Faith, Hope and Charity

Continuing my consideration of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, let’s turn now to questions of Faith, Hope and Charity (pages 112-129). These are known as the ‘theological virtues’ – and a virtue is a self-reinforcing good practice which we must choose to work at.

Lewis sees our human existence is a constant balancing act between reason and emotion. Even though we know certain things are true, and should give us security, our fears and other emotions can cause us to panic and doubt. For a new Christian believer, one who has recently become convinced of the weight of evidence that Christianity is true, this new faith will be challenged by an emotional storm – and sooner rather than later. Maybe this is borne of some piece of bad news, or perhaps it is because a powerful desire rises up for something known to be contrary to Christian morals. Daily devotions help reinforce what we know to be true in the face of our changing moods.

One of the perks of being an Aspie is that, having reached the point of deciding that Christianity (and its Catholic flavour) are intrinsically true, my faith is rarely rocked by passing moods. Yes, I have experienced “low spells” in my life where things have been difficult in work and relationships, but these seldom caused me to doubt God’s existence. There’s no passage in the Bible which promises a trouble-free life for Christians – our loved ones will get sick, die, and suffer the misfortunes of earthly existence.

Lewis comments that only those who have come to the point of “surrendering to Christ” will understand what it means to have this experience of deep conversion. This may be experienced in a flash or recognised in hindsight as something that happened immeasurably over years. Often it is borne of confronting one’s utter inability to resist temptation.

For me, there was a key year in the mid-1990s when two things happened. The first was that I was weighed down with the experience of wanting a relationship I couldn’t have, with a friend who was losing her faith. After months of agony, I said to God, “You must carry this burden, I can’t hold it any more.” On that day, I prayed in tongues for the first time. A few months later, having been resisting the idea of the call to priesthood, I surrendered to God and said: “You know best, show me what you want me to do in life – even if it is becoming a Catholic priest.” It was on this day – not the day I became a Catholic a few years before – that I made the intellectual decision to entrust myself to Jesus as Lord of every aspect of my life.

Faith is a virtue – that is, a daily practice to put into place. It means continuing to act according to the teachings of Jesus whatever life may throw at us. To believe is less about knowing things intellectually and more about “putting our trust in” Christ.

Lewis turns his attention to hope. Humans generally experience a longing for “something more”. Whatever we delight in, the delight fades. Some people use their life to chase “experiences” but nothing will ultimately satisfy. Others, more pragmatic, choose to stop “chasing rainbows” and settle for what they have; and may project an air of “superiority” to those they regard as adolescents chasing dreams. Lewis argues that desires exist because there is something capable of fulfilling them, and these unmet human desires are a signal to us that heaven exists. The picture-language used in the Bible to describe heaven merely points to its qualities – music for ecstasy, gold for eternity, crowns for power and splendour.

I’m not with Lewis 100% on the idea that if longing exists, the sought-for thing must exist somewhere in its fullness. I’m sure evolutionary biology can give some account of how a species benefits from a hard-wired drive to aspire – when suitable fruits are there to be harvested, aspiration pays off, and as long as not too much energy is expended on wild-goose chases, this strategy will succeed. But I do think I ‘get’ the idea of this unfulfilled longing. For me, it happens when surfing the Internet randomly – that sense that there is some page out there, just a click away, which has a funnier joke or a more interesting story, if only I knew what to click. I’ll just have to take Lewis’s word for it that music is the best way to experience ‘ecstasy’, as I’ve said before, music just doesn’t connect for me.

As for Christian charity, or love, Lewis is clear that this is a choice, not a feeling. It begins with behaving “as if” you love others and grows into affection for them. This is good news for Aspies! We can’t always feel, but we can choose to do good for others. (It is important, however, to check that our actions are appreciated by others and are not merely what the other person would like if they too were an Aspie!)

Lewis reflects on his very fresh memory of Nazi Germany to see how those who chose to act with friendliness or hostility to certain ethnic groups grew into a genuine love or hatred for those groups, by the very actions they chose to take. For my part, I know there was one occasion in my life when a person I instinctively didn’t like asked for my friendship. I made a deliberate choice to overcome those instincts and am glad to say that person is now a good and worthwhile friend.

As a Lenten reflection, I’ll leave you with this idea from Lewis. Do you doubt whether you love God? Ask yourself “What would I do if I was sure I loved God?” Go do it.


2 thoughts on “Faith, Hope and Charity”

  1. I have some follow up thoughts and concerns related to the final injunction of this post. As I struggle to figure out what love is in general and even more so what loving God is, I find myself hesitating in terms of appropriate action. In both instances, I feel the desire for correct action, yet am unclear what is considered appropriate as understood by the other party. The presumption to do for others what is not specifically requested seems like an overstep of social bounds and disrespectful in a way I would have trouble tolerating. But to not do for them, regardless of an existing request, constitutes a lack of charitably and thereby lacks love.

    We are all needed in areas large and small but where am I needed? Is it arrogant to think I am ‘needed’ anywhere? Is it self promoting to presume to tackle the larger tasks, or cowardly to never move beyond the small tasks? And surely both are necessary for the individual yet relative to that individual. Do most people just decide on impulse? But, as someone who struggles with both ADHD and Aspergers I have a deep-seated mistrust for my own judgment and impulsivity, especially where other people are concerned. Yes, to strive has its own merits, regardless of success, yet there exists a disingenuousness inherent when a person fails to properly examine their doubts regarding an action. Whenever I try to decide on an action I find a vast tree of branching possibilities but no guide on their relative merit as relating to a greater societal whole. How do I distill what ought be done in general into its relation on a personal level?

    An example: There is a certain virtue in giving up ones possession, yet there is also a virtue in the proper stewardship of your goods so as to build up the wealth of all. While each has its proper place and measure in the lives of every individual, how does one determine the ratios? Am I selfish when I purchase an amusing item, or am I being prudent in maintaining a level of tactile joy in life so that I might persist through depression and pursue other endeavors? And, if I don’t purchase the item, haven’t I deprived the just income of the persons involved in its production? And for what, to give to others what they have done nothing to earn? Yet who am I to judge who is really deserving of my dollar? But the decision is given to me to discern my own actions… To give over to God is good to say, and something I strive to believe and do, yet other than constantly looking for signs of approval, (a habitual action that seems rooted in self-obsessiveness) how does letting God work his will through you manifest?

    I find this question of relativism deeply troubling even as I strive to push it aside as it continues to take up a disproportionate amount of my time, detracting from whatever it really is I should be doing!

    If I really loved God, what would I be doing… The only answer I get is: Seek to do good “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”

    Such a vast, nonspecific, inscrutable yet vital statement leaves me floundering in uncertainty…


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