It is a singular thing to consider that there are people in the world who, having renounced all the laws of God and nature, have made laws for themselves which they strictly obey . . . . (Pascal, Pensées, VI, 393)
The solution to abuse of God’s gifts is not rejection of God’s gifts but thankfulness for God’s gifts.
“It is perhaps even more useful to contemplate our stupidity than our sin. Consciousness of sin gives us the feeling that we are evil, and a kind of pride sometimes finds a place in it. When we force ourselves to fix the gaze, not only of our eyes but of our souls, upon a school exercise in which we have failed through sheer stupidity, a sense of our mediocrity is borne in upon us with irresistible evidence. No knowledge is more to be desired. If we can arrive at knowing this truth with all our souls, we shall be well established on the right foundation.” (Simone Weil, “Loving God with Your Mind”)
Most of us at one time or another have heard (or maybe even articulated) a self-analysis something like this: “Just because I do bad things doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.” What, though, is the appreciable difference between a “good” person who does bad things and a “bad” person? Just because you’re a few notches over on the curve doesn’t mean you’re in a different class.
“It was an unhappy truth, he told himself, that nearly all people in the world behave badly when there is something really big at stake.” (Mr. Willy Wonka, in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator)
I’m in chapter three of Ralph Wood’s book on Tolkien, where he masterfully explores the presence and function of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, courage or fortitude, and temperance) in The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a gem on courage:
“In the pagan realm, courage is supremely manifested when one dies in battle while defending a just cause. In the Christian world, it is a willingness to die as a martyr rather than denying Christ, or else to refuse to kill others only in order to preserve one’s own life. Even when courage does not require the shedding of our blood, it always entails a refusal to love our lives so much that we lose our souls. Courage refuses to commit sin because of fear. It makes war against the brute power of evil with all the strength of one’s body and soul. As its name indicates, courage is located at the center of our being, in the cor – the heart and its intentions. We are called to courage in order to preserve our integrity before others and in the presence of God: to keep ourselves morally and spiritually intact.” (Wood, p. 100)
“Before the fall, strictly speaking, there was no conscience in humans. There was no gap between what they were and what they knew they had to be. Being and self-consciousness were in harmony. But the fall produced separation. By the grace of God, humans still retain the consciousness that they ought to be different, that in all respects they must conform to God’s law. But reality witnesses otherwise; they are not who they ought to be. And this witness is the conscience.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.173)
“When all is said and done, sin proves to be an incomprehensible mystery. We know neither whence it is nor what it is. It exists, but has no right to existence. It exists, but no one can explain its origin. Sin itself came into the world without motivation, yet it is the motivation for all human thought and action. From an abstract point of view, it is nothing but a privation, yet concretely it is a power that controls everyone and everything. It has no independent principle of its own, yet it is a principle that devastates the whole creation. It lives off the good, yet fights it to the point of destruction. It is nothing, has nothing, and cannot do anything without the entities and forces God has created, yet organizes them all into rebellion against him. With everything that belongs to God, it opposes everything that belongs to God. It is the will of a weak, finite creature in its revolt against the Creator. It is dependence at war with the Independent One and striving for its own independence. It is impermanent becoming in a struggle with him who exists eternally. It is the greatest contradiction tolerated by God in his creation, yet used by him in the way of justice and righteousness as an instrument for his glory.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.145)
“Just as sin is dependent on the good in its origin and existence, so it is in its operation and struggle. It has power to do anything only with and by means of the powers and gifts that are God-given. Satan has therefore correctly been called the ape of God. When God builds a church, Satan adds a chapel; over against the true prophet, he raises up a false prophet; over against the Christ, he poses the Antichrist. Even a band of robbers can only exist if within its own organization it respects the rules. A liar always garbs himself or herself in the guise of truth. A sinner pursues evil under pretense of the good. Satan himself appears as an angel of light. In its operation and appearance, sin is always doomed to borrow, despite itself, from the treasury of virtue. It is subject to the unalterable fate – while striving for the destruction of all good – of working simultaneously on its own demise. It is a parasite of the good.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.139)
“Sin started with lying (John 8:44); it is based on illusion, an untrue picture, an imagined good that was not good. In its origin, therefore, it was a folly and an absurdity.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.69)