“Cruelty Is Surely More Evil than Lust”
As a teenager C.S. Lewis became an atheist, a position he held until he could no longer ignore what he saw as evidence for the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. He became an apologist for Christianity. Among his best-known writings are the Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and Plain Christianity.
Lewis’ writings are easy to read, but sometimes not easy to accept. He wasn’t afraid to call traditional Christian beliefs on his carpet if he felt they were not the truth as he understood it. For him, following Christ meant total commitment, no half-way measures. His intellect did not permit him to accept easy answers or half-truths.
Lewis said, “Cruelty is surely more evil than lust.” He was aware that most Christians keep their own lists of unacceptable sins and acceptable sins. Our private lists divide themselves into the sins of others (unacceptable) and the sins we hold dear (acceptable). We have the disturbing habit of making excuses for our sins while holding others accountable for theirs.
It’s a great game we play: picking and choosing what we consider sin based on the things we enjoy and the things we see others doing. To make matters worse, we often judge others for sins they commit while we engage in other versions of the same ones, recognizing sin in others which we are more than willing to overlook in ourselves.
Jesus would have none of it. He was very clear about sin. If you read carefully through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) you begin to understand the nature of sin.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes—the blessings. Jesus doesn’t begin by condemning people for what they do wrong. He begins by praising—blessing—people for attitudes and patterns of behavior which he approves. Perhaps we should do the same. Rather than focusing on sin, perhaps we should establish the blessed behaviors in ourselves and look for them in others.
When we read the Beatitudes we find the opposite of cruelty. They are about kindness, humility, peacemaking, mercy—habits of mind and action which are the opposite of cruelty. We can’t be cruel to people and treat them with kindness. We can’t be cruel to people and show them mercy. Humility does not permit cruel behavior, nor does peacemaking.
Look as closely as you will, there nothing in the Beatitudes about lust. Does this mean that lust is acceptable? Definitely not. If we read a little further (5:27-28) we find that Jesus sees no difference between adultery and lustful thoughts. To think lustfully about someone is the same as committing adultery in Jesus’ eyes.
Jesus is not alone in his condemnation of lust. It is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:17 says, “Do not covet.” Surely covetousness and lust are synonymous. To lust after something or someone is to covet.
Paul creates lists of sins. We find one in Ephesians (4:30-32) and another in Galatians (5:19-23). Actually, each list has two parts: characteristics we should avoid and those we should cultivate. Yes, we will find lust there, if not the word then actions which derive from lust. But we will also find anger, bitterness, wrath, evil speaking. All these lead to cruel behavior.
We can’t pick and choose. We can’t say “My cruelty is acceptable but your lust is not.” Paul says “No!” Jesus says, “No!” God says, “No!”