My post this week is a short one. I’ve been writing about the ways of bringing suppressed moral knowledge back to the surface. Last time I emphasized that these ways are merely illustrations, not magic tricks to be played on every audience, not use-on-all-occasions conversational stratagems. Sometimes, I said, the only thing to do is nothing – or what looks, from the outside, like doing nothing. One must wait alertly for an opportunity from God. And one had better be praying at all times, because one may have to wait a long while, and the opportunity may come and go by in a flash.
Case in point: An older, returning student visited my office hours one day to tell me that I was “scaring him.” The class had been studying Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Conversation went something like this.
“I’m scaring you?”
“Yeah. [He holds out his hand.] I’m shaking. See?”
He really was.
“How am I scaring you?”
“Well, it isn’t really you. It’s Aristotle.”
“How is Aristotle scaring you?”
“It’s this book of his you’re making us read.”
“How is Aristotle’s book scaring you?”
“Well, he keeps talking about the virtues. And it’s making me realize that I haven’t led a virtuous life.”
In the assigned reading, Aristotle had merely explained that the virtues are necessary for a flourishing life. He hadn’t mentioned God. He hadn’t mentioned law. He hadn’t said a thing about guilt or transgression. And I hadn’t said anything about them either.
Until this moment I hadn’t known that God could use an old pagan who said nothing about these things to bring about the conviction of sin.
And here the young man sat, his hands still quivering, waiting for me to tell him what to do about it.
The ball had been placed in my own hands. And I dropped it. Next week, why, and how not to.