If you Google the phrase “balanced Christian life,” you will find over 2 million results in the blink of an eye. Books, magazines, and sermons will rush to your aid in calibrating the conflicting priorities that characterize this following life. It was no surprise that G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts from Chapter 6 of Orthodoxy were not among the first wave of responses, and that’s likely because he found not balance, but conflict to be the chief virtue of the Christian life.
Theologically, we’re all accustomed to paradox. God’s great rescue plan involved becoming a man while remaining fully God; we live by faith, all the while knowing that works are the evidence of that faith; and we accept the truth that, somehow, God’s foreknowledge does not diminish by one whit my freedom to act according to my own will. It turns out that making peace with paradox at the theological level is a helpful skill in actually living the “balanced Christian life,” because Christianity finds its balance in the combination of “furious opposites.” (143)
I invite you to a few moments’ pondering and delight in three “furious opposites” from Chesterton’s viewpoint, and then, from the biblical record:
1. Dignity and Humility
“In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures.
In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.” (142)
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
2. Wrath and Love
“We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I 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.” (144)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29,30)
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21,22)
3. Meekness and Madness
“By defining its main doctrine, the Church not only kept seemingly inconsistent things side by side, but, what was more, allowed them to break out in a sort of artistic violence otherwise possible only to anarchists. . . Historic Christianity rose into a high and strange coup de théatre of morality–things that are to virtue what the crimes of Nero are to vice.” (145)
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
The Angle at which We Stand
In our 21st century quest for balance, it’s no wonder we’re knocked off our feet by the demands of a Lamb/Lion God, a Deity “slain from the foundation of the world” who has still retained “His royal ferocity.” And so we teeter first on one foot, and then the other as we take forgiveness with thanksgiving only to sin again within the hour. We recoil in horror over pornography and materialism, and we shed tears over child abuse and human trafficking, and then turn unsteadily to offer the peace of Christ and the welcome of the gospel to the guilty. We pray for grace to show up for the daily routines that mark a life of faithfulness and trust that these are building our faith muscles for “good things to run wild” in and through us.
Dwellers in Narnia soon encountered Aslan and learned that he “is not a tame lion.” Dwellers of Earth are invited into “the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy” which is not “something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”
Rejoicing with you in this perilous and exciting following life,
As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.
This post is part six in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius. Last month, we examined Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism just in time for Memorial Day.
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