The Slowness of Men In Realizing Its Goodness…

“And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.…” ( John 3:19-20)

Either we love the truth or we don’t. Truth and love have to be the starting point from where *all* other virtues and emotions are exercised so that all of us and those we witness to will see our potential for goodness in Christ. Our discussions and conversations about answering injustices must go through truth and love or virtues are turned into vice by the enemy. Truth and Love are the very makeup of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “God is love” and Jesus says: “I am the truth…”  Do we really worship, witness and help others with the mind of Christ, fully reflective of the divine personality, measured in our responses to each situation, always, always making sure our emotions are governed by the truth? Listen to what Chesterton reminds us about letting virtues like compassion run wild.

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered…it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”

This puts me in mind of an illustration from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a Christian story that has a great many Christian lessons to learn from.  At one point, on their way to destroy the Ring of Evil at Mordor, Gollum tries to frame Sam, Frodo’s companion, protector and friend. Sadly, Frodo is so weighed down and weak by the burden of the ring he is carrying and the encroaching evil environment of Mordor, that he doesn’t see through Gollum’s deception and he turns on Sam who has given him good common sense advice: Gollum is evil and cannot be trusted.  His pity exercised apart from the truth causes him to betray Sam, his best friend who has remained true. 

What happens after proves that Sam is right.  Inappropriate compassion, false pity, what Lewis calls the “passion of pity”  when firmness is needed will only get you and I involved in the same evil from which we might not be able to escape.

Word to the wise. And remember our Lord’s admonition in these days: “Be cautious as serpents yet innocent as doves.”  Notice how Lewis aptly describes the slyness of evil and the need for caution when exercising pity in the right way:

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”

“But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?”

“Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty-that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

“And what is the other kind-the action?”

“It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.” – C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce [between heaven and hell]

But why should we remind ourselves and others of what we should already know?  For the very simple reason that we and they have forgotten.  We have forgotten what Eden looks like.  We have forgotten that we have really, really fallen and are not acting good, not even the lowest victim among us. We have forgotten, as Chesterton reminds us, that we are all Sons of God who have lost our place and our position and that some among us are trying desperately to remind all of us despite our outrage at their efforts.  They have everything to lose here for doing it, but everything to gain in men slowly realizing their goodness in Christ.

“Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope—the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For the mind and eyes of the average man this world is as lost as Eden and as sunken as Atlantis. There runs a strange law through the length of human history—that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.

This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, every man forgets his environment and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself. This is the real fall of Adam, and it is a spiritual fall. It is a strange thing that many truly spiritual men, such as General Gordon, have actually spent some hours in speculating upon the precise location of the Garden of Eden. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.

The pessimist is commonly spoken of as the man in revolt. He is not. Firstly, because it requires some cheerfulness to continue in revolt, and secondly, because pessimism appeals to the weaker side of everybody, and the pessimist, therefore, drives as roaring a trade as the publican. The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God. Jesus Christ was crucified, it may be remembered, not because of anything he said about God, but on a charge of saying that a man could in three days pull down and rebuild the Temple. Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness. The prophet who is stoned is not a brawler or a marplot. He is simply a rejected lover. He suffers from an unrequited attachment to things in general.” – G. K. Chesterton, Introduction, The Defendant, 1901

image source: Expulsion From the Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole, 1828

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