Wednesday, August 22, 2012

About God...

From a letter by G K Chesterton to his wife, Frances, after a friend of hers attacked the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

The most efficient way possible of making a mixed and dubious book do harm is to attack it indiscriminately.  You would fall very foul of the unscrupulous parent who says to a child that a cake should not be eaten because it is quite nasty, when it isn't.  But that is just what is done by the moralist who tries to bully the 'young pessimist' out of his appreciation of the rich humour, the stately pathos, the wrong-headed comradeship and laughing humility of the quatrains of Omar. The decadent knows the moralist is humbugging, just as the child does, and the result in the case of the book or cake is likely enough to be - that 'stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.'  The only sensible thing for morality to do is to take the high hand, to be calm, sane, judicial, discriminating: to take the good and leave the evil: to extract even from the most poisonous plants just that amount which is medicinal.
Virtue should trust herself anywhere and in any company - and possibly among many of her own acolytes, among inquisitors and Pharisees, spies on the soul, conductors of private Days of Judgement and maniacs of the letter of the law, she may constantly find herself in much worse company than that of the poor old man who eight hundred years ago sat nodding over his wine.

The above is quoted in Maisie Ward's Return to Chesterton.  She adds some more about Chesterton and his 'philosophy'.  

But here, as later with Shaw, Wells and the rest, he was ready to attack the parts of the philosophy he disapproved and at the same time to search out the true and great elements.  In Omar he had discovered the greatest of all, the one essential foundation of any philosophy that should stand.
It has been said that the realisation of God as upholding and sustaining all being is not a matter of 'sanctity but of sanity' [quoted in Gilbert Keith Chesterton pg 43]...He told Frances he was writing constantly 'about God' - and he later described his state of mind in contradiction to the theosophists who thought that 'where there is nothing there is God' as being almost exactly the opposite.  'Where there is anything there is God.'

From Return to Chesterton, by Maisie Ward, pgs 233/4

Sunday, August 19, 2012


“Life was something you didn't argue with, because when it came down to it, whether you barracked for God or nothing at all, life was all there was. And death.”

― Tim WintonCloudstreet

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Purpose remains an inescapable element in human life. Human beings do entertain purposes and set out to achieve them. The immense achievements of modern science themselves are, very obviously, the outcome of the purposeful efforts of hundreds of thousands of men and women dedicated to the achievement of something that is valuable - a true understanding of how things are. A strange fissure thus runs right through the consciousness of modern Western man. The ideal that he seeks would eliminate all ideals. With dedicated zeal he purposes to explain the world as something that is without purpose. And, as I have suggested, this fissure becomes visible in two ways: in the dichotomy (one of the outstanding marks of a "modern" society) between the public and the private worlds, and in the dichotomy in thought between what are commonly called "facts" and what are called "values." The public world is a world of facts that are the same for everyone, whatever his values may be, the private world is a world of values where all are free to choose their own values and therefore to pursue such courses of action as will correspond with them.

From Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture, by Lesslie Newbigin, chapter 2.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Chesterton and Thankfulness

Living among men who never dreamed of giving thanks for the portents of existence, [Chesterton] realised that the visions of a supreme sanity may appear close to madness.

"I am the first," says a strange figure in a very youthful story, [A Crazy Tale, published in the Quarto - Slade School Magazine] "that ever saw the world.  Prophets and sages there have been, out of whose great hearts came schools and churches.  But I am the first that ever saw a dandelion as it is."

'Wind and dark rain swept round, swathing in a cloud the place of that awful proclamation...."I tell you religion is in its infancy; dervish and anchorite, Crusader and Ironside, were not fanatical enough or frantic enough, in their adoration...some day a creature [will] be produced, a new animal with eyes to see and ears to hear; with an intellect capable of performing a new function never before conceived truly; thanking God for his creation."'

Now let us turn from the boy whose head was whirling with the sheer excitement of existence to the man writing of the great St Thomas [Aquinas]:

"He did, with a most solid and colossal conviction, believe in Life; and in something like what Stevenson called the great theorem of the liveableness of life...

"There really was a new reason for regarding the sense, and the sensations of the body, and the experiences of the common man, with a reverence at which the great Aristotle would have stared, and no man in the ancient world could have begun to understand...The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead.  It had hung upon a gibbet.  It had risen from a tomb...Plato might despise the flesh but God had not despised it...

"There is a general tone and temper of Aquinas which is as difficult to avoid as daylight in a great house of windows.  It is that positive position of his mind, which is filled and soaked as with sunshine with the warmth of the wonder of created things.  There is a certain private audacity in his communion, by which men add to their private names the tremendous titles of the Trinity and the Redemption; so that some nun may be called, 'of the Holy Ghost'; or a man bear such a burden as the title of St John of the Cross.  In this sense, the man we are studying may specially be called St Thomas of the Creator...And perhaps no man ever came so near to calling the Creator by His own name, which can only be written I Am."

