A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive (p.115).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Did no one ever tell C.S. Lewis that these are the kind of quotes that make people not like you as an author? You can’t take one of the most romantic themes of Christianity (it’s even adopted in most every secular romance movies) and ruin it by displaying it’s rawness in a simple fourteen word sentence.
“Lovely forgiveness” becomes a phrase akin to “minor surgery.” Everyone knows what you mean and is agreeable to using the phrase until they are the one going to the doctor.
Forgiveness is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. The problem is that the Gospel as a very raw beauty. “Jesus in my place” purchasing forgiveness for my sin was gruesome. The power of the cross was so enormous that it could not only pay the penalty of our sin, but simultaneously change a scene that previously made us wince in horror to one that causes us to stare in awe.
The Gospel is so lovely that it transformed beauty itself. We find the echo of this transformation in the way we simultaneously marvel and resist forgiveness. Forgiveness is both the most compelling theme a well-told story can have, and the theme we most fear having to live out in our own story.
We might say that forgiveness is a God-sized beauty. It is a beauty that is too large to be contained in our finite and fallen lives. You can paint a sunset across a man’s back, but no matter how exquisite the art it does not compare to the sky set ablaze. Similarly, forgiveness is a God-sized action that when written into our life pushes at the edges of our humanity to such a degree that it is sometimes deathly painful.
This reflection pushes us to consider another miracle of the Christian faith – God came to live in us, and this is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). The God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) resides in us after our conversion. God brings His capacity into our finitude.
The grandeur of the story (forgiveness) that would otherwise explode our hearts is now possible because the God who (comparatively) draws the grandest sunsets on miniature post-it notes took up residence in our hearts.
Our resistance to forgiveness is a testimony or an echo of who we were before God slipped us on like a Halloween costume and began to parade His presence in our body as a way to appeal to others in whom He wants to reside.
When others see us execute forgiveness as a radically free gift, absorbing its cost in ourselves, they ask “How-why do you do that?” We can answer, “I couldn’t. The task is beyond my capacity. When I embraced the Gospel, God came into me and I gained His capacity to forgive. It still hurts, but it now hurts like the pain of childbirth, because I know it is a testimony to the new life in me.”
This is why (not my best estimation) we can almost all unanimously agree that forgiveness is a lovely idea, and then defiantly resist it when our opportunities come to put it on display. We reveal the miracle and beauty of forgiveness even when we resist it and even when it is painful to give.