Lewis has discussed the four Cardinal virtues—now it’s time to discuss the three Theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. He begins with charity. Nowadays, “charity” just means alms for the poor and needy. But in its full, Christian sense, “charity” refers to the ability to help and respect other people. As we saw earlier, Christ wanted us to love other people as we loved ourselves. The same is true when it comes to charity: we must treat other people with respect, even if we don’t particularly “like” them.
The argument of this chapter parallels the argument that Lewis made in the chapter on forgiveness—we must push ourselves to care about other people, recognizing that Christ instructed us to love others as we love ourselves. Notice that Lewis distinguishes between loving one’s neighbor and liking one’s neighbor—something that makes the act of really loving others all the more difficult.
Strangely, it is not necessary to feel strong affectionate feelings in order to be charitable. Some people are naturally cold—coldness might not be a very pleasant personality trait, but it’s not necessarily sinful. As long as cold people use their willpower to practice charity, they can be virtuous. Even more surprisingly, cold people who “go through the motions” of being charitable will sometimes become sincerely warm people. This brings us to an important rule: “when you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” In this way, Christian charity (which might sound like a cold, austere thing to an atheist) usually leads to affection and kindness.
Just as it’s possible to love someone without particularly liking them, it’s possible to be charitable without being affectionate. Charity, one could argue, is a Christian duty. Good Christians, regardless of their temperament, must push themselves to help other people who need their help. And in fact, Lewis argues, it’s possible to become more affectionate and loving by pushing yourself to help others. Lewis will use a similar argument in Book Four.
We’ve discussed how to treat other people. But how should humans feel about God? Christians are told that they must love God—and countless children have made the mistake of trying to force themselves to feel affection for God. The truth, as we’ve just seen, is more complicated: we must act as if we loved God, and over time, we will begin to love God sincerely. God’s love for humanity, by contrast, is unceasing. No matter how we sin or misbehave, God will love us.
What was true of people is true of God, as well—by “rehearsing” our affection for God, we can engender genuine affection for him. But it’s important to recognize that God need not rehearse his love for humans in the same way—his love for humanity is boundless.