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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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

 

C.S. Lewis on Praising God

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“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.” ~Psalm 103

In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes that during his journey towards the Christian faith, and even for some time after he arrived, he “found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.”[1] He writes that the obligation we had to honor God – to attend church where His praises are sung and do our best to join in – seemed to border on ludicrous for a God who also tells us that He needs nothing. From a human perspective, this made God seem petty to Lewis. Why did He demand this perpetual compliment, approval, and honor?

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The Supreme Adventure

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Illustration by Arthur Rackham 

“An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose. Falling in love has been often regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident. In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves, something of a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true. Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. But in so far as we have certainly something to do with the matter; in so far as we are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some sense jump into it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some extent even judge—in all this falling in love is not truly romantic, is not truly adventurous at all. In this degree, the supreme adventure is not falling in love. The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”

from Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton 

On Loving Thy Neighbor

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“Whitehall in Winter” by Paul Maze, 1920

“If we were to-morrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live, we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than we have ever known.”

G.K. Chesterton on the challenge of loving one’s neighbor:

from Heretics, 1905: “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge.

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The Carpenter’s Nails

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Detail from Blake’s Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection (c. 1795)

“Do not the words of Jesus ring / Like nails knocked into a board / In his father’s workshop?”  ~G.K. Chesterton 

Here are some early poems by G.K. Chesterton from a notebook from his youth, as recorded in Maisie Ward’s biography. He wrote these before coming to faith in Jesus Christ, years before he’d write his masterpiece, The Everlasting Man.

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