“O Father, who hast ordained that in stern conflict we should find our strength and triumph over all, withhold not from us the courage by which alone we can conquer. Still our tongues of their weak complainings, steel our hearts against all fear, and in joyfully accepting the conditions of our earthly pilgrimage, may we come to possess our souls and to achieve our purposed destiny. Amen” (Anonymous).
IT CAN HELP US TO THINK OF THIS WORLD AS A BATTLEFIELD. The military metaphor is not the only way to illustrate life, of course, but it is a helpful one, given the problems we have to deal with. There is simply no denying that we face difficulties that must be conquered. We may ignore these difficulties, but they don’t go away.
Let me speak plainly: as far as our hardships in this world go, there is no safe middle ground. “You must either conquer the world or the world will conquer you. You must be either master or slave” (John Henry Newman). Those of us who are theists believe God is our helper, but even so, we must fight the problems that beset us or we’ll be overcome by them. The risks are real. The stakes are high.
Our foes are of various kinds. Some of our enemies are personal, while others are impersonal (natural disasters, financial reverses, and such). Some are external, while others are internal (thinking problems, self-discipline problems, and such). I believe our internal problems — those that have taken up residence inside our hearts and minds — are our most challenging, and I agree with Aristotle, who said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.”
When I was younger, I used to suppose that, at some point, life could be figured out and straightened out. I thought that one’s battles could be won decisively, and then one could live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquility. What I now see is that, as long as we live in this world, the challenges never go away. The business of conquering is an ongoing project. “Of freedom and of life he only is deserving who every day must conquer them anew” (Goethe).
But ultimately, conquering is not a matter of our own strength — it’s a matter of aligning ourselves with the principles of truth and goodness. If we side with what’s right, we’ll enjoy its triumph eventually.
“I believe that in the end the truth will conquer” (John Wycliffe).