Tuesday, October 31 2006
"Love the sinner but hate the sin." St. Augustine
"For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again." Mere Christianity
How appropriate it is that C. S. Lewis should follow up the chapter on Christian Marriage in Mere Christianity with a chapter on Forgiveness. As Ruth Graham has said, "A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers." And as St. Paul has said, "In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:28). If we love and forgive ourselves then we ought to love and forgive our spouse because we are one-flesh with our spouse. As Paul goes on to say, "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:29-30).
We should hate the sin in while loving the sinner who is our spouse just as we do the same with ourselves. The problem is that we all have a hard time forgiving ourselves, or really, accepting God's forgiveness through Christ. In a letter to a friend written many years after his conversion, C. S. Lewis said it took a long time before he really believed in his heart that God had forgiven him for his sins. Many of us can identify.
But once we begin to have even an inkling of how much God loves us and forgives us through Christ, then we are enabled, by his grace, to pass on that love and forgiveness to others, including our spouse, our children, our extended family, our neighbors, our co-workers, even to our enemies. For if God loved us in Christ while we were his enemies, how can we not love and forgive our own enemies?
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).