While we were preoccupied with petty disputes and celebrity headlines, Twitter threads and Facebook drama, we became naive. From C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, we are reminded of how a world of comfort lulls us into a loss of moral clarity and how real danger calls us back to conviction and charcter. The world is dangerous. We need courage.
Now that it is certain the German humans will bombard your patient’s town and that his duties will keep him in the thick of the danger, we must consider our policy. Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with consequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?
We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame. The danger of inducing cowardice in our patients, therefore, is lest we produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility. And in fact, in the last war, thousands of humans, by discovering their own cowardice, discovered the whole moral world for the first time. In peace we can make many of them ignore good and evil entirely; in danger, the issue is forced upon them in a guise to which even we cannot blind them. There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor .
This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world – a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.
If you had forgotten it, this week, you were reminded that the world is dangerous. Let us remember, there is real evil at work in this world. Let us see again that there is such a thing as right and wrong. Let us recognize that character and honesty matter. For when we are lulled into ignorance of it, real suffering ensues. These things are not campaign slogans. They are not abstractions. They must exist in action more than mere words. When they are absent there are consequences. We are reaping the fruit of imagining we can play around with such important truths as morality and character.
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Our comfort and decadence have atrophied our moral clarity and strength. We need a move of God that produces a people of conviction and character. As Lewis understood, we need humility that leads to courage.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Our land and that land too, oh Lord. Give us courage that we might have the strength of character again.