In the chapter on Hope in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses the paradox that “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
I certainly observed this during my studies and travels throughout Europe during which I was continually struck that the most beautiful art and architecture was made by people who believed in the immortality of the soul whereas materialists always seemed to produce the most ugly and bland structures and stuff.
There is something about looking forward longingly to the world to come that makes us more effective in this world than we could possibly be otherwise.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a place to which thousands of pilgrims flock every day to see what isn’t there.
It is quite amusing, in fact, to wait in line for hours in order to see a place that you know to be empty.
Life is filled with a great many paradoxes. It is a paradox that the cross, which was an instrument of torture, became an instrument of divine reconciliation and the most enduring symbol of Christian faith. It is a paradox that the empty tomb became the sign of the fullness of Christian hope – that we “will not all die, but we will all be changed” and that “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Today I began reading The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton, which a friend just gave to me.
Early on in it, two men are brought before a police magistrate named Cumberland Vane. One of the men is a atheist named Mr. Turnbull who owns a secular bookshop and the other is a Catholic named Evan MacIan, who broke the window of Mr. Turnbull’s shop.
When Mr. Vane asks MacIan why he broke the window, he replied, “Because [Mr. Turnbull] blasphemed Our Lady.”
The magistrate then considers MacIan insane and asks, “What conceivable right have you to break other people’s windows because their opinions do not agree with yours? This man only gave expression to his sincere belief.”
In this provocative and imaginative paragraph, MacIan responds:
If he had said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the market place. Your worship, I have no mother; I have no wife. I have only that which the poor have equally with the rich; which the lonely have equally with the man of many friends. To me this whole strange world is homely, because in the heart of it there is a home; to me this cruel world is kindly, because higher than the heavens there is something more human than humanity. If a man must not fight for this, may he fight for anything? I would fight for my friend, but if I lost my friend, I should still be there. I would fight for my country, but if I lost my country, I should still exist. But if what that devil dreams were true, I should not be—I should burst like a bubble and be gone. I could not live in that imbecile universe. Shall I not fight for my own existence?”
What makes the fight worthwhile, in spite of everything?
And what it is that is worthy of the fight ultimately?
How, at first disappointing, and then irrelevant, would the greatest earthly victories and worldly successes be if good did not ultimately triumph over evil and life and love did not ultimately conquer death?
Photo: Soldiers receiving Communion