Page 10/11 of Return to Chesterton, by Maisie Ward.

Hunter Norwood

And the end of the first chapter of The Bible Jesus Read, Philip Yancey writes about his father-in-law:

Hunter Norwood lived a rich, full life of eighty years.  He sailed to South America as a missionary in 1942, built a house in the jungle by hand, founded a church and Bible Institute, and later returned to the United States to direct a missions organisation.  Along the way he and his wife raised six daughters, one of whom I married.

Hunter was a Bible teacher par excellence.  Even after retirement he sought out ways to teach the Bible.  He taught extension courses of Moody Bible Institute.  He drove forty-five minutes each Sunday to teach the Bible to a Presbyterian church class. When his health began failing, he would sit in front of the class in a wheelchair, speaking into a microphone in a bare whisper.  A few years ago I hired him to help with some revisions of The Student Bible because I knew no one I could better trust with Biblical research. 

Eventually, due to cancer and a nerve-degenerating disease, the time came when Hunter Norwood could no longer teach the Bible.  He still studied it faithfully each day and prayed through a list of all the people he had ministered to over the years.  He believed whole heatedly in the Victorious Christian Life and named Romans as his favourite book, his guidebook on relating to God.  As illness progressed, however, he began questioning the Victorious Christian Life.  Little wonder, in view of his condition. He had a catheter installed.  He lost control of his bowels.  His gums shrivelled so that he could hardly keep his dentures in, and visitors kept asking him to repeat what he had said.  His hands trembled, and he often dropped things.  It is hard to maintain a spirit of joy and victory when your body rebels against you, when you must call for help to drink a glass of water or blow your nose. 

During the last two years of his life. Hunter's world shrank to the size of a single bedroom, then to the size of a hospital bed that he rarely left. There, up until the day he could no longer he a pen, he recorded his journal of wrestling with God.  I am holding that journal, a spiral-bound notebook, in my hands as I write.  Starting from the back, I find lists of the people he prayed for faithfully, seventeen pages of lists: his extended family (there is my own name beside my wife's), the Indians in South America, the students in his many Bible classes, the missionaries he used to lead, his church, widows, his neighbours.  Stains - coffee, food, tears - mark the pages.
If I flip the notebook and start from the other side, I find Hunter Norwood's journal of relating to God.  It goes on for nineteen pages, and I can watch the progression of his disease in the handwriting that deteriorates on each page. Mostly, he quotes a Bible verse or briefly comments on it.  A few times he writes about his physical condition: sore back, legs not working, losing strength, dehydrated.  The last entry, barely legible, is marked August 7, almost exactly one year before he died.  Throughout that final year, he could not write.  What strikes me about the journal is this: of the hundreds of entries, I can find only nine referring to verses in the New Testament. 

Those of us who knew Hunter Norwood well know that the last few years of his life were by far the hardest.  Opponents of his faith had stoned him in Columbia.  He fought alligators, boa constrictors, and piranhas in South America,   He brought up six daughters in two different cultures.  But none of these compared to the difficulties of lying in bed all day, his body defying his every command, waiting to die.  Toward the end, it took all his effort to accomplish the simple acts of swallowing and breathing.  

Hunter went through a crisis of faith in those last few years, which he talked about openly.  Answers that used to satisfy him no long did.  He lost spiritual confidence, not in God but in himself.  As he grew anxious, impatient, and fearful, he wept bitter tears over his own inability to maintain composure. In the face of death, he longed to "finish well," a phrase he kept using. Yet again and again he disappointed himself.  He feared disappointing God,  

The wavering yet rock-solid faith Hunter found in the Old Testament sustained him when nothing else could.  Even at his most doubt-filled moments, he took comfort in the fact that some of God's favourites had battled the very same demons. He learned that the arms of the Lord are long, and wrap around those He loves, not just in prosperous and happy times but especially in times of travail. I am glad that in those dark days that Hunter Norwood had the Old Testament to fall back on.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The painfulness of Grace

...what you seem actually to demand is that the Church put the kingdom of heaven on earth right here now, that the Holy Ghost be translated at once into all flesh.  The Holy Spirit rarely shows Himself on the surface of anything.  You are asking that man return at once to the state God created him in, you are leaving out the terrible radical human pride that causes death. Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified in time...The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and who couldn't walk on the water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water.  All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others.  To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs...

quoted by Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, pg 236.   Originally published in O'Connor's The Habit of Being, pg 307