For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son.”
During the twilight hours of late-antiquity, the deepening gloom of cosmic despair could be seen on the horizon upon which the mythologies and philosophies of man had exhausted themselves. In his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, David Bentley Hart writes that it was “a time when religion and philosophy alike were increasingly concerned with the escape from the conditions of earthly life, and when both often encouraged a contempt for the flesh more absolute, bitterly unworldly, and pessimistic” than ever before. With noble resignation, mankind had come to accept this world as nothing more than a material prison. History was stuck in an endless cycle, punctuated by the wiles of capricious and demanding gods. In this view there was a regularity in history that followed the cycles of nature – an endless, thus meaningless, continuum of “creation and dissolution, without beginning or end.” The wisest amongst the pagans would agree that “generations come and generations go, / but the earth remains forever,” all the while the Supreme God remained completely out of reach and uninvolved. The most one could hope for is to be able to cultivate a resigned soul that was “immune to the effects of time and nature alike.”  Salvation could only be found in escape.
Nocturne by Whistler
“Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.”
~ G.K. Chesterton
Taking up a theme from a previous post, here is another area in which Christianity changed the world for the better. Not only did the Gospel’s focus on the poor and unforgotten give value to an entire segment of society that the pagan world looked upon with patronizing pity at best, the Gospel revolutionized mankind’s conceptual framework for understanding reality. The modern world rejects Christianity at its own peril, as Hart will demonstrate. We are deluding ourselves, in fact.
In his book, Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart notes that we moderns “believe in nature and in history: in the former’s rational regularity and in the latter’s genuine openness to novelty.” Not so for the pagans. They had no concept of “the arrow of time” and did not assume that history contained a “narrative logic” broad enough to house “both disjunction and resolution.” For them, history could not move “towards an end quite different from its beginning” but was stuck in an endless cycle, punctuated by the wiles of capricious and demanding gods. In their view, there was a regularity in history that followed the cycles of nature – an endless, thus meaningless, continuum of “creation and dissolution, without beginning or end.” The wisest amongst the pagans would agree that “generations come and generations go, / but the earth remains forever” all the while, the ultimate deity remained completely out of reach and uninvolved.  The most one could hope for is to be able to cultivate a resigned soul that was “immune to the effects of time and nature alike.”
“The Wind and the Trees”
by G.K. Chesterton
I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.
St. Peter’s Tears by El Greco (1541-1614)
In his book, Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart contends that when we moderns read the scriptures, we do so through a lens that has been fashioned by those very texts. As a result, what was once extraordinary has become more than ordinary, appearing as natural and effortless as breathing. In no other event is this more evident than in Peter’s denial and his subsequent sorrow. Hart writes that “what is obvious to us—Peter’s wounded soul, the profundity of his devotion to his teacher, the torment of his guilt, the crushing knowledge that Christ’s imminent death forever foreclosed the possibility of seeking forgiveness for his betrayal—is obvious in very large part because we are the heirs of a culture that, in a sense, sprang from Peter’s tears.”
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt
“For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” ~ Philippians 1:6
In his book, Classic Christianity, Thomas C. Oden likens the complex interaction between divine providence and human freedom to “good human parenting.” He writes that “the providence of God guides human freedom in four phases: by permitting, restraining, overruling, and limiting our choices.” Part of God’s providential care and purpose is to permit us to fail “in order to allow the larger good of enabling freedom.” At times, God does restrain our actions by non-coercively and indirectly hindering us. He hedges us in. He will directly overrule our choices either by correction and discipline or by turning what was meant for evil into good or to spur spiritual growth. Odens writes, “God guides wisely by going ahead of our present freedom to prepare a new way … opening some doors, closing others … grace [preventing] freedom’s way from leading to disaster, or from tempting inordinately.”
“The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb” by William Blake, watercolor
“Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why does He allow so much suffering? Arguably, this question lies at the core of human existence. The silence that seems to greet it pierces our hearts. Who will comfort us?
Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection, by William Blake, ca. 1795
“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”
What Christians believe is of utmost importance and Christian orthodoxy is defined not only by specific dogmas but by the theories that have been rejected. The modern mind tends to think of the concept of orthodoxy in a negative light. It is seen as confining and oppressive. That orthodoxy has often been used as a tool for tyranny is true, but its abuse does not render it useless.