I posted earlier this week about the call in Hebrews 10:32-36 to hold fast to our confidence in the reality of Christ and His sacrifice for the sake of endurance. Unfortunately, the reputation of confidence has suffered in this postmodern world, where “humility” has come to mean doubting your convictions. As G.K. Chesterton noted:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed... The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether... We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.
Because a person’s confidence in the rightness of his convictions enables him to endure in his course of action, even at great cost to himself, there is much discussion these days about the dangers of this sort of confidence. Those who think their beliefs are true are feared and even hated. Evils of all sorts have been traced back to confidence, and confidence is declared its root and source. The remedy for evil in this view, then, is for everyone to reduce their confidence in their beliefs. It’s commonly thought that this would make the world a better place.
Confidence Can Serve Either Good or Evil
But confidence itself is a morally neutral trait. What matters is what you’re putting your confidence in. If your confidence is well placed in the true and the good, then great good will follow from the endurance it produces. But if your confidence is wrongly placed in false and evil ideas, then great evil will follow. The problem, therefore, is the false beliefs, not the confidence which can serve either good or evil. The remedy for evil in this view is for everyone to address the actual beliefs people hold, endeavoring to reduce confidence in false beliefs and raise confidence in true ones. The greater confidence people have in good, true beliefs, the better off this world will be.
If this second view is correct, then seeing confidence as the root of evil and pressuring everyone to have less confidence will have the unfortunate effect of causing a net loss of not only bad things in this world, but also a great deal of good. To do good is a very, very difficult enterprise—one that is often met with ridicule and intense opposition (just look at Jesus). Confidence is an absolute necessity for anyone who would persevere through this.
The Blessings of Confidence
William Wilberforce is a perfect example of the blessings of confidence. How was he able to fight for twenty years, enduring scorn and personal attacks day in and day out, to put an end to the slave trade in England? Listen to his own explanation:
The grand object of my parliamentary existence [is the abolition of the slave trade]...Before this great cause all others dwindle in my eyes, and I must say that the certainty that I am right here, adds greatly to the complacency [i.e., the settled, peaceful confidence] with which I exert myself in asserting it. If it please God to honor me so far, may I be the instrument of stopping such a course of wickedness and cruelty as never before disgraced a Christian country.
Wilberforce was certain that he was right about what was wicked and cruel, and he was certain that the right thing for him to do was to stop that wickedness. That is what drove him steadily on to end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. Would you have chided him for his confidence? If so, what if he had listened to you? What if all the abolitionists had listened to you? The world would now be a much uglier place.
Let’s work to end evil, not confidence.