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C.S. Lewis on Forgiveness

By December 7, 20112 Comments

“To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”

– C. S. Lewis

This is so much more difficult to practice than it sounds. I pray that, each day, God is slowly transforming me into the kind of woman who aims not only to forgive the large, occasional offenses, but the daily offenses that would otherwise crawl into my heart, ever so quietly, and poison me.

But first I pray for a grateful spirit, since the forgiven are all the more eager to forgive.


  • Tim says:

    Sharon, you’ve done it again with your closing line. “But first I pray for a grateful spirit, since the forgiven are all the more eager to forgive.” How wonderful God’s grace is. And, as you point out so well, how hard it can be to remember to pass that grace along to those around us for trespasses large and small. This whole topic reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, written almost a hundred years ago, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”:

    Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Greater than all my sin;
    How shall my tongue describe it,
    Where shall its praise begin?
    Taking away my burden,
    Setting my spirit free;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

    On another note, I’ve read that passage from C.S. Lewis a number of times and really appreciate his encouragement to forgive large and small trespasses. On the other hand, while I hesitate to speak out against Lewis’s insights, his statement that “We are offered forgiveness on no other terms” is one instance where his lack of theological training glares. I think this is the passage Lewis relies upon:

    “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt. 6:14-15.)

    Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, is not a guidebook for living under the New Covenant, though. It is a description of God’s holiness and the obedience called for under the Old Covenant. (A comparison of these chapters with Deuteronomy 6 reveals a lot of thematic similarities, I think.) Under the New Covenant, we are told in Colossians 2:13-14 –

    “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

    Forgave all … cancelled the indebtedness … taken it away … nailed it to the cross. And all of this was accomplished before I was even born, ever sinned. For those who belong to God, all our sins are forgiven by Christ’s death on the cross 2000 years ago and there is not a single one we need to worry about receiving forgiveness for today. This is good news!

    Which brings me back to your wonderful post, Sharon. The forgiven certainly should be the most eager to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32.) Thank you for reminding us, Sharon.


  • Tim says:

    Wow, that was a long comment. Sorry to prattle on like that!


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