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   Chapter 3 THE DARKEST DOUBT

Where No Fear Was By Arthur Christopher Benson Characters: 4583

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Now we can make no real advance in the things of the spirit until we have seen what lies on the other side of fear; fear cannot help us to grow, at best it can only teach us to be prudent; it does not of itself destroy the desire to offend-only shame can do that; if our wish to be different comes merely from our being afraid to transgress, then, if the fear of punishment were to be removed, we should go back with a light heart to our old sins. We may obey irresponsible power, because we know that it can hurt us if we disobey; but unless we can perceive the reason why this and that is forbidden, we cannot concur with law. We learn as children that flame has power to hurt us, but we only dread the fire because it can injure us, not because we admire the reason which it has for burning. So long as we do not sin simply because we know the laws of life which punish sin, we have not learned any hatred of sin; it is only because we hate the punishment more than we love the sin, that we abstain.

Socrates once said, in one of his wise paradoxes, that it was better to sin knowingly than ignorantly. That is a hard saying, but it means that at least if we sin knowingly, there is some purpose, some courage in the soul. We take a risk with our eyes open, and our purpose may perhaps be changed; whereas if we sin ignorantly, we do so out of a mere base instinct, and there is no purpose that may be educated. Anyone who has ever had the task of teaching boys or young men to write will know how much easier it is to teach those who write volubly and exuberantly, and desire to express themselves, even if they do it with many faults and lapses of taste; taste and method may be corrected, if only the instinct of expression is there. But the young man who has no impulse to write, who says that he could think of nothing to say, it is impossible to teach him much, because one cannot communicate the desire for expression.

And the same holds good of life. Those who have strong vital impulses can learn restraint and choice; but the people who have no particular impulses and preferences, who just live out of mere impetus and habit, who plod along, doing in a dispirited way just what they find to do, and lapsing into indolence and indifference the moment that prescribed work c

eases, those are the spirits that afford the real problem, because they despise activity, and think energy a mere exhibition of fussy diffuseness.

But the generous, eager, wilful nature, who has always some aim in sight, who makes mistakes perhaps, gives offence, collides high-heartedly with others, makes both friends and enemies, loves and hates, is anxious, jealous, self-absorbed, resentful, intolerant-there is always hope for such an one, for he is quick to despair, capable of shame, swift to repent, and even when he is worsted and wounded, rises to fight again. Such a nature, through pain and love, can learn to chasten his base desires, and to choose the nobler and worthier way.

But what does really differentiate men and women is not their power of fearing and suffering, but their power of caring and admiring. The only real and vital force in the world is the force which attracts, the beauty which is so desirable that one must imitate it if one can, the wisdom which is so calm and serene that one must possess it if one may.

And thus all depends upon our discerning in the world a loving intention of some kind, which holds us in view, and draws us to itself. If we merely think of God and nature as an inflexible system of laws, and that our only chance of happiness is to slip in and out of them, as a man might pick his way among red-hot ploughshares, thankful if he can escape burning, then we can make no sort of advance, because we can have neither faith nor trust. The thing from which one merely flees can have no real power over our spirit; but if we know God as a fatherly Heart behind nature, who is leading us on our way, then indeed we can walk joyfully in happiness, and undismayed in trouble; because troubles then become only the wearisome incidents of the upward ascent, the fatigue, the failing breath, the strained muscles, the discomfort which is actually taking us higher, and cannot by any means be avoided.

But fear is the opposite of all this; it is the dread of the unknown, the ghastly doubt as to whether there is any goal before us or not; when we fear, we are like the butterfly that flutters anxiously away from the boy who pursues it, who means out of mere wantonness to strike it down tattered and bruised among the grass-stems.

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