In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.
– G.K. Chesterton, _All Things Considered_, 10.
I have a friend who is a retired university professor. He often says that he remains under the academic’s illusion that one can cure the world with an essay.
While perhaps a delusion, this is a useful one–it keeps him writing. He may not change the world, but he can change one reader at a time. He has certainly had that effect on me.
Chesterton’s citation invokes another delusion, and it is a less useful (and less benign) one.
There is often the conviction that we must make a massive, decisive influence on whatever cause or truth we support. “If I can’t have much of an impact,” we think, “it’s best not to get involved.”
In a pure tactical sense, this may be true. But, from the strategic perspective, it’s dangerously wrong-headed. For the causes that truly matter, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Right will ultimately triumph, truth will out. Whether I add my voice or keep silent matters, in that sense, very little.
But, it matters a great deal whether I add that voice or not–to my own character and development. What ultimately matters is that I stand and be counted.
We must, ultimately, put everything on the altar. We are not interrogated as to whether we bring a fortune or a widow’s mite. The question, rather, is whether we unclench our grip on all that we treasure, all that we might value more than God and his truth. And, while the richly blessed have their own set of challenges, those who have (or feel they have) very little to bring have a unique difficulty–when we have (or feel we have) very little of value, we are sometimes apt to hoard the pittance that we have. It seems so frail against the need, and might leave us with nothing. Or, so we fear.
There may be political/social issues of moral import about which we ought to speak. There may be lies that we could expose, did we not fear the reaction of those spreading them. Such situations might seem like losing battles, and perhaps they are.
But, the point is not to win the battle–the point is to pick a side. A President Packer observed:
The adversary does everything he can to tamper with [God’s purposes] in every way he can, and he wins so that the scoreboard often looks like we’re losing. Well, we may be behind a little, but when all the tomorrows are experienced and the final curtain is closed, the Lord Jesus Christ and his people will have the ascendency.
– Boyd K. Packer, “Lessons From Gospel Experiences,” (Seminar For New Mission Presidents, 25 June 2008)
So, take up your flail, or your reed. We need not speak or write well (though we should do so as well as we can)–we must, though, speak and write.
To be silent is also to pick a side–or to fail to pick the side that will matter to us, and for us.