It is sad that a lie spoken with conviction can often mislead, while truths communicated timidly are frequently overlooked or doubted.
It was 20 July 1940. C.S. Lewis wrote to his brother Warnie about his thoughts after listening to one of Hitler’s many speeches. The German Army had already occupied the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands.
Unbeknownst to the two veterans of World War One, just four days before Lewis wrote this letter, Hitler issued Führer Directive #16, setting into motion Operation Sea Lion—initiating planning for the invasion of Britain itself.
The fact that both men recognized the malignancy* that was Adolf Hitler, makes Lewis’ candid comment which follows, all the more powerful.
Humphrey came up to see me last night (not in his medical capacity) and we listened to Hitler’s speech together. [The BBC offered a running translation.] I don’t know if I’m weaker than other people: but it is a positive revelation to me how while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little.
I should be useless as a schoolmaster or a policeman. Statements which I know to be untrue all but convince me, at any rate for the moment, if only the man says them unflinchingly.
The same weakness is why I am a slow examiner: if a candidate with a bold, mature handwriting attributed Paradise Lost to Wordsworth, I should feel a tendency to go and look it up for fear he might be right after all.
Lewis recognized as a flaw his particular susceptibility to implicitly trusting boldly made statements.
This human vulnerability lies at the heart of the infamous declaration of another demagogue, Vladimir Lenin, that “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
I suspect many of us share this inclination to trust words we hear spoken with conviction. At the same time, we are probably much less vulnerable to their manipulation than Lewis was, if for no other reason than because our modern ears have become dulled to the incessant and strident lies flooding the public forum.
A Note for Christian Writers
Skillfully treading the line between the modern deities of Pluralism and Tolerance becomes more challenging each day.
The temptation is to temper our message, to timidly whisper what we know to be true. Thus, we dilute Jesus’ clear declaration that he is the Truth (John 14:6), by adding qualifiers such as “at least, he’s the truth for me.”
Speaking boldly is not arrogant. It has been a vital quality of apostolic preaching since the beginning. Peter and John were seized for preaching the Gospel.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. . . . So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
[After their release, they prayed:] “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . .” (Acts 4, ESV).
Just so, we who know Christ “cannot but speak” about how he is at work in the world and in our lives.
Though our boldness is tempered by humility arising from our awareness that we have no righteousness of our own, we must still offer the truth we know, with confidence. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NASB).
* There is evidence Adolf Hitler did not appreciate C.S. Lewis’ wartime service.
13 thoughts on “Communicating with Conviction”
This is so true! Thank you for this! We need a good balance of humility and boldness. And I especially need to work on the latter!
You’re in a better position than those of us whose challenge comes with the former! Press on boldly so that grace may abound!
Glory be to God! I love this post … this is a subject that I I often talking about. 2nd Timothy 4:2 says “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.”
This wonderful passage you cite provides the balancing truth to speaking boldly. It must also be done with “great patience.”
People can be dismissive of those who speak or write boldly, alleging that they are “close-minded.” However, patience disarms that argument. Likewise, we should also instruct or share “carefully.” It’s too important a responsibility to be pursued without diligence.
Exactly! Patience is the key word because
With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone says Proverbs 25:15 ESV
The most important fact I left out is patience is a spiritual gift (Galatians 5) from God. We must trust Holy Spirit and not our own efforts.
Yes… all virtues find their source in God. You can, however, if you are very spiritually hungry and courageous… ask God to teach you patience. Those are challenging lessons indeed.
It is true that a lie told enough times becomes the truth. I recall it has been true for so many politicians in history. It is the story of how one political party takes credit for a popular action they were opposed to. There is a time and a place for being bold with your writing, but I think it is essential to have your facts right, I always thought it was Milton that wrote that epic work, but I could be wrong, perhaps it was Byron.
You’re right. Having your facts right is vital. Some people appear to think that volume can substitute for veracity!
However, you’ve contributed to my confusion and now I need to research whether it actually was Milton or Blake…
You are correct about not declaring Faith with confidence. I think we view the way we speak as a matter of politeness. We don’t want to be the loud liar, and therefore eschew all associated behaviors -like boldness.
Politeness is, as you say, the key element. We’ve been taught that it is rude to share one’s deepest convictions about these matters of eternal significance. Sad.
I thoroughly enjoy a vigorous (and respectful) conversation with those who share beliefs different than my own. If we can come to some positive consensus, fine. If not, by listening to one another we both experience the opportunity to grow in our knowledge.
I love the message in a more bite size format. Yes, are to be bold in love, not heavy-handed, but appropriate to the situation at hand, right. When people are in a broken state, there is gentleness, when in other times, we can be tough and direct. I pray we always listen to the Lord’s leading.
Pingback: Epitaphs & C.S. Lewis « Mere Inkling Press