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