Christianity is Like Life

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Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore

Chesterton on the problem of evil from his book, The Everlasting Man:

“…But if [Christianity] is not a mythology neither is it a philosophy. It is not a philosophy because, being a vision, it is not a pattern but a picture. It is not one of those simplifications which resolve everything into an abstract explanation…It is not a process but a story. It has proportions, of the sort seen in a picture or a story; it has not the regular repetitions of a pattern or a process, but it replaces them by being convincing as a picture or a story is convincing. In other words, it is exactly, as the phrase goes, like life. For indeed it is life.

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Malick’s Modern Job: “The Tree of Life”

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 The river of temporal things hurries one along: but like a tree sprung up beside the river is our Lord Jesus Christ. He assumed flesh, died, rose again, ascended into heaven. It was His will to plant Himself, in a manner, beside the river of the things of time. Are you rushing down the stream to the headlong deep? Hold fast the tree. Is love of the world whirling you on? Hold fast Christ. For you He became temporal, that you might become eternal; because He also in such sort became temporal, that He remained still eternal.[1]

~ Saint Augustine, Homily 2 on the First Epistle of John

More than any previous era, modern Man feels small. As astronomy presses further the boundaries of the known universe, one could say that we shrink in proportion. As our cities grow larger and our buildings seem to defy gravity, this conquest of nature leaves us estranged from it. “What is Man that you are mindful of him?” asked the ancient Psalmist under the star-studded sky that greeted him each night. “What is Man?” the modern asks, as astonishing images from Hubble reveal millions of luminaries that lie forever beyond his vision’s capacity. Only silence seems to answer us from this infinite beyond. “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me,” wrote the 17th-century mathematician Blaise Pascal.[2] Ours is an age when mankind has been put in his place, one could say. What we are learning screams “Where were you when the universe began?” Our existence appears so unnecessary, so insignificant in comparison to the vastness of time and space. Pain and suffering accentuate the sense of isolation all the more.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life addresses this alienation. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The Tree of Life begins, quoting the Book of Job as its epigraph.[3] Director Terrence Malick’s experimental film is not unlike the Book of Job in that it sets this cosmic question within the context of an individual family’s loss. God answers Job with a riddle, but he was comforted, nonetheless.  As an artistic exploration of the problem of evil and unjust suffering, Malick’s The Tree of Life is as complex and puzzling as Job’s mysteries, with meaning that encompasses and transcends every camera movement. This film provides a modern retelling of Job with stunning cinematic lyricism, one in which the wonder of existence “shines through everything.”[4]

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The Riddle of Suffering

The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb c.1799-1800 by William Blake 1757-1827

“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?”
(Psalm 10:1)

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?

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“God Knows” by Minnie Louise Haskins

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“God Knows”

by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

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Introduction to the Book of Job by G.K. Chesterton

“The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, “The Everlasting Man”

The Book of Job is perhaps one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read, both intellectually and emotionally.  In many ways, it presents us with a disconcerting riddle.  G.K. Chesterton agreed that it is a riddle, but that it is disconcerting to us is where the problem really begins.

In his book, The Everlasting Man, Chesterton had this to say, calling Job a literary, “colossal cornerstone” of the ancient world:

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Lion’s Business and the Problem of Animal Pain With C.S. Lewis

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Owl at The Kilns, the home of C.S. Lewis.

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo! Wake up, Puddleglum. Wake up. It is on the Lion’s business.”

We were in Oxford on the Lion’s Business.  Our daughter’s stuffed owl got to visit C.S. Lewis’s house since she and her sister did not join us this time.  Here is the report our daughter received from her favorite owl:

Owl found the house to be welcoming and cozy and he thought the grounds were quite lovely and perfectly wild.  In particular, he enjoyed the picture of Paxford in the kitchen with one of Lewis’s favorite cats named Tom on the counter.  Paxford reminds him of his favorite Marshwiggle named Puddleglum. Of course, he plans on returning in the evening when he hopes to catch the Parliament of Owls in session.  Tu-whoo!  

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