A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help (p. 86-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It is easy to think of the obstacle to generosity as the absence of thinking of others. We like to think of it this way because it makes our lack of generosity seem more innocent. We become like the child who knew he was to clean his room or complete his homework and is called on it. We reply, “I forgot,” hoping this will somehow make our neglect seem more neutral.
But absence is a non-entity and, therefore, cannot be an obstacle. By definition an obstacle must be a thing; not a non-thing. Lewis points out that there are two “things” that impede our lack of generosity: fear (namely insecurity) or pride.
The first part of becoming generous is to have the courage (if we are fearful) or humility (if we are prideful) to ask the question, “Which am I?” The same character deficiency which impedes our generosity will also impede our willingness to acknowledge our lack of generosity. This is why honestly asking good questions is vital to the change process.
Usually the lack of generosity rooted in fear does see the needs of others and is concerned about those needs. However, shortly after feeling compelled to be generous, they begin to consider the cost. “If I give [blank] to them, then I would not be able to handle it if something happened to me.”
The insecure person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else shares the same insecurity. Generosity is not assumed (believed to be available for their time of need “if” it were to arise) because fear reigns.
The lack of generosity rooted in pride either does not see the need because of its self-centeredness or condemns the needy person for not having prepared like they did. Self-centered blindness obviously prevents generosity. Condemning makes generosity seem like a reward for laziness.
The prideful person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else should share the same approach to life they have. Generosity is not assumed (a natural response to the ability and opportunity to help) because they are the standard and they do not practice it.
We see in this reflection that generosity is about more than giving something away. Generosity transforms our experience of community. This is consistent with the book of Acts. The early Christians were generous so / because they were experiencing a new form of community.
Our goal in being generous is not to win more points with God, but to allow the Gospel to penetrate our assumptions about life in a new way. God is not punishing us or taxing us with his call to generosity. Rather, He is continuing the work He began when we first experienced the Gospel – freeing us from ourselves. The bars of that self-bondage may be fear or pride.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Finances” post which address other facets of this subject.