A Defense of the Book of Job

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Detail from W. Blake’s  “Behemoth and Leviathan”

“Job’s friends attempt to comfort him with philosophical optimism, like the intellectuals of the eighteenth century.  Job tries to comfort himself with philosophical pessimism like the intellectuals of the nineteenth century.  But God comforts Job with indecipherable mystery, and for the first time Job is comforted.”

“Leviathon and the Hook” by G.K. Chesterton 

 — The Speaker, September 9, 1905

A review of “The Original Poem of Job” – Translated from the Restored Text by E. T. Dillon

Chesterton: “Because man is a spirit and unfathomable the past is really as startling and incalculable as the future.  The dead men are as active and dramatic as the men unborn; we know decisively that the men unborn will be men; and we cannot decisively know anything more about the dead.  It is not merely true that Nero may have been misunderstood; he must have been misunderstood, for no man can understand another.  Hence to dive into any very ancient human work is to dive into a bottomless sea, and the man who seeks old things will be always finding new things.  Centuries hence the world will be still seeking for the secret of Job, which is, indeed, in a sense the secret of everything.  It is no disrespect to such able and interesting works as Professor Dillon’s to say that they are only stages in an essentially endless process, the proper appreciation of one of the inexhaustible religious classics.  None of them says the last word on Job, for the last word could only be said on the Last Day.  For a great poem like Job is in this respect like life itself.  The explanations are popular for a month or popular for a century.  But they all fall.  The unexplained thing is popular for ever.  There are weaknesses in the Higher Criticism, as a general phenomenon, which are only gradually unfolding themselves.  There are more defects or difficulties than would at first appear in the scientific treatment of Scripture.  But after all the greatest defect in the scientific treatment of Scripture is simply that it is scientific.  The professor of the Higher Criticism is never tired of declaring that he is detached, that he is disinterested, that he is concerned only with the facts, that he is applying to religious books the unbending methods which are employed by men of science towards the physical order.  If what he says of himself is true, he must be totally unfitted to criticize any books whatever.

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When Mercy and Justice Kiss

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Detail from W. Blake’s The Woman Taken in Adultery

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways, the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered … it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.” ~G.K. Chesterton 

This is one of my favorite passages written by G.K. Chesterton (from his masterpiece Orthodoxy). He is referring to the secular Western world: a society without a unified system of moral thought like Christianity. I think it applies to those of us within Christendom, too, because it speaks to a sinful tendency buried deep within us all as a consequence of the Fall.

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The Fall of Man

The Fall of Man from “The Essential Chesterton: An Anthology on the Thought of G.K. Chesterton”

“The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind; on the fact that the first and not the last men of any school or revolution are generally the best and purest, as William Penn was better than a Quaker millionaire or Washington better than an American oil magnate; on that proverb that says: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and sceptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.”

from The Thing

“[The] legends all say that the earth was kinder in its earliest time. There is no tradition of progress; but the whole human race has a tradition of the Fall. Amusingly enough, indeed, the very dissemination of this idea is used against its authenticity. Learned men literally say that this pre-historic calamity cannot be true because every race of mankind remembers it.”

from Orthodoxy

 

Chesterton, Hitchens, and Joy

“We cannot enjoy thoroughly even a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance unless we believe that the stars are dancing to the same tune.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

An acquaintance once compared Christopher Hitchens, one of the most famous foes of the Faith, to G.K. Chesterton, one of the greatest defenders of it. Hitchens claimed that he wasn’t so much of an atheist as he was an anti-theist, famously pronouncing that religion poisons everything. In contrast, Chesterton wrote that the more he considered Christianity, the more he “found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”[1] Still, in this person’s mind, the two were similar: both were wizards with words who enjoyed witty banter, complex prose, big ideas, and strong drink. Both were also journalists and sharp cultural critics.

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