I often hear that charity or love is an action, not a feeling. Okay. But:
1 Corinthians 13:3 (DRA)
3 And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
This seems to imply that there can be actions that would be considered charitable (doing good for others) but actually aren’t charitable. But how is this possible, unless it means charity also has to do with attitude? I am just confused because I always hear that it is not about emotions but actions, but it seems like it might be some of both.
(1) It would be foolish to speak of “charity” as a virtue if it were primarily emotive, since we have little control over our emotions.
(2) When we say that actions matter more than emotions, what that means is that charity is primarily an act of the will, rather than an act of the passions. In other words, charity means “willing what is best for another,” rather than “feeling good things about another.” Willing what is best for another is primarily other-centered. Fixating on my good feelings about others is primarily me-centered.
(3) As an above poster said, feelings matter, and can make it easier to practice charity. For instance, that a man loves his wife makes it easy for him to sacrifice and suffer to take care of her, and to rejoice in doing so. But the virtue there is in the sacrifice and suffering, not the emotional love.
(4) You said above “attitude.” This is the right word, not “emotions.” Charity has to do with attitude moreso than emotions. Suppose that I have strongly negative feelings toward some person who has, perhaps, fallen on hard times financially. Suppose that I suspend those hard feelings to help them out financially, simply because they need the help. That is charity, even if it is not (positive) emotion. I am willing what is best for another, solely for that person’s sake.
Now suppose I were helping them out just to make a show of my generosity to others. Then charity would be lacking; the action would be me-centered, rather than other-centered. It would not be a work united to Christ. The same action, the same emotions, but different moral valences, because of my different attitudes.
We can be charitable in a number of ways and it can make us feel good or the person feel good. But true charity can also mean that pain or sacrifice is involved. Perhaps a very small example of this: As a child we see many things we want or have many things we want to do, but our parents know that we are going to get hurt or be in danger if we have/do them. They say no, which is a charitable act. We cry and complain because we don’t understand. Still we have been given the gift of charity. We have been kept safe from our own ignorance.
Other times we may learn more if we are allowed to make a mistake, rather than have someone always there to make sure we don’t make mistakes. So it might be more “charitable” for a mother to let her child play at something that might result in a small boo-boo, than to stop them right away. Here is one my mother did: My brother liked to play with the cans in the lower kitchen cupboard. That was fine as long as he had shoes on…
One day he would not put his shoes on, so mom warned him, that he could drop a can on his foot and let him play. Within five minutes he dropped a can on his bare feet. He screamed and cried and complained. Mom simply told him, “I told you to put your shoes on and that you could get hurt playing with the cans if you didn’t.” He always put his shoes on first thing in the morning, after this incident.
Not all charity has to do with giving money, food or shelter. It comes in many forms such as lessons learned, holding people responsible for their actions, honesty instead of looking the other way and so on. Charity is about sacrifice and truth.
So the difference between attitude and emotion would be that attitude is “I’m doing this for this person’s own good” (rather than for some selfish reason) while emotion would be “I enjoy doing this”? One is a thought and motivation, but the other is the feeling while doing it?
Thank you for the replies, I’m just struggling to understand it because sometimes I try to do the right thing out of a purely intellectual determination but feel nothing or even unhappy about it, and then I worry that it doesn’t “matter” because I don’t “care.”
You are hitting on something very important here.
Charity - or Agape should be a “state of being” that we aspire to. Jesus, in Mt 5:48 tells us that we must be perfect in Love as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Feelings and actions then flow from our state of being.
Of course as Paul points out, we might act in charitable ways for other reasons…fear of punishment or to garner attention and accolades etc…but these would be false reasons.
Love needs to be the core - even of our Faith for note that in the same passage, Paul says that if he has faith enough to move mountains - but has not love, he is nothing.