There’s a peculiar satisfaction that comes with being right. Given the opportunity, we’ll make an idol of it and even run roughshod over those we claim to love in order to win an argument, thereby trading peace for the honor of clutching the blue ribbon of rightness close to our hearts. Often what’s at stake is nothing more than a piece of trivia or a detail of shared history: In what year did we shingle the roof? How old was Uncle Dave when he passed away? Is the truck due for an oil change?
The sandpaper words, “You were right,” turned inside-out become “I was wrong,” and this is music to the ears of the triumphant, but I would argue that when it comes to deep Truth about God and humanity and the deep rift, there should be a humility that accompanies our rightness, a meekness that conveys our understanding that we have been entrusted with a great treasure.
G.K. Chesterton lived and wrote in the early years of the 20th century, crossing verbal swords with materialist and modernist heavy weights the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Sigmund Freud in lecture hall arguments for the existence of God and the truth of the incarnation. What characterized Chesterton’s approach and filled the seats with spectators was his light touch, his sense of humor, and his refusal to take himself too seriously.
His well known Orthodoxy was written as a more positive follow-up to his lesser-known Heretics and as an opportunity for him to clarify the set of truths that he had come to believe. Of these beliefs, Chesterton is clear:
“I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” (19)
In his efforts to assemble a creed, Chesterton spent years trying to be “original,” trying to “found a heresy of [his] own, and when [he] had put the last touches to it, [he] discovered that it was orthodoxy.” (23)
And so those of us who cling to and defend objective truth must also realize that we have received something that is not our own. Bending my knee to the content of revelation, I am startled to realize that the point of orthodoxy, the reason for a studied cherishing of rightness in my understanding of God, is not for the purpose of winning arguments, or for the satisfaction of belonging to the right camp, or for the establishment of my resume. Orthodoxy that is not purely for the glory of God can quickly become dead orthodoxy, knowledge for it’s own sake and a safe box for the storage and containment of God.
G.K.Chesterton argues for an orthodoxy that welcomes imagination. He viewed the world through eyes that saw “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” When we open our Bibles and read the comforting psalms and the familiar gospel stories, we are also being confronted by the God of Ezekiel’s spinning wheels and the embodiment of some of the more frightening creatures in John’s Revelation. The challenge is a paradox of wonder and welcome, or, as Chesterton put it, “we need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”
For the believer in Jesus Christ, orthodoxy is a condition of having discovered a truth that makes us and defines us. In humility, we come to understand that this Truth is not our own, but, rather, we belong to the Truth.
This is the beginning of a journey through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. If you’re following along, let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share any insights you glean along the way. If those insights happen to take the form of a blog post, a link is welcome so we can continue this conversation at your place.
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