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Friday, June 12, 2009

Being Born Upside Down

[NOTE: this was posted a while back, but I wanted to revisit it]
The first time I read the last few pages of G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, my heart pounded in awe. If you haven't gone out and bought a copy after reading the last two posts, I hope you will after reading this one.

Most of us are born upside down. I propose God planned that huge metaphor, wondering if some of us would "get"it. Some of us are born breech, but we'll excuse that small exception to the rule. Chesterton wrote: "All the real argument about religion turns on the question of whether a man who was born upside down can tell when he comes right way up. The paradox of Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition; that the normal itself is an abnormality."

He sums up his book focusing on the ultimate idea of joy. Once again, he presents a thought I had never considered, but once I read it, made me say yes! He compares the joy of a pagan--or let's call him an unbeliever or one who doesn't know Christ--to the Christian in the matter of joy. "To the pagan," he says, "the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter than the sea. When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold . . . . The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones." What is he saying? That for the agnostic, joy is confined to small, fleeting moments of time: the birth of a child, a wedding, graduation day. The rest of a pagan's life is a great sadness and grief; its "desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity." I lived most of my life that way: waiting for those small, isolated instances of joy, working hard toward some nebulous day in the future when I would be truly happy--when I won the lottery, or made a killing on my first bestselling novel, or married the perfect man, fill in the blanks, add your own wishes to the list. This is the way of most people in the world. Wanting, hoping, wishing, and maybe, at the end of life, looking back on a few treasured memories, little tiny pockets of isolated joys.

Conversely, for a Christian, grief and sorrow are small pockets in the big scheme of things. Melancholy "should be an innocent interlude." He says man is more himself when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. This is what he means by being born topsy-turvy. "Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this: that by its creed, joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The silence [above us] is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room." He emphasizes this: "Joy . . . is the gigantic secret of the Christian."

Sure, we suffer small moments of pain in this very brief, futile life we live. The Apostle Paul says the creation was subjected to futility by God for one reason--to learn hope. He calls this life a slight affliction that is momentary and light. Even the most horrific things we can think of--losing a loved one, suffering a debilitating injury or illness--in the light of eternity with God in a perfect world, reduce down to a small, little sadness. Can you imagine having to live your short life with the pain of losing a child in an accident? How will you reflect on that life, six billion years from now, when pain, mourning, death are all memories like the wisp of a dream upon awakening?

I heard a pastor once describe our lives here on earth as a kind of pregnancy. Like being in the womb, we spend a short time in the dark, completely clueless, preparing for the life--the real life--to come, where we will see truly, experience the bigger world. So it is with us now, here on earth. We are preparing to strip off mortality for immortality, corruption for incorruption, to be born into real life, something we, in our blind, dark wombs, cannot barely fathom. We are not just biding our time, but God is teaching, training, and molding us into the image of His son. That way, when we enter the kingdom, we won't suffer shock.

Chesterton writes: "We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels . . . perhaps the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear."

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to read his book. I just love this! And I love your interpretation of it. Thank you for reminding me how wonderful it is to be a Christian. It is true- I look back on my years as a Christian and see pockets of grief. They stand out to me because they are not the normal way of life for those of us who have hope and joy in Christ.

    Thanks for this!