Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the January 1951 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
"What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." - Romans 7:15
Looking out on this world of ours it is difficult to escape the feeling that we are living in a mad house. Are the forces which appear to govern the international situation rational forces? Surely not. And if they are irrational the future is unpredictable and ominously dangerous.
If we could put the question to the whole world, governments and peoples alike, and receive an honest answer, the vast majority would say that they do not want a war. The statement needs qualification, perhaps, because for some oppressed peoples a third war must seem the only possible hope of breaking open their prison. But speaking generally, and including almost certainly the Government of the U.S.S.R., we can say that nobody wants a war. And if the affairs of men were really controlled by reason, as some people naively think, all the energies of mankind would be devoted to avoiding war. But no - to our alarm and astonishment - we find the reverse is the case. Every day something is said or done which brings war nearer. It seems impossible to cease preparing ourselves for suicide. Atomic bombs fill us with horror and disgust. Yet we have to go on making them as fast as we can. What perverse spirit is it which hurries the world along paths not of our own choosing? We remember St. Paul's words: "What I hate, that do I."
Of course the simple orthodox answer to this question is to blame the Russians for everything. Their obstinacy and cunning is responsible for it all. But while there is, of course, a large element of truth in this, as a complete explanation it is far from adequate. Russians don't enjoy wars any more than we do. And remember that not so long ago we attributed all the world's ill to the Germans; and the Italians; and the Japanese: With General Franco thrown in to make weight. It is smug to look across the world from our island home and condemn the deliberate malice of "foreigners" for the sorrows of this terrible century. Nowadays we even tend to include the Americans in the general censure, blaming them for hasty diplomacy, blaming General MacArthur for taking too many decisions on his own account, and so on, All our criticisms may be justified as far as they go, but is everyone on earth out of step except us? Surely the human dilemma, expressed by St. Paul in our text must lie deeper than that.
As we read St. Paul's letters we find that from time to time he breaks out into paradoxical statements as though struggling for words with which to express an insolvable contradiction. (The sixth chapter of II Corinthians, for example, speaks of the Christian ministry in terms of violent contradiction: "As deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, and behold we live.") I think this is because he clearly recognises the tension of opposing forces rooted in human nature itself. Life is not made up of a simple pattern of things good and bad, true and false. Experience is more complex than that. Things can be good and bad, true and false, at the same time. We may at once want and not want a thing. We may be both attracted and repelled but it is a single response. And that is why reason alone is often powerless to grapple with reality. We fondly suppose that any problem of relationships should yield to common sense. But that is not so. The contradiction n the affairs of men is due to a contradiction in the heart of Man.
How strange, we say, are the German people. They produce beautiful art and lofty philosophy, and also concentration camps. How odd that a sentimental people, a kindly and hospital people, even, are at the same time capable of such brutality. How does it come about that the land of the Moonlight Sonata is also the land of the Twilight of the Gods?
But contradictions of one sort or another are not unique to the German people. Every nation, just like every person, presents us with a puzzling paradox when we come to know it. Nicholas Berdayev in his book, "The Russian Idea," points out that there are two opposing states of consciousness within the Russian people. There is an elemental pagan wildness and enthusiasms that we can clearly discern in Russian songs and dances which seem to surge out of the earth itself. But at the same time there is a strong tendency towards the very opposite for this - esceticism, sacrifice, patient suffering, almost a monastic ideal of self denial. And it is indeed a mysterious paradox that the Russian people. one of the most profoundly religious and even mystical in the world, should at the moment be engaged in a crusade for Marxist materialism and atheism.
Examine some of the goals towards which human beings strive, and also some of the dangers and disasters from which they shrink, and you will find that it is sometimes only in thought as opposed to experience, that pleasant and unpleasant things can be rigidly divided. In life they often overlap. Freedom, for example, is a greatly desired thing but it is also greatly dreaded. Men will make tremendous sacrifices to achieve it, but they will fly in horror from the loveliness of personal responsibility which freedom means. The most primitive dread is that of death. But psychology has classified a strange truth - always known to men of insight - that life itself may be a thing from which we flee, and death has a power to attract as well as repel us. This does not apply only in a limited sense to abnormal persons with a suicidal tendency. It applies to everybody. There is a death wish as well as life wish within us; and thus we are pulled at the same time towards annihilation and nothingness. and towards creation and joy in existence.
Similarly, it would seem absurd to say that suffering can be attractive. Yet there is a condition of mind in which people enjoy submitting to suffering. And, conversely, it is possible to enjoy inflicting pain, not only on an enemy but on someone you love. It is extraordinary, but true, that cruelty can conceal love. And kindness can be a mask for terrible cruelty.
An everyday example of the contradiction in human nature is provided by those people who, after quarrelling with one another consistently for a long time, suddenly amaze us by going off and getting married. On the other hand, bosom friends may abruptly reveal themselves as deadly enemies.
Nothing is more expressive of the paradox of life than the relationship between the sexes. This is not the place to examine the question in detail, but it is surely obvious that the sexual impulse is one of the most powerful of all attractive forces, and at the same time something which repels and horrifies. Both these feelings are present deep down in all of us. And so it is that the relationship of marriage, when it is wholly natural and unredeemed, is one of conflict as well as comradeship. Some wives love their husbands and nag them unmercifully! We have all met husbands and wives who seem to find it impossible to avoid quarrelling with one another. They even seem to enjoy it! By so doing they illustrate the strange truth that the sexes are at war with one another as well as in alliance. Do you know these verses by Stephen Phillips?
"My dead love came to me and said,
God gives me one hour's rest,
To spend upon the earth with thee,
How shall we spend it best?
Why as of old, I said, and so
We quarrelled, as of old.
But when I turned to make my peace
That one short hour was told."
There is, therefore, in the deep places of human nature, a tension set up by the conflict of opposing principles. Reason alone cannot resolve this conflict. If you have ever tried to settle a quarrel with somebody by means of an argument you will know well what I mean. Our emotions remain divided even when the mind is persuaded that they are irrational. The intellect alone cannot unify personality. The tragedy of human life is that man is at war with himself.
There is, however, a power in the world which is strong enough to produce harmony between our most violently conflicting impulses. And that is the power of Love. If, for example, communist and capitalist powers were truly inspired by a love for humanity, many of the difference between them could become opportunities for a fruitful alliance, to the benefit of everybody. The fact that such a possibility belongs to the realm of idle fancy shows the measure of our spiritual poverty. There is no lack of intelligence in the world. Enlightened self interest would have brought in the Golden Age long ago had it been able. But without love, and the sanity which it brings, irrational passions make wreck of all out careful plans.
It is extremely unrealistic to ignore this fact. To appeal to the power of love is to be laughed out of court. For love seems a weak thing compared with firm, manly, common sense. Nevertheless, human nature is so divided against itself that unless we can find love in it it is powerless to do anything but pursue its own ruin.
The Christian Church knows that the source of divine love is outside the human mind, in God. It knows also that this Love has entered the world in Christ, and is available for everyone through faith. Faith, therefore, is love's firm foundation, By means of it the human heart finds peace which the world cannot give. Opposing forces within us, and within our relationships, can transcend themselves in a new harmony. This is indeed the only way of Salvation. Therefore the task of evangelising Christ is of supreme importance. But unless His love moves in our own hearts we labour in vain to open His Kingdom. It is His Spirit, not His Name, which saves. And without His Spirit this universe of ours becomes totally irrational.