort greatly.
I think it would be wonderful if Christians could be banned from the excuse “I am being loving because I am doing what *I* know is good for you – regardless of how you feel about it”.
Even though it would mean some Christians have to completely rethink their approach to sharing their faith.
As is almost always the case you make a solid and valuable contribution. I wonder how I get the time to write and you do so much more than I do. Thanks for these insightful and important distinctions. Lewis is an important word but too often we have made him into a hero we fear to question. I love Lewis. He makes me think and he also forces me to disagree with him sometime.
Thanks John. In this case I don’t think I’m disagreeing with C. S. Lewis’ point – only with how he defined the word ‘kindness’. I would prefer people to do what’s best for me rather than what makes me most comfortable.
At the same time, I find myself afraid of people who are so convinced that what they are doing is best for me, they haven’t stopped to ask me what it’s like to be on the receiving end!
Hi, John this is my first ever blog entry ever, so here it goes. I think it is interesteing that the word ‘kind’ is precieved so differently in Christian churches, schools and communities. What caused this and why has this not been challenged or continue to be a battle front for the Church. I am sure ‘kind’ is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to having a biblical understanding of words, such as love, faith, disciple, spirit, and so on. Thanks for your time.