An elderly Native American man was walking with his young grandson when the boy asked: “Grandfather, why do I find it so hard to be good?” The old man replied: “It is the battle between the two wolves.” The boy looked up quizzically as the old man explained: “Inside each of us there are two wolves fighting to be master: one is evil, vicious, prideful, grasping. The other is good, gentle, humble, giving.” The boy walked along silently for a time and then asked: “But grandfather, which one will win?” The old man looked fondly at the boy’s upturned face and said simply: “The one you feed.”
The story may be new to the reader, but the theme is as old as mankind: the war between good and evil inclinations fought in the heart of every human who has ever lived. This is a central plot of literature from ancient times to the present, as heroes and villains struggle with moral decisions which shape their character and define their destiny (think Hamlet, Star Wars, and Despicable Me).
The moral of the story is also obvious: when we indulge an impulse, be it good or evil, we nourish it and give it strength. That is why the Bible constantly exhorts us to choose goodness over evil. But that truth is not limited to Holy Scripture – every great philosopher, teacher, and religion has taught that the daily choices we make dictate what kind of person we are.
“But,” we may ask “is this little parable consistent with Biblical truth?” If, by that question, we mean whether it is in our own power to feed the good wolf into dominance and starve the evil wolf into submission, the answer is: “Only superficially.” It is certainly true that by willpower and self-discipline, an individual can choose the behaviors that are shown to the world – to conceal the evil wolf while displaying the good one, so to speak, But the internal battle of the heart and will rages with undiminished ferocity for all of one’s life. In truth, the idea of an evil nature which can be defeated by our good nature is far too simplistic and completely unrealistic.
Firstly, the motivation to evil that preys on our soul is not a “lone wolf,” but a “wolf pack” which Martin Luther characterized as “the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.” Against this formidable pack of predators we can bring to the battle absolutely nothing of our own. Yes, each human is born with a rudimentary moral sense (a vestige of the image of God in which were created) but we lack the ability to nourish it into the robust righteous creature that can stand before a just God. As St. Paul puts it:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)
Yet, our situation is far from hopeless, because it is not our personal well-meaning but inadequate ‘wolf pup’ matched against the forces of evil, but rather the Son of God who has already guaranteed the victory through His own sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. Yes, our daily battle with our sinful natures continues. But we fight the battle, not with the desperation of ones unsure of the outcome, but rather as ones “sure of this, that he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
So, although our little parable of the Two Wolves provides us with a memorable reminder of the diligence with which we are to conduct our daily struggle to glorify God with our lives, it misses the truth of how the ultimate victory is achieved – by trusting in Christ’s sacrifice. Yet, in another sense, the parable gets it exactly right! For Jesus Himself is the ‘food’ that nourishes our soul, giving us faith, forgiveness, and assurance of eternal life. This is not just some vague concept, but a practical reality as we regularly partake of the very body and blood of Christ, present for us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion to feed us for our daily walk.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. … For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35,40)