Love and Forgiveness: C. S. Lewis on How People Treat Others

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you treat people the way you want them to treat you? Do you forgive those who hurt you?

The Bible calls people to love both their neighbors and their enemies. This love includes God’s spirit of forgiveness. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis discusses these Christian virtues that inform how we regard and treat people.

Read more to understand Lewis’s view on Christian love and forgiveness.

Love and Forgiveness

Christianity urges people to treat others with kindness, fairness, and forgiveness. Essentially, the Bible requires you to unconditionally and universally treat all others with the same consideration that you would like them to show you. This includes showing love and forgiveness toward your enemies.

This raises a challenging proposition: How do you love those who have harmed you? Lewis argues that you don’t have to like what someone did to still love them as a person. You can love the person while hating their actions. While it may sound difficult to keep these two things separate, Lewis argues that we all have practice making this distinction: This is how we treat ourselves. Most people dislike their own vices, evil deeds, and faults while still managing to love themselves as people. Thus, the virtue of benevolence simply requires giving the same nuanced consideration to everyone else that we give to ourselves.

What Does Psychology Have to Say About Forgiveness?

In addition to the spiritual requirement for forgiveness asserted by lay theologians like Lewis, psychologists argue that forgiveness provides many important benefits for our well-being. For the person who forgives, forgiveness can provide the release of unhealthy anger and resentment, a chance to heal from past wounds, and a chance to move on with their lives. For the person being forgiven, forgiveness can lead someone to acknowledge harm they have caused and seek moral growth. Forgiveness also benefits both parties by creating an opportunity to restore the relationship.

However, most psychologists reject the idea that forgiveness is an obligation or a duty, as Lewis suggests. They argue that pressuring someone to forgive who is unready or unable can be detrimental to their well-being, especially if it requires opening up unprocessed trauma.

While Lewis argues that we do have a duty to forgive our enemies, he acknowledges that only those who have cultivated their virtue may be able to forgive serious wrongs. For example, addressing a British radio audience during World War II, Lewis told his listeners that if they can’t forgive the Nazis, they can start by forgiving their neighbors and work their way up.
Love and Forgiveness: C. S. Lewis on How People Treat Others

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  • A look at the objective nature of morality
  • What it means to surrender yourself to God's moral law
  • What Christ means to Christian practice and how to follow his example

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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