C. S. Lewis on Love & Kindness (and the difference between the two)


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The following is abridged & adapted from C. S. Lewis’s book “The Problem of Pain,” pages 35-44, & 58.  The parenthetical remarks are mine.

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Are we not in an increasingly cruel age?

Perhaps we are.

But I think we have become so in the attempt to reduce all virtues to kindness. Plato rightly taught that virtue is one. You cannot be kind unless you have all of the other virtues as well. If, being cowardly, conceited, slothful, lazy, you have never done a fellow creature great mischief or a great injustice or been cruel and unkind to him, that is only because your neighbor’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease. Every vice leads to cruelty. Even a good emotion, pity, if not controlled by charity and justice, leads through anger to cruelty.

By Love, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy. And not happy in this way, or in that; just happy. What most of us mean by God is not so much a Father in Heaven, as a grandfather in heaven—a senile old benevolence who, as they say, liked to see the young people enjoying themselves, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, that a good time was had by all.

But if God is Love, then He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. Because He is what He is, His Love must be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already so deeply loves us, He must labor to make us more lovable.

When Christianity says that God Loves man, it means that God really actively Loves man. Not that he has some disinterested and impartial concern for our welfare, but that in hard to swallow and unbelievable surprising truth, we are the actual objects of His great Love. You asked for a Loving God, and you have one. The great Spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is in fact present. Not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy; not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate; not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests; but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made worlds, persistent as an artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, and as jealous and inexorable and exacting as the love between a man and a woman.

Love demands the perfecting of the beloved (the growth, betterment, healing, improvement, uprightness, and goodness of the beloved). Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than even hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Love forgives constantly but condones least. Love is pleased with little, but demands all.

The mere kindness which tolerates anything except pain and suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. In other words, there is kindness in Love, but Love and kindness are not coterminous. When kindness is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, only that it escapes suffering. Personally, I do not think that I should value much the “love” of a friend who cared only for comfort and happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.

(Or mere acceptance.)

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Abridged and adapted from “The Problem of Pain” by C. S. Lewis, pp. 35-44, 58, parentheticals mine.
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About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in "The Problem of Pain", C.S. Lewis, Emotional Maturity, Immature Love, Kindness, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Perspective, Real Love, Spiritual Growth, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to C. S. Lewis on Love & Kindness (and the difference between the two)

  1. patricemj says:

    I was loved this way. So much always expected of me, to reach up, reach higher. I loved being loved that way and now its the way I love too… people respond to this kind of love. They trust the person who says, whoa, that’s not a good thing to do, you’ll hurt people, you don’t want to hurt people… because they know someone exists who is considering the larger good. It’s good to be loved by someone who reminds you of your place in the world, reminds you your choices mean so very much. Relativism is kind of a lie; and the notion of personal happiness is a bit of a dead end (imho ha ha ha).

  2. Jenny says:

    I agree patricemj, it is wonderful to be Loved by someone like this. I happen to be married to a man who Loves like this and I trust him more than anyone else in the world! It hasn’t always been easy (that may be the understatement of the century), but I know that what we have and are building together is real and is based on something so much more sturdy than fleeting emotions.

    A Love that will require each of us to be our very best. Not easy, but the rewards are great.

  3. pianni says:

    Yes, I feel the Truth in this. Well said.

  4. Pingback: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible” (The Dalai Lama) | What Is Real True Love?

  5. michele says:

    great insights. thx for sharing these wise words

  6. Pingback: Random Thoughts About Kindness… |

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