28 JUNE 1940, Page 8



ONE of the more valuable experiences which the war has given us is that, particularly in these latter weeks, it has forced us to live by faith, or at least to live from day to day without taking too much thought for the morrow. It is, of course, true that in normal times we have to reckon with the uncertainty of existence: we can never guarantee that a month hence our circumstances may not have been radically changed, that we may not be the victims of some unforeseen disaster or be dead. But in a period of peace the general background is stable enough to encourage us to make long-term plans. Today, whether our home is in city or village, we are faced with the urgent possibility that we may be called upon to endure the same catastrophic conditions as the people of Holland and Belgium and Northern France have endured. At any moment our familiar social environment may be shattered.

People can react to this kind of situation in three ways. They may develop a nervous tension so that they become the victims of fear, hysterical or repressed. They may adopt an attitude of sheer fatalism. Or they may live by faith. The first of these reactions requires little comment. I have not myself met with any personal examples of such fear, but it is obviously, even in its milder forms, a psychological disease. To brood over the horrors to which one may be subjected does not result in being forearmed to meet them: worry is a type of reflection which does not provide or seek to provide a solution. It produces merely unnecessary suffering, unnecessary, since the terrors which the imagination pictures may never materialise. And if they do materialise, they are no more tolerable in actuality because they have been contemplated beforehand.

What is the distinction between fatalism and faith? Both require self-control and courage, but fatalism is always coloured with an element of pessimism. We eat and drink because the dominating consideration is that tomorrow we die. We go about our daily work and shrug our shoulders because we remind ourselves that the worst may very likely happen. It is a courageous attitude, but it lacks a certain positive quality which faith supplies. What, then, is faith?

Faith is essentially a religious property, and it played a vital part in the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ. It might be defined as a sense of confidence in the universal, in the world which surrounds us, in the reality—present and future—of which we are a part. Jesus, indeed, was so conscious of the affinity of Himself with universal reality that He saw the universal whole in personal terms. He could speak of, and to, God the Father. He could attain complete communion with God. Moreover, he claimed that we each of us have the power to enter into this communion, and that in this realisation we are exercising the faculty of faith.

But what does this mean in everyday language, in the setting, for instance, of our present war conditions? Any religious exercise can quickly deteriorate into superstition, and there are obviously interpretations of faith which are superstitions and not religious. Here is one such interpretation which I suspect is not uncommon among contemporary Christians: " God is a loving Father, and if I pray to Him long and earnestly enough He will see to it that when the bombers come over it will be my neighbours and not myself who are the victims "; or, " God will miraculously protect us in England from the ordeal to which other nations have been subjected, if we pray hard enough and believe firmly that God will, mark us out for this special protection."

That is not faith, for it is a belief that we shall be enabled to escape from what may be the unpleasant realities of the imme- diate future. Prayer should never be a request that we may miraculously escape, but always that we may see each situation as God sees it, as it is. God is reality, and the insistence of Jesus on faith was that we should not avoid or imagine that God will allow us to avoid the realities: but rather that, because of our communion with Him, we shall have the faith to see that the realities, when they come, are not so evil as through our want of faith they appear to us to be. This state- ment may appear to be a callous under-estimate of the suffering to which thousands of our fellow-men have already been sub- jected. Are not the bombing and the fires and the machine- gunning of refugees on the road horrible enough realities, and will they not be equally horrible if they happen to us? Is it not sheer deception to talk of a faith which represenr these atrocities as not so very dreadful in fact?

There are two answers to this question. The first is that the nature of an event is relative: it is partly determined by our own disposition towards it. This can be true even of catas- trophic events. I remember in the last war, in the midst of the worst gas-bombardment which I personally experienced, a sudden sense that I was not nearly so terrified as I expected to be. Actually I suffered far more after it was all over, for I could not prevent myself recalling all the incidents and con- sidering what might have happened. The event in experience was less horrible than the event in reflection.

The second answer goes much deeper. Real faith is closely concerned with the relation of the individual to the whole, to God. If our faith is dependent on the expectation that we ourselves, individually, will be spared, it means that we are placing too high a value on our separate individual lives. This does not imply that we should be indifferent as to whether we survive or not ; if we are full of the spirit of life, we ought to want to survive in order that we may continue our creative work. It is not fatalism which we need in this hour of peril, but so close an identification of ourselves with the spirit of life that we know that we shall live even though individually we die. This is the secret of being joined inseparably to the springs of eternal life, and it expresses itself in the faith that, even if disaster comes, if we perish, if the standards of what we regard as precious in social civilisation are crushed by wanton destruction, yet the strength of life is such, the will of God is so vital, that ultimately the good will prevail and that we shall share in that final triumph.

I do not pretend that I can practise what I preach. But at least I am confident that this is a truth which our present experience forces home upon us.