The Equality of the Fallen

Social IssuesReligion

  • Author Justin Patton
  • Published January 2, 2022
  • Word count 848

My friend Jason recently shared a great excerpt from Kierkegaard’s “Practice in Christianity,” in which S.K. identifies an important truth. Though the means through which we are drawn to God are many, Kierkegaard says they converge at the consciousness (i.e. awareness) of sin. Don’t let the word “sin” scare you off. Feel free to exchange it with “wrongness” or “evil” (people have all sorts of things they think of as wrong or evil).

Humans have always been keenly aware of the bad behavior of the other guy. Take me, for instance. I’m aware of how self-assured many people around me seem to be. What is it that they are so sure of? Mostly how bad the people are who differ from them politically. But it hardly requires a difference in politics to reveal our ungracious natures. When even the smallest of inconveniences come my way, I tend to assume the worst of others as well. “The mailman didn’t bring the package up to the house? I was waiting for that delivery! What a lazy, no good…” Sometimes I wonder if our entire existence doesn’t revolve around a constant, exhausting moral examination of ourselves and others, and not very often are we impressed with anyone.

I wrote my first story, The Battle of the Windy Isle, with this ethos in mind. I wanted to tell a tale about a curse that afflicted people in different ways. Those who were cursed remained largely unaware of it, having slipped into the malady more deeply over time. However, simple things, such as gratitude, joy, or forgiveness, could sneak in and undo the damage with surprising speed.

Early on in the story otherworldly curses are foreshadowed by the more familiar, earthly variety. This occurs in a conversation between a grandfather and grandson when the grandfather responds gracefully to a difficulty. However others, like his grandson Aisen, find that graciousness difficult to understand. As the story progresses Aisen begins to recognize the value of forgiveness, and eventually demonstrates some very grandfather-like responses of his own.

The Windy Isle is a children’s story, but sometimes it is parents (even Christian parents) who struggle to prioritize forgiveness. Society doesn’t always help us maintain a gracious mindset, either. While we do see some moments of grace celebrated, too often forgiveness seems to be confused with weakness. We are tempted to believe that finger-pointing and condemnation are the virtuous things—regardless of (or maybe because of?) our political or religious persuasions. But if we must err, in which direction should it be? I submit (and I think the Bible teaches) that we should err on the side of forgiveness. Such a choice is costly, to be sure, and our pride makes it all the more difficult.

C.S. Lewis explained the issue this way: “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God.” The curse of imagining a God in one’s own image—repulsed only by the evil of other people—slips in bit by bit and remains mostly undetected by the one afflicted. Yet the awareness of sin that Kierkegaard spoke of remains, albeit in a hobbled form.

However, if that handicap begins to heal, the consciousness of sin can still be a means through which we may yet be drawn to God. We must come to see the flaw in ourselves as well as in others. My hope is that readers of The Windy Isle will grow in the awareness of the “equality of the fallen”—and we all fit that bill. It is for this reason that we should view ourselves as better than no one. It is a choice that presents itself often.

As Lewis said elsewhere, choices are significant things: “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

Or, if you recognize the connection between graciousness and gratefulness, perhaps a more condensed way of putting it is this:

“The distance between being ungrateful for something and cursing it is not as great as one might imagine.” — Virgil, Battle Chief of Linraw (from The Wizard’s Rebellion)

Justin Patton is an instructor at Murray State University because audio professors don't need PhDs and have just enough free time to write fantasy stories. His books and blogs can be found here and here

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