The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


May 22, 2024

The Gentle Slope

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In the earliest days after Israel entered the Promised Land there was no plan for a single leader following Moses and Joshua. Everything was tribal by design. No President. No King. No standing national armies. There would be no United Tribes of Israel – just Tribes. There was only the common mission of completely driving out the Canaanites and observing the Law.

The assumption was every tribe was capable of self-regulation for all had the same set of values in the Law. Such a system assumes people do not need external controls except in extreme circumstances. They were to look out for each other but not dominate or control. They were to live, as far as possible, in peace with each other. They were not to compete with each other or form parties to wrestle for power over every tribe. Instead, they were family – each unique but meant to live together in harmony. When there was a need for responding to a threat they could come together but then go back to their own territory.

It didn’t work for a number of reasons but primarily because the people after decades of strong leadership could not govern themselves or resist the snares of the Canaanites. They had no internal gyroscope. Canaan was a cesspool of temptation for Israel and one might say there was no more tempting place God could have put them. Everything in it appealed to their worst natures. Still, God did not command them to clean up the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land completely because they had violated the land itself with their corruption. He needed Israel to fumigate the land – not use air freshener.

So vile had the practices of the Canaanites become that there was no option for co-existing. A few tribes did drive them out while others thought reducing to slaves those remaining was enough. But they kept their idols and altars standing for they did not understand the corrupting power of what had been left intact. The Canaanites said to them, “Let us stay and work for you.” That’s always the case when we compromise. If the ends are right the means are justifiable and, like the Canaanites, promise to work for us. But what they discovered was the very same delusion that had enslaved the souls of the Canaanites would enslave them as well. They soon lost their ability to resist and were, as God promised, ensnared by the gods of the Canaanites.

The Gentle Slope

A snare is a very particular thing. It is not a minefield. A minefield is sudden and explosive destruction. A snare, unlike a mine, depends on the nature of the prey for the design of the snare. That is what evil understands so well. A snare leads the prey gradually down an inconspicuously narrowing channel until there is no room to retreat or turn around. There is something especially tantalizing for the captor in the little by little process of the snare as the prey only gradually realizes their fate. A slight discomfort. A little remorse. An insincere vow. And then the end. 

As C.S. Lewis writes in “The Screwtape Letters”: 

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.”

Yes, they had periodic relief as heroes rose up but they always returned to the slope of their faithless ways. There was no law in their hearts. They could not master themselves. They did what was right in their own eyes and, predictably, having no common standard for what was lawful, society disintegrated into small factions often at war with each other. What is right for you may not be right for me. Who is to say? What is right is set by whoever has the most votes. What is right is up to who can make people believe it is right. I read a good description of the Higgs Boson particle this week. It is the egg in a bowl of flour that makes it all stick together. A society with no common values is a bowl of flour with no egg.

A society that has no accepted standard of Law and a use for idols will always find itself in the same condition as Israel. Instead of being bound together we will inevitably be in bondage to the delusions of seductive idols. Israel could not resist the corrosive power of the idols around them and so disintegrated from within long before being conquered by others.

Image by Eliot Elisophon

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