The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (Excursus 1)

I have heard the argument so often that it nauseates me to see it now, “That if God really loved us then He wouldn’t make us follow some arbitrary rule book.” There is embedded in this nonsense the idea that somehow love means acceptance and toleration. In reading G. K. Chesterton, I have found the words to reject this very common fallacy. Love is not the thing that leaves us as we are. Love is the thing that insists we change. Love is what tears us down into rubble because what we were was already a trash heap. Love destroys us and then forces us to sprout anew and better. Chesterton’s words are, quite expectedly, more pointed and more memorable than mine:

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

“The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises–he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.”

“A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else.”

“My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty…Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegiance…We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening. No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.”

This is love, the kind of love that God has for us. It is not a love that says, “Because I love you, I will let you do whatever you feel is best regardless of what is actually best.” That, quite frankly, is no love at all. God’s is a love that draws on His infinite wisdom to say, “I know what is best for you, and, because I love you, I will not content myself with anything less than that.” We not only ought to recognize that love in God but emulate it among ourselves. If we love each other, we cannot be content with each other so long as we are all mired by sin.

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