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Kindness Is Not the Same as Love

Many decades ago, C.S. Lewis wrote about the problem of substituting kindness for love:

We [speak] nowadays almost exclusively [of God’s] lovingness …. And by love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others happy …. What would really satisfy us would be a god who said of anything we happened to be doing, “What does it matter as long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in Heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves ….

Kindness, as such cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.

[But] As scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons who are to carry on the family tradition are punished …. With our friends, our lovers and our children we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.

[Hence] If God is love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness …. [And] though he has often rebuked and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense  (The Problem of Pain, Chapter 3).

We do well to ponder that being loving is not the same as being kind. Love should not be reduced to mere kindness, but our reductionist culture has tended to do so. The results have often been problematic. To reflect on this problem, I’d like to use some insights from an article by Peter Kreeft, written some years ago.

Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]. Kindness is certainly a good thing and has an important place in our relationships. It is evidenced by goodness, charitable behavior, pleasantness, tenderness, and concern for others. According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself in the desire to help someone in need without expecting anything in return.

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a great mistake to equate kindness with love.Kindness is an aspect of love but it is necessarily distinct from it, for it sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. For example, a father may impose punishment on his child out of love.

Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity, but love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined, and ill-prepared for life.

Read more at Archdiocese of Washington. 

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