It’s not the prospect of getting your face eaten off by hungry rats, or of whatever you most fear befalling you. No, it is the fear of ultimately betraying those you love, of preferring your self to them, of preferring that what you most fear be done to them rather than to you, and thereby discovering that your love was a lie, and that you yourself are less than nothing. It is the fear of doing, and being, what you hate.
The so-called Problem of Evil, widely considered as the strongest argument against the existence of God, is typically framed by asking why bad things happen to good people. But the real Problem of Evil is this: Why do “good” people do bad things? Why do we ourselves not do what we believe to be right? Why do we fall short, by the testimony of our own consciences? In this, I believe, and not in cancers or tsunamis, or even in man’s inhumanity to man, is found the greatest obstacle to faith. It is found not in what others do to us or each other, but in what we ourselves do, or fail to do.
In theory, then, as the Stoics might say, our Happiness and our Beatitude is in our own hands. Yet even so, “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. . . . I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Those of us who have foolishly gotten ourselves addicted to cigarettes know this better than anybody, and are reminded of it daily.
The answer, if there is one, is to understand, before we ever get to Room 101, that we are less than nothing, and that only God is Good. Perhaps then we will find in ourselves the strength of the martyrs. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The modern ear revolts at this: Am I not good? Why did God create me to be nothing, and so weak? Why, if he is our Father, and loves us, does he demand our abasement, and our abject subjection to Him? But, in truth, the Son is equal to the Father. God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. God is more us than we are ourselves. It is we who have made ourselves nothing. It is as easy as the Stoics say. It is as easy to lay down your life for your friends as it is to throw away those stupid cigarettes.
I believe there is salvation even for Winston Smith and for Julia. Perhaps, as barbaric as it sounds, there is a Purgatory, wherein what we fear most finally befalls us, and wherein we may discover for ourselves, if we didn’t discover it in this world, that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”