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.