The Power of Nothing

Reed JolleyCommunity News

When the years and decades slip away we sometimes find that one era’s red-hot disciple has become another era’s backslidden, lukewarm, un-Christian-couch-potato. Today’s hand-rasin’, Bible-quotin’ prayer-warrior sometimes morphs into tomorrow’s languid, listless lover of Sunday morning television. For example, I have a friend who was exuberant in his faith while in college. He led a vibrant ministry, married a pretty girl who loved Jesus and was committed for life. This couple was destined to succeed in life and in godliness. Everyone, and I mean everyone, predicted success for this young man. Today, thirty-something years later, my friend has denied the faith he once embraced. He calls himself an atheist. He also left his wife and children and lives alone with his career. To employ an overly used metaphor, he fell away.
But how did he fall? And how do others fall? How might you fall? Some of us go all-in for sin. The really big sins, the fun sins, capture our heart. We indulge defiantly and then deny the God who made us. The desires of the flesh and the lusts of the world are simply irresistible.   We choose adultery over Jesus, money over worship, power over prayer. But most of us who fall from grace don’t really fall at all. We succumb to what C. S. Lewis called the pressure of the ordinary.
Usually it is not the sensational sins that beset us (drunkenness, avarice, lust, gluttony and greed). Usually it is not fame and fortune that pull us from God, but rather the ordinary trials of life. We are like the seed that fell among the thorns. We grow for a while, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful (Matthew 13:22). The pressure of ordinary bill-paying, grocery-shopping, lawn-mowing, child-rearing and job-hunting threaten to rob our Christian fervor and suck the joy out of our Christian life.

In his classic work The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis uses the voice of a senior demon to speak of the power ofNothing to destroy a Christian life. Screwtape advises Wormwood,

And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…

In other words the ho-hum of life is a very dangerous warrior. The daydreams of a businessman can lead him to perdition. Improving his serve on the tennis court can lead him a thousand miles from his desired destination.

Screwtape goes on to encourage Wormwood that small sins are probably more effective in subverting faith than extravagant transgressions.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.


What are we to do in the light of this terrifying truth? How shall we avoid the power of Nothing? Surely the Scriptures are clear. Success in the Christian life comes only to the persistent. As the writer of Proverbs has it,


Keep your heart with all vigilance. . . Let your eyes look directly forward. . . Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil (Proverbs 4:23-27).

 May it be so in our lives.