About evil (part 2)

In summer 1954, Dag Hammarskjöld gave a notable talk to a gathering of the World Council of Churches, at Evanston, Illinois. Just as he met academic groups with zest—he was at home in university settings—he also met religious groups as a kindred spirit. At Evanston his hosts asked whether he needed background information about the World Council. He laughed and said no, that wouldn’t be necessary: their organization was a successor in an ecumenical movement founded in his Swedish hometown by one of his boyhood mentors, Archbishop Nathan Soderblöm. The passage here from Hammarskjöld’s talk is long but there are no wasted words. Toward the end he finds his way, as you’ll see, to a pure Hammarskjöldian theme.

Dag Hammarskjöld said:

When we go beyond the great social and economic trends to the underlying ideological tensions, the contribution that the United Nations can make is…limited. Faithful to its ideals, impartial in the clashes of interest, and with patience and perseverance, it can be one of the focal points for the hopes of all those who honestly work for peace. It can help to justify their patience. But the very nature of the Organization makes it inadequate as a means of influencing those basic attitudes which are decisive in the battle for the hearts of men. The impact of its actions and attitudes can only be a very general one…. A war to be fought in the hearts of men can be waged by those speaking directly to men. It is here that I see the great, the overwhelming task of the Churches and of all men of good will of every creed in the work for peace. Their vital contribution to this work is to fight for an ever-wider recognition of their own ideals of justice and truth.

However, they also have the power to show men the strength—so necessary in our world today—that follows from the courage to meet others with trust. We have seen how out of present-day conflicts and the underlying tensions have grown a widespread state of fear and frustration, of distrust and desperation. This is, as we all know, in itself a source of evil. It maintains an atmosphere in which unbalanced reactions may suddenly release the explosive power of the forces which we have to master. In the face of this development, we have reason to remember the truth that he who fears God will no longer fear men.

In speaking for justice, truth, and trust in public affairs, the Churches may be a decisive force for good in international and national political life, without assuming a political role or trying directly to influence political decisions….

In the Sermon on the Mount it is said that we should take no thought of the morrow—“for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Can anything seem farther from the practical planning, the long-term considerations typical of political life? And yet—is this not the very expression of the kind of patience we must all learn to show in our work for peace and justice? Mustn’t we learn to believe that when we give to this work, daily, what it is in our power to give, and when, daily, we meet the demands facing us to all the extent of our ability, this will ultimately lead to a world of greater justice and good will, even if nothing would seem to give us hope of success or even of progress in the right direction.

Certainly, the words about the evil of the day and the things of the morrow do not mean that our actions should not be guided by a thoughtful and responsible consideration of future consequences of what we do. But they do mean that our work for peace should be pursued with the patience of one who has no anxiety about results, acting in the calm self-surrender of faith. (Public Papers 2, 354–56)