Friday, March 11, 2011

The lesser of two evils

I'm reading The Imitation of Christ right now and last night I came across something very interesting. In the Third Book, "On Internal Consolation," Thomas à Kempis has this to say "On Patient Wrestling Against Carnal Desires":

1. O Lord God, I see that patience is very necessary for me, for many things in this life do not happn as we would like.
I see well that whatever plans I make for my own peace, my life cannot be without some battle and sorrow....

2. If you say you are not able to to suffer so much, how then will you be able to suffer the fire of purgatory?
Of two evils we should always choose the lesser. Strive, then, on God's behalf to endure the little pains of this world, so that you may escape eternal torments in the world to come.

Leaving aside the issue of purgatory, Thomas is saying that it's far better to choose the "evil" of a hard struggle against sin in this life, rather than to suffer the evil of punishment for your sins in the next life.

Or, for us moms, facing the difficulty of training a toddler can be overwhelming at times, but how much better it is to face that struggle, that "evil," now rather than to put it off until the child is six or twelve or fifteen years old when disciplining him will require far more work and will yield scantier results.

That's very good counsel, and I wonder if The Imitation is the origin of that phrase. If so, its original meaning was nothing like the way it's used in modern politics.


  1. I was just sitting here thinking how frustrated I am with my children, which really means that I am frustrated with the difficulty and upset that I must "suffer" this way. They're not the problem - I am.

    Thanks for the encouragement. :)

  2. I'm glad it was encouraging.

    With my three oldest grown up I can verify that this is one of those things C.S. Lewis was talking about when he said that we should act as though everything depends upon our actions, because it does; and we should pray as though everything depends upon God, because it does.

    You'll never be the perfect parent, but the Lord is so very merciful. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust," and we should have that same pity on our own children.

    "My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways."

    My most difficult child and the one I felt the most like I was failing is the only one who has offered me heartfelt thanks (remembering what Amy wrote in her recent post) -- but then, I spent more time praying for God's mercy on that child and working to overcome my anger (this is the only child who has ever caused me to lose my temper and degrade myself by shouting) and express affection when I sometimes didn't feel it.

    Pick and choose your battles -- see your child as a broken sinner (and by the way, none of us asked be born with Adam's nature) who needs you to help him overcome sin the way a weak nation needs a strong king to keep out rapacious invaders -- the way England needed King Alfred to keep out the Danes.

  3. This is a great reminder, Kelly. Thank you!


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